Easily one of the most successful females in motorsports history, Danica Patrick first became a true star in racing in her debut at the Indy 500 in 2005 when she became the first woman to ever lead laps at “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” Her finish that afternoon was the highest for any female in the long and storied history of the race but she actually went on to break her own record four years later. Patrick famously made the full-time jump to NASCAR in 2012 but returned to the Indy 500 in 2018 to run the final race of her career, a race that certainly didn’t go the way she’d hoped.
Danica Patrick finished fourth in her first-ever Indy 500 appearance in 2005
Patrick began her IndyCar career with Rahal Letterman Racing in 2005 and impressed during practice runs ahead of her debut at the Indy 500, setting the fastest overall speed. She started in the fourth position, still the best starting position for a female in history, and became the first woman to ever lead laps in the Indy 500, jumping out in front on three separate occasions to lead for a total of 19 laps.
She led with just seven laps remaining but was passed by eventual winner Dan Wheldon and missed out on her chance to take the checkered flag as she was forced to conserve fuel just to finish. Patrick came in fourth, the highest finish by a woman in Indy 500 history, breaking the previous record set by Janet Guthrie, who finished ninth in 1978. She was named Indy 500 Rookie of the Year and also went on to win IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year as well, finishing 12th in the points standings and recording seven top-10 finishes.
She finished third in 2009
Following her Indy 500 debut in 2009, Patrick continued to race well at the Brickyard, posting consecutive eighth-place finishes in 2006 and 2007. She was forced to retire early in 2008 following a collision with Ryan Briscoe but came back with her best-ever finish at the race the following year.
Patrick began the 2009 race in 10th position but made her way up the leaderboard as the 200-lap race progressed, eventually finishing third, breaking her own record for the highest finish by a female driver. She then went on to her best-ever finish in the points standings, concluding the ’09 season in fifth.
Patrick crashed out of the 2018 Indy 500, the final race of her career
Patrick left the IndyCar series following the 2011 season to make the jump to NASCAR but returned for one final Indy 500 start in 2018 to close out her professional racing career. She’d crashed out of the Daytona 500 in February and, unfortunately, she suffered the same fate at the Brickyard.
Following a solid qualifying run, Patrick began her eighth Indy 500 start in the seventh position in the 33-car field but was clearly having some issues with the No. 13 GoDaddy car in the early stages of the race. Those issues came to a head on lap 68 as her car got loose and violently slammed into the outside wall, sending bright green pieces of the vehicle flying into the air. She ran backwards down the track and lightly tapped the inside wall before finally coming to a stop, thus ending her career. Thankfully, she wasn’t injured and was released from the infield hospital a short time later.
Stats courtesy of Racing Reference