INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Danica Patrick’s racing career ended with a wreck in Turn 2 at the track that made her famous.
Patrick had been running near the middle of the pack in the Indianapolis 500 when she lost control, slid hard into the outside wall, then caromed across the track and hit the inside barrier before coming to a stop on the infield grass in Lap 68 out of 200.
Patrick, who shot to prominence by finishing fourth as a rookie in 2005, announced earlier this year that she would step away from racing after Sunday’s race. It was supposed to triumphantly cap her "Danica Double," which began at the Daytona 500, where she also crashed out well short of the finish.
"I mean, today was really disappointing for what we were hoping for and what you want from your last race," she said, "but I’m grateful for all of it. I just wish I could have finished stronger."
Patrick has been a polarizing figure in racing, and that increased exponentially when she moved from IndyCar to NASCAR. She struggled to run up front despite driving for a powerhouse Stewart-Haas Racing team much of her career, and she wound up with just seven top-10 finishes in five full seasons.
Still, she is respected and in some cases revered at Indianapolis, where fans still 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.
"I was definitely nervous," she said, "but I found myself most of the time on the grid feeling confused. ‘What part of prerace are we in? I don’t remember this. Where are the taps? When is the anthem?’ But I had a lot of my people around me so I was in good spirits."
She was in very good spirits early in the race, when she started on the inside of Row 3 and was running near the top 10. But the new body of this year’s IndyCar combined with temperatures soaring into the 90s made the cars hard to drive, and Patrick joined everyone else trying to figure things out.
Turns out she wasn’t able to do that before disaster struck.
Patrick said earlier this week she had no regrets about her career, and that she doesn’t think she will have the itch to come back. Instead, she plans to spend time on her burgeoning business empire and with her boyfriend, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
"Definitely not a great ending," she said, "but I kind of said before I came here that I feel like if it’s a complete disaster — complete, as in not in the ballpark at all, and look silly — then people might remember that. And 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."