INDIANAPOLIS – Danica Patrick’s career began with a bang at the 2005 Indianapolis 500 when she became the first female racer to lead the Indianapolis 500 and she came within seven laps of winning the race.
Thirteen years later, Patrick’s career ended with a thud as she spun in turn two, slammed backwards into the outside wall before sliding across the track and taking another hard hit into the infield retaining wall on the 68th lap in Sunday’s 102nd Indianapolis 500.
Just like that, Patrick’s career was over.
“I spun,” Patrick said after leaving the IU Health Infield Care Center. “I don’t really know exactly what happened. Obviously, there’s nothing you’re targeting. It just came around on exit.
“It (the car) was a little positive throughout the race; it was a little tough to drive. I was not expecting it when it happened.
“I do feel like it was pretty unexpected. But on the other hand, the car was a little bit positive today and was turning a bit more than I wanted it to. I was just having to chase it a lot. Turn 2 did seem a little bit more edgy than some of the other corners, but I can’t say that at that point in time that I was on edge or that it felt like it was.
“It just swung around as soon as I kind of recommitted back to the throttle from the little bit of understeer in the middle of the corner. I wasn’t expecting it, by any means. But I think it just goes to show the cars are tough to drive. All the drivers out there are great drivers, and it was definitely not the way I wanted to end, of course.
“I wouldn’t want to end it any year like that. But, of course, being the last one, it makes it a lot worse.”
In 2005 Patrick became an instant sensation as she finished fourth as a rookie in the Indianapolis 500. She was going to lead the IndyCar Series into the mainstream of sports. She became the first female driver to win an Indy car race when she drove to victory at Japan’s Twin Ring Motegi in April 2008.
Despite her celebrity and fame, she was unable to lead IndyCar to a higher level of public consciousness. She began to focus more on her brand than becoming the face of IndyCar.
The best way to boost her brand was to switch to NASCAR full-time in 2012. NASCAR provided a bigger, more lucrative platform for Patrick and she responded by winning the pole for the Daytona 500 in 2013.
Patrick’s promise in NASCAR eventually became a tale of unrealized expectations.
Before the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season concluded, Stewart-Haas Racing announced Patrick would not be back for 2018. Unable to find another team for a full-time ride, Patrick decided it was time to retire.
She announced last November she would compete in the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500 and then walk away from racing. In her mind, it was only fitting that her career end where it all began – in the Indianapolis 500.
Instead of celebrating the hopes and promise of that day back in 2005, when Patrick was a wide-eyed and happy girl, she left the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday in a surly and irritable mood.
Her final media conference came while the race was still in progress and she was anything but a media darling.
“I don’t even want to be here because I’m pretty sad,” Patrick said. “I guess I’ll stop there.
“I will say, though, for sure I’m very grateful for everybody and for being able to finish it up like I wanted to. It still was a lot of great moments this month, a lot of great moments this year.
“Thank you, guys. Appreciate everything. I’ll miss you, most of the time. Maybe you’ll miss me just a little.”
Patrick was hoping to recapture one last taste of the past glory that she experienced in the 2005 Indianapolis 500.
Instead, she left with a sour taste in her final Indy 500.
“It’s an entire career, but what really launched it is this,” Patrick said. “I’ve had a lot of good fortune here and still had some this month.
“It just didn’t come on race day.”