In a formal announcement made this morning, Ed Carpenter Racing confirmed that Danica Patrick will join the team for May’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.
Patrick, 35, joins the Indianapolis-based team after six years and 190 starts in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (with Stewart-Haas Racing) where she recorded seven top-10 finishes, 1 pole and averaged a 24.1 finishing position.
“I’m super excited to run for Ed,” the Illinois native told Dave Furst of WRTV in Indianapolis. “He’s obviously been a great competitor over the years. We’ve raced with each other a ton. Part of that relationship also came from Matt Barnes, who works for him, his head of engineering. He was my engineer back in 2009 (with Andretti Autosport). We finished fifth in the championship.
“Matt and I are very like-minded to kind of go for things. I’ve kept in touch with him since I left IndyCar. Between Ed and having a great team and always being competitive, qualifying really well, having fast cars and Matt being involved, it seemed like the perfect option.”
While Carpenter seemed a little perturbed to be speaking about the deal before a formal announcement had been made, his excitement could be felt in an interview with Chris Hagan of FOX 59 in Indianapolis.
“I’m excited,” Carpenter told Hagan. “I wasn’t planning on talking about it (Wednesday evening). It interrupted Valentine’s plans a little bit, but excited nonetheless. I’m hoping Danica has a good Daytona 500 and then we can all get focused on having a great month of May together.
“We’ve seen what happens when people come back (to race at Indianapolis), whether it was when Kurt Busch came (2014) or (Fernando) Alonso last year. And Danica’s return to Indy is going to be as big, if not bigger, than those other stories. I think it’s exciting to be a part of it, to be a part of her history as her farewell to racing in moving onto the next phase in her life. We’re excited for it and we’re building some fast cars hopefully.”
Preceding her NASCAR career, Patrick raced in the Verizon IndyCar Series from 2005 to 2011, making 115 starts and winning the 2008 race at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan. Patrick’s rookie debut at the 2005 Indianapolis 500 continues to be one of the most memorable days in the race’s history as she became the first woman to lead laps in the “Greatest Spectacle.”
Patrick currently holds the best finishing position for a woman in the Indianapolis 500 (3rd in 2009) and did a fine job in her last two starts at Indy. In 2010 she began the race in 23rd position and finished a respectable 6th, and in 2011 she qualified her Andretti Autosport car 25th before finishing 10th that day.
In November, Patrick announced her intentions to compete in the two of the most important races in North America – the Daytona 500 in February and the Indianapolis 500 in May – then retire. “This ignites something in me,” she said on November 17. “But I am done after May. Everyone needs to put their mind there. My plan is to be at Indy, and then I’m done.”
After months of speculation, Patrick comes to an agreement with Ed Carpenter Racing. In an unconventional way, she announced her plans without a deal in place – much to the criticism of fans and some industry figureheads.
Nonetheless, she will be in Indianapolis for the month of May competing for a spot in the 500 Mile Race alongside teammate Spencer Pigot and the boss himself, Ed Carpenter. Sporting her familiar GoDaddy green colors, Patrick will be hard to miss on track and in the garage area.
Danica joins ECR on the heels of an impressive stretch for the team at Indianapolis over the past few years. Since 2014, the No. 20 car driven by Carpenter himself has averaged just under a 9th place qualifying position including the pole award in 2014 and a 2nd place start last year.
The No. 21 ECR entry has done even better while splitting duties between Josef Newgarden and J.R. Hildebrand since 2014: an average starting position of 6.5 for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. The No. 6 car, driven twice by J.R. Hildebrand in 2015 and 2016, is the third car employed by ECR at Indianapolis. It had an average qualifying spot of 12.5 over those two races.
While qualifying speed does not equate to positive race results, Ed Carpenter Racing has shown enough speed to believe that Patrick will be in a competitive car for her final race. While the Honda machines were dominating qualifying last May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, ECR were the highest qualifying Chevrolet entries in the field – ahead of Team Penske.
They made up two of the three Chevrolet entries in the top 17 qualifiers, with the rest being Honda teams.
Ready for the task of handling the final leg of the “Danica Double,” Carpenter and his race team seem poised for a strong month at the Speedway.
“She has high expectations. We have high expectations, as usual,” said the Paris, Illinois native. “When we look at running extra cars, we always want it to be a good situation and Danica certainly fits the bill there. She’s led laps, almost won the race before, she has a great track record there, so we’re excited to have her as part of the team.”
Practice for this year’s Indianapolis 500 kicks off on Tuesday, May 15 with the rookie orientation program and the refresher test, followed by the full field for two hours that afternoon. The 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 will be Sunday, May 27 at 12:00 PM Eastern time.
Images provided courtesy of INDYCAR Media and Mike DiNovo of USA Today Sports.