(This story originally appeared as exclusive content on the Verizon INDYCAR Mobile app.)
Not long after a tearful Danica Patrick announced that the 102nd Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil would be the final race of her career, the news was still too fresh for many Verizon IndyCar Series team officials to digest.
On Friday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Patrick held a news conference to say that the 2018 Daytona 500 in February would be her last NASCAR race and that she’d conclude her career in May at the race that made her famous, the Indianapolis 500.
Patrick, now 35, made her Indy debut in 2005 to a splash of worldwide attention. As a rookie, she became the first female driver to lead the race and was in first place with seven laps to go before being passed by eventual winner Dan Wheldon. She finished fourth that day, in the first of seven consecutive Indy 500 starts. She placed third in 2009, the best finish ever by a woman at “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
Patrick remains the only woman to win a major closed-course race when she was victorious in the Verizon IndyCar Series event at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan in April 2008. She departed Indy car racing after the 2011 season and has raced in NASCAR since.
Friday’s announcement, at which Patrick said no deal has been set with a team for the Indianapolis 500, set off a firestorm of speculation as to where she might land. Here are some possibilities:
Chip Ganassi Racing has scaled from four full-time cars to two for the 2018 season, with 2008 Indy 500 winner and four-time series champion Scott Dixon in the No. 9 Honda and second-year driver Ed Jones in the No. 10. Mike Hull, the team’s managing director, said CGR is focusing on two cars only at Indy.
“Nobody has talked to us about it,” Hull said. “It’s been a while since we’ve done a one-off. We are concentrating on running full-season entries at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for a while now.
“We have decided to concentrate on two cars and have structured ourselves to do that. To be able to run a third car at Indianapolis, you have to be able to run it in an equal manner. Like Mickey Rooney (from his films as a child actor), you can’t throw the band together at the last moment and expect everybody to show up on the stage and all of the instruments to be in tune. To do it right would require a lot of planning and have an additional staff in place to make it happen, which we don’t currently have.
“If someone comes along like Danica and it makes sense to us, it would be a big undertaking for us to make it happen.”
Team owner Chip Ganassi sounded more promising, however. Ganassi told a group of reporters at Homestead on Friday night that he has been approached by Patrick’s representatives to run both the Daytona 500 and the Indy 500 for Ganassi.
“I think it’s a fabulous marketing idea, it’s a fabulous opportunity,” Ganassi said. “Obviously, the business side of the deal has to work. I just learned about all this yesterday. That’s what has to be worked out. I’m a long way from saying, ‘Yes, I can do that.’
“I need to know more to be interested. I need to know more. I need to talk to my people. There’s a lot of moving parts on a deal like that.”
Dreyer & Reinbold Racing team owner Dennis Reinbold usually has a competitive Chevrolet in the Indy 500 as a one-off team. Sage Karam piloted that car in the race the past two years. According to Patrick’s father, T.J. Patrick, the team is expected to run two cars in the 2018 Indy 500.
“They are looking at two cars, so you never know,” T.J. Patrick said. “They always run well at the Indy 500. Anything is possible.”
Chase Selman, team manager at Dreyer & Reinbold, is married to Patrick’s sister, Brooke.
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing is the team where Patrick’s Indy car career started, for her first two seasons in 2005-06. Team co-owner Bobby Rahal said Friday that, for now, his team is focusing on a two-car, full-season effort that includes son Graham and defending Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato as the drivers.
“Nobody had called me to even suggest that and we have two cars in the race and I’m focused on those two cars,” Bobby Rahal said. “I don’t know what her plans are, but I am certainly not part of them, I’ll tell you that.
“Would I be interested? Sure, if it works for our organization. We’ll find out. But I have not been contacted.”
A return to Andretti Autosport, where Patrick drove from 2007-11, is not going to happen, her father said.
“I can pretty much guarantee you it won’t be Andretti,” T.J. Patrick affirmed.
Andretti’s stable is already full for next year’s Indianapolis 500, with full-season drivers Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi and Zach Veach. In addition, Stefan Wilson has already been named to drive a fifth Andretti Autosport car at Indy as a make-good for him stepping aside this year to allow Fernando Alonso to drive in the 101st running this past May.
Team Penske owner Roger Penske has said he will run just four cars at the 2018 Indy 500, for full-time drivers Josef Newgarden, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud, plus the fourth car for three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves, who is moving full-time to the team’s new sports car operation in 2018.
Schmidt Peterson Motorsports co-owner Sam Schmidt told the Verizon INDYCAR Mobile app that his team doesn’t have room to run Patrick in next year’s Indy 500. Canadians James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens are the full-time drivers, with a third entry expected for Indianapolis.
“I think it’s great for the sport that she will be ending her career in the Indy 500 and I think she will do a very good job,” Schmidt said. “But at this point, we’re full.
“We’re full and that’s it.”