By JENNA FRYER
The Associated Press
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Ready or not, Danica Mania is headed to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for her final curtain call.
The second leg of Danica Patrick’s retirement moves forward in full swing when she travels to Indianapolis next week for a seat fitting in Ed Carpenter Racing’s No. 13 Chevrolet. She’ll jump behind the wheel of an Indy car again for a shakedown during a Chevrolet test at Indy on March 29. She’s got a firesuit coming that sponsor GoDaddy has allowed her to design.
Patrick will take one last swing at winning the Indianapolis 500 this May before the most prolific female driver in motorsports walks away from racing for good. She believes she can win “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” in a storybook ending for a little girl from Illinois who kicked down many barriers for women in racing.
“My intention is to win there,” Patrick said.
She was the darling of storied Indianapolis Motor Speedway following her fourth-place finish as a rookie in 2005, and in seven career starts Patrick only finished outside the top 10 once. The spotlight was on her at the Daytona 500 for the first part of her “Danica Double” retirement tour and it will only grow in the buildup to the Indy 500. Patrick is ready, and admittedly comfortable, to be the centerpiece of the Indy 500.
“I like feeling there is something on line and I think that while the spotlight isn’t always comfortable, I do feel I’ve been very fortunate to perform under those spotlights,” Patrick told The Associated Press. “There’s nothing cooler as an athlete then to perform when everyone is watching.”
Patrick’s legacy was evident this week when she weighed in on a discussion about the abilities of women in racing. Carmen Jorda, a member of FIA’s Women in Motorsport Commission, reportedly said women should focus on Formula E instead of Formula One because F1 is too physically demanding.
Former F1 world champion Jenson Button held Patrick up as an example while criticizing Jorda on Twitter. Button suggested Jorda ask Patrick “about being [strong] enough to drive a race car! She’d kick my butt in the gym & she’s probably as strong as any driver on the F1 Grid right now.”
GoDaddy, Patrick’s former sponsor in both IndyCar and NASCAR, teamed with Patrick for her double and is helping her prepare for life outside of the race car. The results of the Indy 500 are not what matters to the company.
“One of the best parts of all this for us is that it’s never really been about whether she wins — it’s more about Danica’s moxie, her commitment and her ability to compete at the highest levels of a male-dominated sport,” said GoDaddy chief marketing officer Barb Rechterman.
That wasn’t lost on Carpenter when he heard Patrick’s plan to close her career at Indy.
He is the only driver who is also a team owner in IndyCar, and the Indy 500 is the focus of his entire year. Once he figured out his 2018 IndyCar lineup, Carpenter realized he had the flexibility to offer a third seat to Patrick. He said he believes her final Indy 500 will have “historical relevance.”
Carpenter, the son of IMS chairman Tony George, is a two-time Indy 500 pole winner.
“Danica has always been comfortable and quick at Indy,” Carpenter said. “The timing on this just worked out and Danica and I both believe that things happen for a reason. When I had a chance to offer her a seat, I was happy she hadn’t moved on and found another deal. She checks all the boxes.”
Patrick’s brief return to Indy comes as the series transitions into a new car. Carpenter said this version is closer to what Patrick last drove in 2011 before she moved full-time to NASCAR, and Patrick has had discussions about it with her brother-in-law, Chase Selman, the general manager of IndyCar team Dreyer & Reinbold Racing.
Other than that, she’s yet to reconnect with her Indianapolis past and said she wouldn’t even know what to ask many of her former competitors before she has a chance to see the new car.
“You know, this is kind of say ‘hi again’ and then ‘bye’ in the arena that made my brand what it is today,” she said. “I feel excited to move on to all the other projects I have, or as GoDaddy would say the side hustle. I call it all my other projects. They need attention, they need nurturing. I’m excited and I’m nervous and I’m ready to move forward.”