Danica Patrick announced on Friday, Nov. 17 she was stepping away from full-time racing competition following the season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The No. 10 car finished 37th after blowing a tire, ending her tenure at Stewart-Haas Racing in flames.
It may have come to a surprise that Patrick is stepping away after rumors were running rampant around the garage of possible scenarios for the fifth-year driver.
Could she take sponsorship and go to Richard Childress Racing’s No. 27 car? What about joining boyfriend Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at Roush Fenway Racing? Then, there was the possibility of going to Front Row Motorsports, which many thought was a done deal.
However, Patrick stuck true to her word, as in the past she admitted when it didn’t become fun any longer, she would step away. 2017 wasn’t a fun season.
By the numbers
The No. 10 machine could never get out of the box in 2017, having five DNFs in the first 11 events. After a promising finish in the Can-Am Duels, Patrick finished 33rd in the Daytona 500, getting involved in one of the several multi-car crashes. Two weeks later at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, her engine expired, resulting in a 36th-place finish.
Following Vegas, Patrick didn’t score a top-20 finish until Richmond Raceway, placing 18th. She had back-to-back crashes at Talladega and Kansas, though no fault of her own. In fact, at Kansas Speedway, she was running around the back half of the top 10 when Joey Logano and Aric Almirola tangled, involving the No. 10 machine. And boy, did she take a hit to the outside wall.
She scored her lone top-10 finish of the season at Dover International Speedway, missing a 14-car pileup on an overtime restart. Earlier in the event, she was multiple laps down. Patrick’s season began to take a turn for the good at Kentucky Speedway, finishing 15th. The No. 10 team score four consecutive top 15s, a career-best for Patrick.
But then it was back to old ways when Patrick had five consecutive finishes outside the top 20. Her season really began to go off the hinges during the playoffs, posting four DNFs over the final seven races. During that time, her Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Kevin Harvick won two stages and took the checkered flag at Texas Motor Speedway, also where Kurt Busch set a record qualifying time on a 1.5-mile track.
Unfortunately, Patrick’s run at NASCAR wasn’t a success, or at least as successful as she would have liked.
Sure, she won the pole for the 2013 Daytona 500 and ran in the top 10 the entire race, but that’s Daytona. She always had speed and was a contender at the plate races, leading 23 of her total 64 career laps led on the superspeedways.
Remember, Patrick was part of Stewart-Haas Racing.
During her five-year stint with the team, Harvick became a champion, Busch topped his career off by winning the Daytona 500 and Tony Stewart was exiting the sport as a driver, after going through trouble in 2013 and 2014.
Maybe, it wasn’t her fault, but she still had among the best equipment in the field and finished as high as 24th in the championship standings. Not good.
Yes, Patrick has at least one more Daytona 500 left in her (probably with Chip Ganassi Racing). But thus far, she has 190 Cup Series starts to her name and only seven top-10 finishes with a best effort of sixth at Atlanta Motor Speedway in late 2014.
Maybe she should have competed in more XFINITY Series races to have more seat time. In the past, you’ve seen drivers do that and if they have success in one series, it can likely transfer over to the big time. Since joining SHR, she has just three starts in the highest preliminary division of NASCAR, all at restrictor plate tracks. Maybe she just ran those races to have fun, not get better.
Patrick will have one last shot to become the first woman to win in the Cup Series. Never say never, but if she couldn’t get sponsorship to purchase a ride for 2018 after having GoDaddy and Nature’s Bakery leave in back-to-back seasons, it’s likely she will never have the money it takes of getting a program behind her.
Forget racing, Patrick’s success outside of the racecar is second to none. Whether she’s coming out with a new wine, clothing brand or recipe book, her rise to fame has not come out of nowhere. In 2013, her first full season in NASCAR, she was ranked No. 91 in the world, according to Forbes Celebrity 100. Whenever there is an awards show (ESPYs, CMA Awards, etc.) and the network needs a female athlete to be in attendance to present an award, Patrick typically gets the nod. That will probably continue.
But then there is the aspect of being a woman, driving a racecar at over 200 mph. There is no doubt that over her 13-year racing career (IndyCar 2005-2011), she is the most successful female to step foot behind a racecar. And because of that, she brought in a whole new demographic to the sport.
Patrick appeals to children, especially females. While at a sponsorship event in 2016 during the June Pocono race, the driver met a young girl, also named Danica. Obviously, she was named after the driver.
The smile on the young girl’s face was priceless, and likely a moment she will never forget. She got an autograph and picture from Patrick, as well as taking a life size cardboard cut-out home with her. Inspiring.
That’s probably the word that comes to mind when trying to explain Patrick’s significance not only in NASCAR, but all of racing.
She wanted to come to NASCAR, she came to NASCAR. She wanted to perform well at the Indy 500, and she had one great go at it in her rookie season. She broke out of the norm and brought new fans to the sport, something that higher-ups should cherish her for.
Just like anybody else, people are going to criticize Patrick. Some of the comments may come off as sexist or just plain disrespectful, but she’s always handled the backlash with class. She did things others could only dream of and did it her way.
Everyone tries to impact another life. Patrick has influenced hundreds of lives and will continue to do so following her last scheduled race at the 2018 Indy 500. She’s comfortable in her own skin, and owns a room with her presence.
Cheers Danica, it’s been a great ride.
About the author
Dustin joined the Frontstretch team at the beginning of the 2016 season. 2020 marks his sixth full-time season covering the sport that he grew up loving. His dream was to one day be a NASCAR journalist, thus why he attended Ithaca College (Class of 2018) to earn a journalism degree. Since the ripe age of four, he knew he wanted to be a storyteller.
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