INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Two prestigious, 500-mile races. Two hard crashes. Two back-of-the-pack finishes.
The “Danica Double” was mostly a dud.
Danica Patrick ended the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday much like she did the Daytona 500 in February: With a ride to the infield care center and feelings of frustration.
Patrick’s farewell tour, dubbed the “Danica Double,” was supposed to be a celebratory send-off in which she got final shots at winning the two most iconic American races. Her bid fell well short. Patrick completed 168 of a possible 407 laps at the two events, racing 420 miles instead of a little more than 1,000.
It was far from what she wanted when she committed to the two-race retirement party.
Still, it did little to weaken her racing resume that includes a few breakthrough performances and a seemingly secure place in history.
“Definitely not a great ending,” Patrick said. “But I kind of said before I came here that I feel like if it’s a complete disaster — complete like as if not in the ballpark at all, look silly — then people might remember that. If I win, people will remember that.
“But probably anything in between might just be a little part of a big story, so I kind of feel like that’s how it is, you know.”
The 36-year-old Patrick crashed on lap 68 of the Indy 500, the track that made her famous. She lost traction on a slippery surface, spun as she exited turn 2 and then slammed into two walls before coming to a stop. She finished 30th, her lowest spot in eight starts at “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” She was 35th at Daytona three months ago.
Both times, she trudged out of infield care centers and answered questions about early exits.
“Today was really disappointing for what we were hoping for and what you want for your last race,” she said. “I’m grateful for all of it. I wish I could have finished stronger. I wouldn’t want to end it any year that way. Being the last one makes it worse. I did have some good moments here this month and I won’t forget that, either, and I won’t forget the fans.”
Patrick was a fan favorite all month at Indianapolis, still revered by those who remember her leading the 2009 race before finishing third. She was surrounded by autograph-seekers all month, and she got one of the loudest ovations during driver introductions Sunday.
Patrick weaved through gawkers to get to her No. 13 Chevrolet on the starting grid and soaked in all the pre-race pageantry with boyfriend and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, her parents and sister.
Just before the singing of the national anthem, with the crowd as quiet as it would be all day, one fan screamed from the grandstands, “Let’s go Danica!” She smiled, turned and waved.
“I was definitely nervous,” Patrick said. “I had all my people around me, so I was in good spirits.”
After the anthem, she hugged her parents and sister and then got a long embrace from Rodgers. He whispered in her right ear, gave her a kiss and then smacked her on the butt as she maneuvered toward her cockpit. Rodgers headed upstairs to watch the race from a luxury suite.
Patrick dropped several spots shortly after the green flag, battling an ill-handling entry for Ed Carpenter Racing. She was the first driver to make a pit stop in hopes of making changes.
She was running in the middle of the field when she spun sideways, hit the outside wall and then caromed across the track and into an inside barrier. She was uninjured.
She reiterated that she had no regrets about her racing career, adding that she anticipates having an itch to come back. Instead, she plans to spend time with Rodgers and building her burgeoning business empire. The only woman to lead laps in both the Indy 500 and the Daytona 500 created a strong brand and became a role model for little girls everywhere.
“I’m very grateful for everybody and for being able to finish it up like I wanted to,” she said. “It still was a lot of great memories this month, a lot of great moments this year.”
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