INDIANAPOLIS – For the first time in seven years, Danica Patrick took to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in a Verizon IndyCar Series car. Patrick, was one of three drivers to take part in the veteran refresher program on Tuesday afternoon. Unlike the other two drivers, it’s been since 2011 since her last Indianapolis 500. Both Sage Karam and Jay Howard raced in this race just last year.
So, that’s why it took her longer to get up to speed.
When Danica first hit the famed 2.5-mile track for her test, she made one lap and had to come back in. She noticed that the water temps rose too high and worked on the side of caution to bring her bright green No. 13 Chevrolet back in the pits. The team took her car back to Gasoline Alley to repair and about a half hour later, she was back on the track.
But, she would only turn a handful of laps before coming back in for what she thought was a steering issue. The team didn’t know whether that was a result of her not being in a car since 2011 or was there really something wrong with her car.
It didn’t take long, because she’d head back out again shortly later without ever taking her car back to the garages for a second time.
Patrick, completed 52 laps on Tuesday with a top lap of 218.500. At 4:53 p.m. ET, or seven minutes before the close of day, Danica passed her third and final phase and is eligible to compete in the Indy 500.
Despite her first laps since 2011, her level of excitement was surprisingly low. She said that in no disrespect to the process though. It was just the anticipation level of what to expect had a road block and that was to get through today.
“Low,” said Patrick on her excitement level. “I just kind of wanted to get today over with. Not in a negative sense just that it’s been seven years since I drove an INDYCAR here. I just wanted to get through today and get more comfortable and get on with the job.”
Danica said that there’s been a lot of anticipation for this day since she left in the first place. She noted that she really tried to come back in 2013 again, but a team manager at the time said that if she did that then it would test her commitment to NASCAR. So she stayed away and never thought until last fall that she would even entertain coming back. The further she got away from the race, the more she didn’t want to do it anymore.
“Since last fall, I’ve been wondering what the hell this was going to feel like,” Patrick continued. “Now I know.”
Patrick did say that her heavy steering was surprising in that she works out so much that she didn’t think it would feel that way. But, her crew did a good job of making sure the weight of the car would get easier just to get through the test. Now she says, “all the fun starts.”
Patrick said that the biggest difference is not having a clutch petal and having to get in a rhythm of getting her car doing what she wants it to do. From getting onto pit road to even learning today how to put the car in neutral. This is overwhelming enough for her not to look in the mirrors, check the dash or anything like that yet. She’s just taking baby steps on how to get up to speed and taking this day by day.
Ending Her Career Last Year At Homestead Wasn’t Good Enough
When asked again why now. Why Indy? Why close out here? She said because ending at Homestead wasn’t good enough.
“Last year was just kind of an odd year,” Patrick said of why not. “Having a sponsor leaving put me in a situation that I’ve never been in before. I didn’t feel as much hope as I wanted in racing. That was kind of a frustrating position to be in. I was feeling kind of ready to move on but not in the way of being done at Homestead. There’s a better way to do this. There’s a better way to honor the run in my career as well as the fans and especially I couldn’t think of a better place to end than here where it all began.”
Why She’s So Good at Indy
Patrick has made seven previous Indy 500 starts. In all seven, she was a contender. Why is it she’s so good at Indy over anywhere else? She offered a glimpse on that.
“I feel like I built my career off trusting my ass,” said Danica. “That’s important here at Indy. You can’t drive beyond what you feel is possible with your car because it will bite you. Your guts always right. Your feet and your butts right. I feel like this place has a heartbeat and you have to respect it.”