CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — The first leg of the “Danica Double” was a bit of a bust after Danica Patrick crashed out of the Daytona 500.
She still has the Indianapolis 500 ahead of her, and Patrick has set an extremely high bar for the final race of her career.
“I’m going there to win the thing,” Patrick said.
Patrick begins her Indy 500 preparations in earnest next week with a seat fitting at Ed Carpenter Racing in Indianapolis. She will climb behind the wheel of an Indy car for the first time since 2011 on March 29 during a Chevrolet test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“For sure I’m nervous,” Patrick told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. “I’m nervous because it’s been a long time and anything that matters, you get nervous for. And on top of being gone a long time, I want to do a good job. I want it to go well, I want it to be like the old days and have a shot and win the damn thing.”
Patrick will drive the No. 13 Chevrolet for Carpenter, who will field three cars in the Indianapolis 500. Carpenter, a two-time Indy 500 pole winner, will drive his entry and ECR fulltime driver Spencer Pigot will pilot the second Chevrolet. Pigot has two previous Indy 500 starts.
Landing a seat with Carpenter, the only driver and owner in the IndyCar Series, took time to put together but gives Patrick an honest shot at a strong finish. When she announced her plans to retire after racing the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500 this year, many believed Patrick was closing in on a deal with Chip Ganassi Racing.
A partnership with Ganassi never materialized, and Team Penske and Andretti Autosport already had full lineups. Carpenter isn’t exactly a second choice because his organization makes the Indy 500 a priority.
“Indianapolis is pretty much everything,” Carpenter told AP. “We all put a huge emphasis and focus on Indianapolis and being competitive there. We believe in going there and being fast and having a chance to win that race. Of course, we won’t really know what we’ve got until the month of May and everyone puts their cards on the table.”
Carpenter wasn’t in position to offer Patrick a ride when she first announced the “Danica Double.” He was still finalizing his 2018 lineup for the IndyCar season, which opens Sunday in St. Petersburg, Florida. When he had the regular season handled, Carpenter was able to discuss options with Patrick.
Patrick is the highest-finishing woman in the Indy 500 — third in 2009 — and is the only woman to lead laps at both Indy and Daytona. In seven previous starts at Indy, she finished outside the top 10 only once.
“Danica has always been comfortable and quick at Indy,” Carpenter said. “The timing on this just worked out and Danica and I both believe that things happen for a reason. When I had a chance to offer her a seat, I was happy she hadn’t moved on and found another deal. She checks all the boxes.”
Patrick raced for Premium Motorsports at the Daytona 500, where she teamed with Tony Eury Jr., the crew chief who guided her when she first moved to NASCAR. She was involved in a wreck and finished 35th, but left Daytona pleased with her effort.
Patrick took a brief vacation after Daytona to Mexico with new boyfriend, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and is now ready to go to work and end her career on top.
“Someone asked me if I win the Indy 500 if I’d still retire,” she said. “I’d still retire. What better way to go out?”
GoDaddy, Patrick’s former sponsor in both IndyCar and NASCAR, teamed with Patrick for her double and is helping her prepare for life outside of the race car.
“Let there be no question about Danica’s ability to go out with a win at what is arguably the most recognized race in the world,” said GoDaddy chief marketing officer Barb Rechterman. “One of the best parts of all this for us is that it’s never really been about whether she wins — it’s more about Danica’s moxie, her commitment and her ability to compete at the highest levels of a male-dominated sport.”
GoDaddy allowed Patrick to design the logo for the “Danica Double” and she also has freedom on her Indy 500 firesuit. As for the No. 13, neither Patrick nor Carpenter is superstitious enough to avoid the number so many racers stay away from. There were only so many available numbers for Patrick to choose from for Indy, and when told 13 was up for grabs, she claimed it for herself.
“Drivers like to say green is unlucky and I never found that with my green GoDaddy paint scheme,” Patrick said. “Why can’t it be considered lucky number 13? Maybe it’s the number I drive to a win.”