That’s on the young side for retiring from a lot of sports, including auto racing. However, it’s not too soon to go when you’re not wanted, and that’s how Patrick felt.
Danica Patrick raced a lot but didn’t win much
Danica Patrick wasn’t the woman who broke any of auto racing’s glass ceilings, but her ascent in the sport during the internet/social media era has made her the most publicized ever from the relatively small sorority.
Patrick broke into big-time racing in December 2004 when Rahal Letterman Racing added a third team to its IndyCar Series program. Her rookie season showed promise, with Patrick winning a pair of pole positions and even leading 19 laps at the Indianapolis 500. Indy was one of her two fourth-place showings, and Patrick posted five other finishes in the top 10.
Patrick spent six more seasons racing IndyCars. By the time she left, however, she had just one victory – in Motegi, Japan — and six other podium finishes to her credit in 115 starts. She had already decided beforehand that 2011 would be her final season so that she could focus on a NASCAR career.
The Beloit, Wisconsin, native began running part-time Xfinity Series schedules in 2010. She competed full-time there in 2012 while also taking to the track for 10 NASCAR Cup Series races.
From 2010 to 2017, she made 190 starts on the top stock circuit with just seven finishes in the top 10. Her combined IndyCar and NASCAR numbers from 2005 to 2018: 368 starts and one victory.
She went winless for Stewart-Haas Racing in NASCAR
Danica Patrick was one of the most visible drivers in the NASCAR Cup Series from 2012-15. That was due in part to the relative novelty of being a woman in a male-dominated sport. But it was also a function of relentless promotion by GoDaddy, her Stewart-Haas Racing car’s primary sponsor. It was almost impossible to make it through a day without seeing GoDaddy ads on TV or the internet. On race day, the car’s color scheme made it easy to spot Patrick whether she was running alone or in a pack.
However, GoDaddy ended the relationship after the 2015 season. By that juncture, Patrick had run 118 races without a top-five finish. Meanwhile, teammates Ryan Newman, Kevin Harvick, and Stewart-Haas co-owner Tony Stewart were all winning races with comparable resources.
Danica Patrick believes Stewart-Haas let her down
With GoDaddy ending its affiliation with Danica Patrick, a relationship dating to her IndyCar days, Stewart-Haas Racing was put in the position of having to line up sponsors for the 2016 NASCAR Cup Series season.
Patrick raced her final two seasons under smaller deals with Aspen Dental, Tax Act, and a couple of title sponsors. That constituted a significant step down, and it left the driver sensing that the organization might not have been working as hard as it could have.
“I had brought the (original) sponsors, because they liked me, and they were there because of me,” Patrick told Graham Bensinger. “But at some point in time, most drivers, the team finds some money. And, so, I think it was an easy road for most teams where I brought it, and it was full sponsorship.
“And, so, they (now) had to be motivated to go find me sponsors. And motivation varied.
With the Great Recession in the rearview mirror, Patrick thought lining up the money should have been easier for Stewart-Haas. When it didn’t happen, Patrick announced her retirement and arranged a 2018 farewell double – the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500 – with GoDaddy after “realizing that we were more aligned than ever as brands. And, so, it was perfect.”
Patrick may have a point that she made it too easy in her early years by bringing along her sponsors from the IndyCar days. On the other hand, Stewart-Haas likely did not have potential sponsors beating down the door to affiliate with a driver whose only significant victory was in Japan in 2008.
All stats courtesy of Racing Reference.