Patrick reflects on career as she faces uncertain future

Danica Patrick drives her Ford Warriors In Pink in the garage during Cup Series practice on Friday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — Danica Patrick said she would be honored if young women considered her as having an influence on her sport.

But if this ends up being her last season in NASCAR, she’s under no illusion that things will be any easier for the next female driver who comes along.

Danica Patrick before qualifying at Dover International Speedway on Friday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

More than anything, said Patrick, they’ll still have to prove themselves.

“They’ll have to bring a lot to the table and work really hard,” Patrick told reporters at Dover International Speedway on Friday morning.

“Nothing that any (driver) after me brings will be simple and easy. It will be work — just as it’s work for every guy. You have to be lucky. You have to catch the right moment. The right ride. But when the opportunity presents itself, you need to be ready.”

The 35-year-old Patrick comes to the Monster Mile this weekend facing an uncertain future.

She announced earlier this month that she would not be returning to Stewart-Haas Racing next season.

Patrick said on Friday that she has had some talks about finding a ride for next year “but not a ton.”

“As I’ve said for a good while now, I let business people in my business handle that and have those conversations and figure out what options are out there,” she said. “And I’m going to let them do that.”

This weekend, Patrick will be driving the No. 10 Ford Warriors in Pink Fusion car. The Ford Warriors in Pink program, in its 23rd year, has contributed $133 million toward fighting breast cancer.

Patrick said it’s a cause she feels strongly about. Realizing what the cancer survivors have been through, Patrick said she was especially honored to meet some of them in Chicago last weekend.

“I got the chance to read their bios before I went and, yeah, it makes you feel pretty small again,” Patrick told reporters. “These women have struggled through a lot and some of them have gone through it more than once. It was a good day.”

More than anything, Patrick said she really enjoyed driving some of the women around the track.

“They were all really excited,” she said. “Some people were screaming. Actually, one lady, when I stopped I said, ‘Were you screaming every time that I went into the corner?’ And she said, ‘Yes, didn’t you hear me?’ It was a great day.”

On the track, Patrick said her proudest moment in NASCAR was winning the pole for the Daytona 500 in 2013. She’s the only female driver to accomplish the feat.

In her five Cup seasons, Patrick’s best finish in the Cup series was 24th in both 2015 and ‘16. She’s currently 28th in the points standings.

At the same time, Patrick said there’s so many other things she’s done in NASCAR that can’t be measured.

“There have been lots of little races along the way that I have felt have been much more difficult and much more representative of the hard work that I’ve put into the sport,” she said. “But those don’t stand out because those weren’t wins or top fives.”

More than anything, though, Patrick is proud of “the inspiration that you’ve been told you bring to people, especially to kids.

“That’s a role that you can’t buy your way into,” she said. “You have to earn that. You just can’t stumble onto that, especially having been around a long time now. That’s probably the most meaningful.”

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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