DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Don’t expect Danica Patrick to get too weepy during her final NASCAR race week.
Patrick, who cried at Homestead in November when announcing that 2018 would be her final year of racing with the two biggest U.S. motorsports events in the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500, said Saturday that she wasn’t feeling a similar emotion prior to practice at Daytona International Speedway.
“I actually felt like Homestead was that [last race],” Patrick said. “I know it wasn’t the last one, but just with the announcement, there was so much loaded emotion in that weekend, that to me, that had a lot of a feel for kind of the end, on some level, of racing in the Cup Series.”
The 35-year-old Patrick, who has only driven Stewart-Haas Racing-built cars since her entry into NASCAR Cup racing in 2012, will drive for Premium Motorsports at Daytona and has not announced her Indy 500 ride.
She will get plenty of time to get acclimated to her new ride. She has two practices Saturday, single-car qualifying Sunday, qualifying races Thursday and then practice Friday and Saturday prior to the Feb. 18 Daytona 500.
“When I think next Sunday comes, I’m sure I’ll be a lot more retrospective or introspective and emotional about the finality of it, and just have a little bit more perspective,” Patrick said. “But right now, I’m fine. I’m good. I’m excited about it all.
“I made the decision last year that this is what I was good with. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been doing it. So, I’ve had a lot of time to mentally transition. And that transition started last year.”
The only problem could come at the Daytona 500, where her family will be for her final race.
“We just have to keep my dad away from me, to be honest. He’s always the emotional one that’s going to be, like, all choked-up and tearing with sunglasses, and crunching on his water bottle, and he’s going to be like, ‘Just have fun out there,'” Patrick said.
“And I’m going to be like, ‘Gosh, keep it together because I have to.’ So, I’m sure my whole family will, but I know my dad.”
Patrick is the highest-finishing female driver ever in the Indianapolis 500 (third, 2009) and Daytona 500 (eighth, 2013).
Her upcoming retirement has brought the topic of women drivers into the limelight and whether she has set the course for more female racers. There are no young, full-time female racers in any of NASCAR’s three national series, and only one in its “NASCAR Next” class of up-and-coming drivers.
“Maybe it’s a little harder because women have not proven themselves as much as men, but every driver has to prove themselves to their team,” Patrick said. “There is still that responsibility, and that challenge is still at hand for every single driver, to find a group that believes in them and gives them what they need and puts them in the right scenario.
“Perhaps it’s a little bit harder for me, just based on history, but I’ve had great opportunities as a driver. Sometimes I think it’s been better than others, but that could probably be said for every single driver out there.”
Female drivers might feel extra pressure carrying the banner for their gender, but Patrick said that depends on the individual.
“If they feel like they do, [they have extra pressure],” Patrick said. “I mean, I really believe that. I’ve never felt like that. I don’t. My own banner is bigger than any other banner for what I want to accomplish for myself, and then the trickle-down effect is what it is.”