It felt like a rather odd swan song right from the get-go for Danica Patrick at the 102nd Indianapolis 500, and the ending was just as perplexing.
After only 67 laps had been complete in what was one of the hottest Indy 500’s to date, Patrick exited the main event abruptly when her No. 13 GoDaddy Chevrolet went around in Turn 2 and smacked the right side of her car on the white-painted wall.
Patrick had been hovering around the top-10 for the first quarter of the race after falling back a few positions at the initial green flag. The Roscoe, Illinois native seemed to be settling in for the afternoon just as her race, and career, came to a conclusion with that sudden loss of traction.
Her final finishing position would be 30th – the worst of her eight start Indianapolis 500 career – and the highly anticipated “Danica Double” was complete without either her NASCAR Chevrolet Camaro or INDYCAR Dallara/Chevrolet seeing the finish line.
In February’s Daytona 500, Patrick exited the race after she was collected in an accident that saw 11 cars eliminated on lap 97. Ironically, NASCAR’s Super Bowl is the site of her most significant stock car achievement as she took pole in the Great American Race in 2013.
And just like that, in the heat and haze of 33 machines and over 300,000 spectators, Danica disappeared from this chapter of her life and officially moved onto the next.
The month started on May 1 when Patrick navigated the veteran refresher program, though not without its hiccups.
The 2005 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year struggled to adapt to the weight of the steering wheel while piloting her Dallara IR-18 machine and the car itself ran into minor mechanical issues of its own.
Finally, near the end of the day Patrick passed the refresher and was cleared for practice later in the month. Patrick would lead a press conference afterwards where she was pleased to have gotten the day out of the way, though also noting it was a date marked on the calendar for a while with anticipation building.
As practice began for the Indianapolis 500 on Tuesday, May 15, Patrick began to (somehow) quietly work her way into form throughout the four days of practice that preceded Bump Day qualifications on May 19.
On Bump Day, Patrick hushed the doubters by qualifying easily for the 500-mile race while even placing her car in the Firestone Fast Nine on Pole Day.
The following afternoon, Patrick would go quicker in the Fast Nine than veteran Indy 500 winners Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon by placing 7th, and out-qualify other series notables Marco Andretti, Graham Rahal, Alexander Rossi and James Hinchcliffe.
The final two practice sessions on Monday and Friday (Carb Day) went well enough to align Patrick as an outside contender.
Driving for Ed Carpenter Racing – who put each of their cars in the Fast Nine – as well as running a Chevrolet motor in a year when the Bowtie has surpassed Honda on power and mileage, the girl had a chance.
Fast forward to race day, and of course, it was a different beast.
Rolling off 7th on the grid, Patrick would be shuffled back to 12th or so where she would linger for much of the day. She had settled in nicely and received an air pressure adjustment on the first round of pit stops.
Patrick’s team asked about the effectiveness of her in-car tools, and she responded that they were pretty much worthless on the hot track with the exception of stiffening the rear anti-roll bar.
Running 17th at the time of the accident, Patrick’s car entered Turn 2 and appeared to settle into the corner before the rear end of her machine over-rotated unexpectedly and sent her on the wild ride.
Almost instantly the veteran jumped off of the throttle but the oversteer was too much to contain.
Patrick hit the wall on the exit of Turn 2 before sliding to the inside of the track and making another significant impact with the inner wall.
Thus, the most remarkable, scrutinized, critiqued and memorable female driving career in motorsport history came to a close.
As the dust began to settle, a reserved Patrick gave her final remarks despite the emotional moment.
“I’m appreciative for all the fans, for GoDaddy, for Ed Carpenter Racing for giving me a good car,” Patrick said. “Today was a tough day. A little bit of it was okay, a lot of it was tough to drive.”
It seemed that the day was a bit of a whirlwind for the 36-year-old. Patrick admitted being a bit overwhelmed on the grid in the build-up to the green flag.
“I was definitely nervous,” Patrick recalled. “But I found myself most of the time on the grid feeling confused. What part of pre-race were we in? I was like, ‘I don’t remember this.’ Where are the Taps? When is the anthem?
“I had all my people around me, so I was in good spirits.”
At the end of the day, Patrick’s groundbreaking contributions to motorsport cannot be argued. She is the 14th individual to lead laps in both the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500, and the only woman to accomplish the feat.
Patrick also has the highest female finish in both of the historic races, placing 8th at Daytona in 2013 and 3rd at Indianapolis in 2009.
Despite her testy relationship with the media, Patrick left the journalists in attendance at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway one more parting gift before exiting the Speedway.
“I appreciate everything. I’ll miss you, most of the time. Maybe you’ll miss me just a little. Thanks, guys.”
Congratulations on a long and impactful career, Danica. We will miss you, a little.
Images courtesy of Joe Skibinski/INDYCAR Media.