Danica Patrick hopes to go out a winner in final Indy 500 before next chapter of her life

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The 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500 will be the final start of Danica Patrick‘s 26-year racing career. But make no mistake about it, Patrick — who turns 36 on March 25 — isn’t going to Indy just to simply run laps, maybe sell a few souvenirs and collect a paycheck.

On the contrary. Patrick’s goal for the May 27th race is straight-forward: she’s in it to win it.

Just over 2 1/2 months away, the Greatest Spectacle In Racing will be Patrick’s final race in any series, piloting the Chevy-powered No. 13 for Ed Carpenter Racing, with backing from long-time sponsor GoDaddy. She’s already competed in her final NASCAR Cup race, last month’s Daytona 500. Now it’s on to the second part of the so-called “Danica Double.”

“I love how everything is coming full circle,” Patrick said. “I’m going to close out my racing career at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the place where so many amazing things have happened for me. I’m back in GoDaddy green and joining a great team. Ed Carpenter Racing is consistently competitive at Indy. I can’t think of a better way to finish out my racing career than at the Indianapolis 500 with this team and GoDaddy.”

Even though she last raced at Indianapolis in an IndyCar in 2011, Patrick’s history at the fabled Brickyard has been significant. In her rookie season of 2005, she became the first female to lead laps in the 500. And in seven overall starts there, she earned six top-10 finishes, qualified on the second row in 2008, and in 2009 she finished third, scoring the highest finish ever for a woman in the biggest race in the world.

After the 500, Patrick will move on to a new career that will focus on several of her businesses that focus on fitness, lifestyle, cooking and luxury.

In a phone interview with MST on Wednesday, Patrick talked about racing in her final Indy 500 as well as what the future holds in her post-racing career:

MST: You’re kind of at the same point as you were after Homestead: about 2 ½ months until your last race – first it was NASCAR, and now IndyCar. How much are you thinking about your last race and what are you thinking about it?

Patrick: “I’m thinking about the last race in the capacity of winning it. I’m not thinking of the last race in the capacity of it being the last race. I’m really not. I’m just getting jacked up and excited about and focused on what I want to do, which is win. I’m just trying to think about it as much as possible and manifest the reality I want. I’m thinking about the last race in the capacity of winning it.”

MST: Will you be at St. Petersburg this weekend for the IndyCar season-opening race, and what kind of testing will you do prior to the Indy 500?

Patrick: “No (she won’t be at St. Pete). I don’t plan on going to any IndyCar races. I’m going to be in Indy at the beginning of next week to do my seat fitting, and then I’m testing at Indy at the end of March for a day (March 29).”

MST: Will that be the only test you have before the 500?

Patrick: “Yes.”

MST: Have you talked to some of your former competitors in IndyCar about the new car, how things have changed since you last raced in an IndyCar, etc.?

Patrick: “I’ve talked to people about it like engineers and people I know, like Ed (Carpenter) and Matt Barnes, my old engineer who works now as head of engineering for Ed’s team (Ed Carpenter Racing), which was another reason why I really wanted to drive for him. We’ve talked about that kind of stuff, I’ve asked questions for sure, but there’s nothing like feeling it out for yourself. From what I understand, it should be maybe more downforce than from when I raced (previously in IndyCar from 2005-2011), but less than what they had last year. I’m just hoping it’s like riding a bicycle.”

MST: How much do you think you’ll miss racing in general after the Indy 500?

PATRICK: “I don’t miss it right now. It’s only been a couple weeks (since her last NASCAR race), but I’m good. It’s not like I came to the conclusion to be done racing after Daytona and Indy this year overnight. It was all year last year, from the point where I had the very unique situation of a sponsor (Nature’s Bakery) leaving, to coming to the realization that I was really excited to pursue all these other businesses, and they brought me a lot of joy. Not only was it so fantastic that GoDaddy came into the picture to be my final sponsor, but also because they’re helping me with that stuff. That’s what they do. I’m excited about all those. I’m also not afraid of change. I think a lot of people are afraid of change. It’s not that I’m not afraid at all, it’s just that I get nervous but then I get more excited about what could be than worried about what was. And so, I’m excited.”

MST: Do you think you’ll ever see yourself involved in motorsports in any capacity going forward, and if an opportunity comes along that’s so good, would you be tempted to come back and race again?

Patrick: “Actually, the answer probably goes the same for both. I never thought I’d do the Indy 500 again – I really, really didn’t. And here I am. So that’s my ongoing lesson of never say never – unless you put it before the word never. I don’t plan on any of that, I don’t plan on coming back, I don’t plan on being involved with a team or anything like that. All my other businesses are quite different, they’re fitness, lifestyle, cooking and luxury. They’re very different and I very much enjoy them, so I’m excited about them. No, I don’t see that (racing again), but then again life surprises me in ways every couple years that I wouldn’t expect, so I’m always open.”

MST: You’ve become such an inspiration and role model in your racing career. That’s a big responsibility, but you’ve handled it so well. What do you hope you’ve imparted upon aspiring female racers, both on and off the racetrack?

Patrick: “Thank you. I have to say that’s something that kept me going for quite a while at the end. While sometimes it wasn’t fun, I felt like I had a job and I was given a very unique gift and I was supposed to use it to inspire. Even when I felt my day wasn’t going so well, I still was doing things that other people were dreaming about and I stayed attached to that thought. One of the things that was sad about leaving racing was the potentially smaller platform to inspire wasn’t so unique or so big. Again, that’s all in my head. I feel I have the power to do even more beyond racing now that I’m entering into it. But I do hope to continue to inspire. That’s the one thing that I don’t want to go away just because I’m leaving racing and what I grew up doing. I want to continue doing that through my other businesses, whether it be through charitable organizations, attachments through my companies to charity, or messaging through my businesses, through branding that create empowerment, through the books I would like to write that will open people’s minds up and start to develop this healthy relationship with yourself, food, exercise and your thoughts, to create a mind-body connection and look within in instead of out. These are all the things I hope to do. I just don’t want the inspire part to go away because it’s still powerful and I want to do it. I’m not one of those athletes that ever said, ‘I didn’t ask for this.’ I didn’t, but I’m lucky to be able to do it.”

MST: One of the hallmarks of your career is there has never been fear in you, you’ve always met things head-on. I’m asking this in a light tone, but you’re going to be racing in the No. 13 (in the Indy 500). How did that all come about?

Patrick: “Lucky No. 13. It’s also been 13 years since my first Indy 500. So actually, my race shoes are going to have 2005 on one and 2018 on the other shoe to signify my first and last Indy 500. And green is supposed to be unlucky in racing, as well, but obviously we’re GoDaddy green. Whenever anybody has asked me about superstitions, which has been many times over the years, my reply is always, ‘they’re only real if you believe them.’ So, I don’t believe they’re real and I believe green and 13 are going to be lucky.”

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NASCAR America: The challenges of Martinsville Speedway

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What Martinsville Speedway lacks in size compared to other tracks it makes up in difficulty say drivers and NASCAR America’s analysts.

Landon Cassill joined Carolyn Manno, Parker Kligerman and Jeff Burton on Thursday’s show and discussed the challenges of the half-mile paperclip track.

“It can be fun when it’s going well,’’ said Cassill, who will make his Cup season debut this weekend in the No. 00 for StarCom Racing. “That place, if you’re car is not handling well, you can end up going backwards and just by the time you’ve got some clear race track the leader is right behind you. So it can be frustration. I tend to like Martinsville.’’

Kligerman calls racing in the pack at Martinsville Speedway “the most aggressive racing I’ve ever been a part of in my life.’’

Jeff Burton said: “It’s … one of the hardest race tracks we go to period because you have to do it lap after lap after lap and it’s so easy to get, quite simply, just really, really mad at the guy you’re racing with because he’s hitting you and he’s banging on you.’’

Cup drivers have their description of the track. See what NASCAR America’s analysts and Cup drivers have to say about the track that hosts Sunday’s Cup race in the video above.

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Richard Childress Racing reinstates Xfinity crew chief Nick Harrison

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Richard Childress Racing has reinstated Nick Harrison to crew chief  of the No. 3 Xfinity team after he served a five-race suspension for a violation at Daytona International Speedway. 

Harrison’s first race back will be April 8 at Texas.

Harrison was suspended after the No. 3 car of Austin Dillon had a rear suspension violation in pre-qualifying inspection. Harrison and the team’s car chief were ejected by NASCAR after the violation. RCR imposed the suspension.

“I’m looking forward to being back with my team and winning races after my five-race suspension,” Harrison said in a statement from the team.

Brandon Thomas served as the interim crew chief while Harrison was out. Austin Dillon finished a season-best fourth for the team last weekend at Auto Club Speedway.

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NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Martinsville breakdown, Aric Almirola and Bubba Wallace

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and features host Carolyn Manno and Parker Kligerman in Stamford, Connecticut, and Jeff Burton and Landon Cassill from Burton’s Garage.

Among the topics today:

  •  Prepare for paint swapping, bent fenders, and bruised egos. It’s time to go short-track racing at Martinsville Speedway! Jeff, Parker and Landon will tell you what to expect this weekend at the famous half-mile. We’ll also see what it takes to succeed there, as Parker takes us for some quick laps in the NBCSN iRacing Simulator.
  • After making the switch to Stewart-Haas Racing in the offseason, Aric Almirola is off to the best start of his Cup Series career. Currently 10th in the standings, he’ll tell Marty Snider about his early season success.
  • Since finishing second at the Daytona 500, rookie driver Bubba Wallace has cooled off. Now he faces his first Cup Series start at Martinsville in the iconic No. 43 car, and he’s feeling confident — it’s where Wallace scored his first truck series win nearly five years ago. We’ll examine the struggles he might have to work through this season and also hear his reflections on his early years of racing in the latest edition of “A Driver’s Drive.”

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, you can also watch it via the online stream at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Weekend schedule for NASCAR at Martinsville Speedway

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NASCAR returns to its backyard this weekend after the three week West Coast swing.

The Cup and Camping World Truck Series visit Martinsville Speedway in Southern Virginia.

The weekend is capped off by Sunday’s STP 500. It will be the first Cup race broadcast on Fox Sports 1 this year.

Here’s the full weekend schedule complete with TV and radio info.

(All times are Eastern)

Friday, March 23

8:30 a.m. – 6 p.m. — Truck garage opens

11:05 – 11:55 a.m. — Truck practice (No TV)

1:05 – 1:55 p.m. — Truck practice (Fox Sports 1)

3:05 – 3:55 p.m. — Final Truck practice (FS1)

Saturday, March 24

7 a.m. – 8 p.m. — Cup garage open

7:30 a.m. — Truck garage opens

10:05 – 10:55 a.m. — Cup practice (FS1, MRN)

11:05 a.m. — Truck qualifying; multi-truck/three rounds (FS1)

12:15 p.m. — Truck driver-crew chief meeting

12:30 – 1:20 p.m. — Final Cup practice (FS1, MRN)

1:30 p.m. — Truck driver introductions

2 p.m. — Alpha Energy Solutions 250; 250 laps/131.5 miles (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

5:10 p.m. — Cup qualifying; multi-car/three rounds (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, March 25

9:30 a.m. — Cup garage opens

Noon — Driver-crew chief meeting

1:20 p.m. — Driver introductions

2 p.m. — STP 500; 500 laps/263 miles (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)