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Danica Patrick hopes to go out a winner in final Indy 500 before next chapter of her life

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The 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500 will be the final start of Danica Patrick’s 26-year racing career. But make no mistake about it, Patrick — who turns 36 on March 25 — isn’t going to Indy just to simply run laps, maybe sell a few souvenirs and collect a paycheck.

On the contrary. Patrick’s goal for the May 27th race is straight-forward: she’s in it to win it.

Just over 2 1/2 months away, the Greatest Spectacle In Racing will be Patrick’s final race in any series, piloting the Chevy-powered No. 13 for Ed Carpenter Racing, with backing from long-time sponsor GoDaddy. She’s already raced in her final NASCAR Cup race, last month’s Daytona 500. Now it’s on to the second part of the so-called “Danica Double.”

“I love how everything is coming full circle,” Patrick said. “I’m going to close out my racing career at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the place where so many amazing things have happened for me. I’m back in GoDaddy green and joining a great team. Ed Carpenter Racing is consistently competitive at Indy. I can’t think of a better way to finish out my racing career than at the Indianapolis 500 with this team and GoDaddy.”

Even though she last raced at Indianapolis in an Indy car in 2011, Patrick’s history at the fabled Brickyard has been significant. In her rookie season of 2005, she became the first female to lead laps in the 500. And in seven overall starts there, she earned six top-10 finishes, qualified on the second row in 2008, and in 2009 she finished third, scoring the highest finish ever for a woman in the biggest race in the world

.After the 500, Patrick will move on to a new career that will focus on several of her businesses that focus on fitness, lifestyle, cooking and luxury.

In a phone interview with MST on Wednesday, Patrick talked about racing in her final Indy 500 as well as what the future holds in her post-racing career:

MST: You’re kind of at the same point as you were after Homestead: about 2 ½ months until your last race – first it was NASCAR, and now IndyCar. How much are you thinking about your last race and what are you thinking about it?

Patrick: “I’m thinking about the last race in the capacity of winning it. I’m not thinking of the last race in the capacity of it being the last race. I’m really not. I’m just getting jacked up and excited about and focused on what I want to do, which is win. I’m just trying to think about it as much as possible and manifest the reality I want.”

I’m thinking about the last race in the capacity of winning it.

MST: Will you be at St. Petersburg this weekend for the IndyCar season-opening race, and what kind of testing will you do prior to the Indy 500?

Patrick: “No (she won’t be at St. Pete). I don’t plan on going to any IndyCar races. I’m going to be in Indy at the beginning of next week to do my seat fitting, and then I’m testing at Indy at the end of March for a day (March 29).”

MST: Will that be the only test you have before the 500?

Patrick: “Yes.”

MST: Have you talked to some of your former competitors in IndyCar about the new car, how things have changed since you last raced in an IndyCar, etc.?

Patrick: “I’ve talked to people about it like engineers and people I know, like Ed (Carpenter) and Matt Barnes, my old engineer who works now as head of engineering for Ed’s team (Ed Carpenter Racing), which was another reason why I really wanted to drive for him. We’ve talked about that kind of stuff, I’ve asked questions for sure, but there’s nothing like feeling it out for yourself. From what I understand, it should be maybe more downforce than from when I raced (previously in IndyCar from 2005-2011), but less than what they had last year. I’m just hoping it’s like riding a bicycle.”

MST: How much do you think you’ll miss racing in general after the Indy 500?

PATRICK: “I don’t miss it right now. It’s only been a couple weeks (since her last NASCAR race), but I’m good. It’s not like I came to the conclusion to be done racing after Daytona and Indy this year overnight. It was all year last year, from the point where I had the very unique situation of a sponsor (Nature’s Bakery) leaving, to coming to the realization that I was really excited to pursue all these other businesses, and they brought me a lot of joy. Not only was it so fantastic that GoDaddy came into the picture to be my final sponsor, but also because they’re helping me with that stuff. That’s what they do. I’m excited about all those. I’m also not afraid of change. I think a lot of people are afraid of change. It’s not that I’m not afraid at all, it’s just that I get nervous but then I get more excited about what could be than worried about what was. And so, I’m excited.”

MST: Do you think you’ll ever see yourself involved in motorsports in any capacity going forward, and if an opportunity comes along that’s so good, would you be tempted to come back and race again?

Patrick: “Actually, the answer probably goes the same for both. I never thought I’d do the Indy 500 again – I really, really didn’t. And here I am. So that’s my ongoing lesson of never say never – unless you put it before the word never. I don’t plan on any of that, I don’t plan on coming back, I don’t plan on being involved with a team or anything like that. All my other businesses are quite different, they’re fitness, lifestyle, cooking and luxury. They’re very different and I very much enjoy them, so I’m excited about them. No, I don’t see that (racing again), but then again life surprises me in ways every couple years that I wouldn’t expect, so I’m always open.”

MST: You’ve become such an inspiration and role model in your racing career. That’s a big responsibility, but you’ve handled it so well. What do you hope you’ve imparted upon aspiring female racers, both on and off the racetrack?

Patrick: “Thank you. I have to say that’s something that kept me going for quite a while at the end. While sometimes it wasn’t fun, I felt like I had a job and I was given a very unique gift and I was supposed to use it to inspire. Even when I felt my day wasn’t going so well, I still was doing things that other people were dreaming about and I stayed attached to that thought. One of the things that was sad about leaving racing was the potentially smaller platform to inspire wasn’t so unique or so big. Again, that’s all in my head. I feel I have the power to do even more beyond racing now that I’m entering into it. But I do hope to continue to inspire. That’s the one thing that I don’t want to go away just because I’m leaving racing and what I grew up doing. I want to continue doing that through my other businesses, whether it be through charitable organizations, attachments through my companies to charity, or messaging through my businesses, through branding that create empowerment, through the books I would like to write that will open people’s minds up and start to develop this healthy relationship with yourself, food, exercise and your thoughts, to create a mind-body connection and look within in instead of out. These are all the things I hope to do. I just don’t want the inspire part to go away because it’s still powerful and I want to do it. I’m not one of those athletes that ever said, ‘I didn’t ask for this.’ I didn’t, but I’m lucky to be able to do it.”

MST: One of the hallmarks of your career is there has never been fear in you, you’ve always met things head-on. I’m asking this in a light tone, but you’re going to be racing in the No. 13 (in the Indy 500). How did that all come about?

Patrick: “Lucky No. 13. It’s also been 13 years since my first Indy 500. So actually, my race shoes are going to have 2005 on one and 2018 on the other shoe to signify my first and last Indy 500. And green is supposed to be unlucky in racing, as well, but obviously we’re GoDaddy green. Whenever anybody has asked me about superstitions, which has been many times over the years, my reply is always, ‘they’re only real if you believe them.’ So, I don’t believe they’re real and I believe green and 13 are going to be lucky.”

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MRTI: Herta standing tall, riding wave of momentum in Indy Lights

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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It would be hard to top the month of May that Colton Herta is coming off of.

The 18-year-old, now in his second year competing in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, enjoyed a sweep of the three Indy Lights races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, winning both events on the IMS Road Course – charging through the field to do so (he fell back as far as sixth and fourth between Race 1 and Race 2) – and outdueling Andretti Autosport stablemates Pato O’Ward and Dalton Kellett to win a frantic Freedom 100.

In short, it was a near perfect month for the young Herta.

“It’s super special to win in Indy and to get do the triple there at a place that’s so nostalgic, it’s a pretty cool feeling,” Herta told NBC Sports about his Indy success.

And all three were thrilling drives in which Herta spent the entire time battling with rivals – Santi Urrutia on the IMS Road Course, and the aforementioned O’Ward and Kellett, and Urrutia as well, in the Freedom 100.

Colton Herta edged Pato O’Ward to win the Freedom 100. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Herta is no stranger to winning – he won twice in 2017 (Race 2 at St. Petersburg and Race 2 at Barber Motorsports Park) – both times in dominant fashion.

As he explained, it isn’t necessarily more challenging to dominate a race versus battling rivals the entire way, but different mindsets are required to survive each.

“It’s a different skill set,” he asserted. “Obviously when you start up front, there’s a lot more pressure to perform, so it’s more about managing the gap to the guys behind. Whereas you’re not as nervous when you’re in the back of the pack, because you can’t go any further back. So there’s less nerves going into the race. And it’s more about attacking the whole time and taking a little more risk.”

In discussing his Indy victories more, Herta detailed that outdueling opponents in intense duels – like the ones at Indy – comes down to thoroughly analyzing one’s opponents and making aggressive, yet smart passes.

“You can see what the guys are doing ahead of you, and obviously if you follow them for a lap or two you can see where they’re struggling and you can make up ground on them,” he explained. “And that’s the biggest thing: going for an overtake that you can make – especially when you’re in the running for a championship fight like this – going for an overtake that you know you can make without taking a massive risk, and kind of seeing the tendencies of the car in front of you and where they’re struggling and when you’re making up time.”

Herta’s run of recent success comes as more evidence of a driver who appears to be more polished than he was last year. While blisteringly fast – Herta captured seven poles in 2017 – there were also a number of errors that kept him from making a more serious championship challenge.

Though Herta began 2018 with a somewhat ominous crash in Race 2 at St. Pete, the rest of his season has been much cleaner. He finished third in Race 1 at St. Pete and second and third at Barber Motorsports Park before his run of victories at IMS.

Still, despite the appearance of a more polished driver, Herta explained that his approach is no different than it was in 2017.

“Not much has changed,” he asserted. “The mindset obviously is still the same because, especially with a (seven car field), you need to win races and you need to win quite a few of them to win the championship. (Staying out of trouble is about) just kind of settling in and knowing that a second or third place, or even a fourth or fifth place, isn’t terrible to take every now and then.”

And because the field in Indy Lights is small this year – only seven cars are entered at Road America – Herta revealed that maintaining a hard-charging style and going for race wins is paramount, in that the small fields make it harder to gap competitors in the title hunt.

“It’s hard to create a gap. On a bad day, you’re still going to be closer (to the guys ahead of you). Like Pato O’Ward in Indy (on the road course) had an awful weekend and finished in the back in both races (fourth and seventh), but I’m only at a (six point) lead. It’s tough to get ahead, so you want to minimize mistakes. It’s tough to make a gap, but it’s also tough to fall behind.”

As such, Herta is most certainly focused on bringing home an Indy Lights crown in 2018, which would propel him into the Verizon IndyCar Series, but he isn’t putting undue pressure on himself to force it to happen.

“In the second year, you have to get it done, and it’s tough to move up to IndyCars without that $1 million scholarship. So yeah, it’s important, but there’s no need to put more pressure on myself for how it is. I just got to keep doing what I’m doing, keep my head down, and if we can replicate what happened in May more and more, we should be in IndyCar next year,” he detailed.

And a potential move to IndyCar is certainly on the minds of Herta and Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing, even if the Indy Lights title ends up in the hands of someone else.

“We are thinking about it for sure, and we have some sponsors already committed on this year that I think we could bring up into IndyCar,” Herta revealed. “But, if we win the Indy Lights championship, we’re going to race (IndyCar), whether it’s the four races that we’re given or whatever it may be.”

Herta will look to improve upon his results from last year at Road America, when he finished 12th in Race 1 and third in Race 2.

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