Depending on how you want to look at Danica Patrick’s NASCAR legacy, you could either consider her a failure or a success. In 180 career Cup starts, she never won a race. However, she also overcame a steep mountain just to get there and persevered for over five years in a sport that some felt she had no business being in. Whether or not Patrick has more chances to add to her legacy remains to be seen now that she has announced she will not return to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2018. Even though SHR told her they would not field a car for her if they could not find a sponsorship, she still wants to race and is looking for any opportunity to do so.
In an interview with ESPN, Patrick is keeping her chin up about the possibilities to get back on a NASCAR track once again, even if she feels like SHR wasn’t interested in making it happen.
“There wasn’t a lot of push to make it happen, but it’s OK. I’m fine. I believe everything happens for a reason, and you never know how good something can be until you try it.
“So whether that’s of course with another team or whether that’s doing something completely different, I’m open. I just want to do what feels right and what will give me the best chance — if I’m racing, will give me the best chance to perform and get in the winner’s circle, which is what I want to accomplish in NASCAR. Or if I don’t feel like that’s something that will be possible, then I’m OK with that, too.”
It’s not that Patrick hasn’t seen success. She had seven Top-10 finishes in her career and is the only woman to take a pole position for a NASCAR Cup race (2013 Daytona 500). Despite the fact that she’s routinely ranked in the mid-to-high 20s overall, Patrick still thinks she can do better.
“I’ve said for a year or two now, that if running 20th to 25th is something that is going to happen on a regular basis, that’s not fun to me, and I don’t want to just fill field. That’s not why I participate. I’ve never related to an athlete when they say, ‘I’m just happy to be here.’ Ever.”
Patrick seemed to infer that while she got support at SHR, she didn’t get as much as she needed.
“I don’t think it’s always constant. At the Cup level, I partially blame just how difficult it is, the workload challenge of it — it’s wide and deep, especially at Stewart-Haas, where it’s a crew-chief driven team where the crew chief makes all the calls and the car build and how it is and what setup ultimately goes on it. There are no two cars identical at the shop. … There are times when the envelope gets pushed and I yell and scream loud enough and sometimes things go a little bit better. But, I think at times, it’s also been very average. There’s been a mix of both.”
“I don’t deny that I’ve always been in a good situation. I’ve always driven for good teams, and I’m grateful for that, which is why if I don’t feel like I’m given the opportunity to be with a team that can do that for me and give me opportunities on a more consistent basis, then I don’t have interest.”
Patrick says she has no interest in returning to IndyCar, where she had her greatest career successes, but has learned to never say never. If it were up to her, she’d be preparing for the 2018 NASCAR season. But it’s ultimately up to a racing team that might want her and a sponsor that wants to support her. Until that happens, Patrick simply has to wait it out.