HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Danica Patrick, the highest-finishing woman in the Indianapolis 500 and Daytona 500 and the only female driver ever to win a pole in the NASCAR Cup Series, will compete in both races next year before retiring as a race car driver.
“It just came from my heart, and I think it’s going to be awesome,” Patrick said Friday about her decision during an emotional news conference at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Patrick, who is still finalizing the teams for both races, said she doesn’t anticipate competing after the 2018 Indianapolis 500.
“Nothing that was being presented excited me, then about three weeks ago, I just blurted out, ‘What about Indy? Let’s end it with the Indy 500,”’ she told The Associated Press. “This ignites something in me. But I am done after May. Everyone needs to put their mind there. My plan is to be at Indy, and then I’m done.”
The lack of progress as Patrick transitioned from IndyCar to NASCAR resulted in her inability to land enough sponsorship to continue full time beyond this season. Stewart-Haas Racing, the only team she has driven for in Cup, has replaced her with Aric Almirola for 2018.
While Richard Childress Racing still has a seat open for 2018 and other organizations could field a team by starting an additional full-time car, Patrick apparently could not attract enough sponsorship in a series where a full season typically costs at least $10 million for a competitive ride.
Patrick had her most success in IndyCar, with seven top-three finishes in 115 starts, including a victory in Japan in 2008, and a fifth-place season finish in 2009. The Illinois native became the highest-finishing woman in Indianapolis 500 history with a third-place run in 2009 and began her transition to stock cars in 2010 before switching full time in 2012.
She captured the pole for the 2013 Daytona 500 and finished eighth in that race, also the highest finish for a woman.
The 35-year-old has seven top-10s — the most by a female driver in NASCAR — in 189 career starts, with a career-best finish of sixth in the August 2014 race at Atlanta.
She sits 27th in the NASCAR Cup standings this year and has not finished a season higher than 24th in five full seasons at NASCAR’s highest level.
When Patrick announced in September that she wouldn’t return to SHR for 2018, she said she was ready to stop racing if she couldn’t find a good sponsor-team relationship that would give her an opportunity to win races.
“I believe everything…