Sports Danica Patrick's final NASCAR race, complicated legacy await

01:05  12 february  2018
01:05  12 february  2018 Source:   msn.com

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Patrick , 35, will run her final NASCAR Cup Series race next Sunday in the 60th Daytona 500. And all of that is partially what complicates her legacy . Patrick ' s legacy , whether she likes it or not, will always be this: the best female NASCAR driver ever yet.

Danica Patrick runs her final NASCAR Cup Series race next Sunday in the Daytona 500, but her complicated legacy will endure after she’s done racing . Brendan Marks bmarks@charlotteobserver.com. ThatsRacin. Danica Patrick ’ s final NASCAR race awaits .

Danica Patrick posing for the camera: Danica Patrick waves during driver introductions before the start of the Sprint Unlimited NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Daytona International Speedway on February 13, 2016.© Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/TNS Danica Patrick waves during driver introductions before the start of the Sprint Unlimited NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Daytona International Speedway on February 13, 2016.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - As she walked into the media center at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday, all the whispering stopped. The keyboard tapping, too. Everyone craned their necks and watched her climb the podium steps, sit down and speak into the microphone for what could be the final time.

Everyone wanted to hear what Danica Patrick had to say.

Patrick, 35, will run her final NASCAR Cup Series race next Sunday in the 60th Daytona 500. She will, barring a miraculous win in a worse car, end her career with no wins at NASCAR's top level. The crowning achievement of her stock car career? It's at this same track five years ago, when she won the pole and finished eighth in the 2013 Daytona 500.

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As she walked into the media center at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday, all the whispering stopped. The keyboard tapping, too. Everyone craned their necks and watched her climb the podium steps, sit down and speak into the microphone for what could be the final time.

Danica Patrick ’ s final NASCAR race awaits . So does her complicated , unfinished legacy .

Now her five-year career (and change) is nearing its finale, and not necessarily in the way Patrick imagined. She said as much in a recently-released Player's Tribune essay.

"Truthfully," Patrick wrote, "this isn't how I envisioned the end of my career playing out."

That's an all-encompassing statement, one that throws a wide net. It touches on her loss of sponsorship, which cost her a spot at Stewart-Haas Racing full-time and essentially forced her from the sport. It touches on her relative lack of success at the Cup level, recording just seven Top-10 finishes in six years. It even touches on her overall decline since that pole five years ago - she hasn't had one since. And yet, despite all that, Patrick's departure from NASCAR will clearly leave a void.

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Everyone wanted to hear what Danica Patrick had to say. Patrick , 35, will run her final NASCAR Cup Series race next Sunday in the 60th Daytona 500. She will, barring a miraculous win in a worse car, end her career with no wins at NASCAR ' s top level.

Patrick , 35, will run her final NASCAR Cup Series race next Sunday in the 60th Daytona 500. A post shared by Danica Patrick (@ danicapatrick ) on Jun 20, 2017 at 8:36am PDT. Patrick will compete in two more races before retiring.

She is not the first female NASCAR driver, but she is by far the most accomplished one. Her list of accolades range from the first woman to earn a full-time Cup ride to the first woman to race at every Cup track. No, she's never won, but she has led laps, finished in the Top 10 multiple times, and proven herself a legitimate driver.

And all of that is partially what complicates her legacy. Patrick's legacy, whether she likes it or not, will always be this: the best female NASCAR driver ever ... yet. There will be others who follow in her footsteps, and there will eventually be women who surpass her accomplishments. There will be women who make the playoffs. There will be women who win races.

One day, a woman might win the Cup Series championship.

But for as clear a part in that progression as Patrick has played, she is not eager to accept that as her legacy. She has stressed throughout her career that her priority has always been herself, not to carry the flag for women.

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Rodgers put his hands on Patrick ' s shoulders and leaned in for the kiss just before she raced for the final time at the Daytona 500 on Sunday. Patrick had hugged and fist-bumped family and crew, pulled her hair into a ponytail and slid into her Chevy. Danica Patrick ' s final NASCAR race , complicated

Danica Patrick ' s final NASCAR race , complicated legacy await . Austin Dillon takes No. 3 back to victory lane at Daytona. Despite her exit from NASCAR , Patrick said she ’s going to enjoy every moment from her final NASCAR race weekend, and Saturday she shared a photo on Instagram of

"If they remember me as a girl second, that's the way I prefer it," Patrick told Sports Illustrated in 2015. "I want people to say she was a great driver and she kicked butt."

Saturday, her message remained the same.

"I've never felt like that," Patrick said when asked if women in NASCAR face more pressure because of the expectations to represent an entire gender. "My own banner is bigger than any other banner for what I want to accomplish for myself, and then the trickle-down effect is what it is.

"But no one expects more than me."

Now, that isn't to say Patrick doesn't support women, because she absolutely does. She has raced a pink car to generate support for breast cancer, her new book stresses fitness and diet, and she has spoken at length about healthy body image.

Just because she supports women doesn't mean she wants to solely be defined as a woman, though. Patrick is a competitor, so naturally she is foremost concerned about her results. That's her right. But it doesn't simplify her complicated legacy, one of a talented female driver more focused with her own success than trying to carry an entire gender on her shoulders.

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Self wins crash-filled ARCA season opener at Daytona : Danica Patrick ' s final NASCAR race , complicated legacy Sharing views. Danica Patrick , center, talks to crew members after practice for the NASCAR Cup series auto race on Sept. 30, 2017, at Dover International Speedway in Delaware.

Everyone wanted to hear what Danica Patrick had to say. Patrick , 35, will run her final NASCAR Cup Series race next Sunday in the 60th Daytona 500. Patrick ' s legacy might be better measured years from now, long after people stop debating whether she even belonged in the Cup Series.

Up-and-coming female drivers, like ARCA drivers Natalie Decker and Leilani Munter, credit Patrick as an inspiration and a trailblazer. Munter said, "Danica being out there has definitely planted the seed in the mind of a lot of little girls across the nation," that they too can be NASCAR drivers.

That is likely true. What is also true is that Patrick's legacy will not be complete until one of those drivers surpasses her feats. Maybe then she will let it soak in, all that she's done to help women in a predominantly male sport.

Until then, her focus remains as it always has: racing her best on the track - even now for the last time.

"I really hope that I finish and that I'm hopefully in contention," Patrick said of what she wants for her final NASCAR race. "That's really my hope for the Daytona 500."

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