DAYTONA BEACH – It's been five years since Danica Patrick won her only NASCAR Cup Series pole, at the Daytona 500 before her first full-time season. If the highlight of her career doesn't seem that long ago, it's because you weren't in the driver's seat with her.
"You didn't have to live out every single weekend with me," Patrick said. "You didn't live out every frustration I had, every disappointment, every accident. You didn't, and to some degree that's part of what put me where I'm at today."
Where she is today is preparing for the final two races of her career – Sunday's Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500 in May.
Patrick is leaving the sport that made her a star because her results never matched her celebrity. In 305 career races in the Cup or IndyCar Series, she won only once. Despite driving for one of NASCAR's top teams (Stewart Haas Racing), she never finished in the top five.
"I said a couple years ago, if it doesn't go better, I don't need to do this," Patrick said. "I'm not here to fill the field. I find absolutely no joy in it."
So the 35-year-old will soon be off, but not until she makes one last stab at America's two biggest races. Patrick landed a spot at Premium Motorsports for her NASCAR finale, and she let her Indy ride (Ed Carpenter Racing) slip Wednesday.
Patrick was so committed to what she's calling the Danica Double that she considering becoming her own sponsor to make it happen. That wasn't necessary; Go Daddy reprised its role as her chief sponsor, although her clothing line (Warrior by Danica Patrick) still has a prominent spot on her No. 7 Chevrolet.
Patrick's post-racing future will include traveling. She'll try to continue building her brand and keep watching races, at least occasionally. She said she doesn't know what she'll miss about the sport she's loved since she was 10, but she leaves with no regrets.
"I'm not one of those people that looks back on anything and says, 'I wish this would have been different,'" Patrick said. "Because I'm happy where I am now."