Win or lose, Danica Patrick will make this year's Indianapolis 500 the farewell event of her groundbreaking 20-year auto racing career after being away from IndyCars since 2011.
"After being gone for seven years, I didn't think I'd ever do it again," Patrick said. "If I win, I really don't think I would come back. It would be perfect. Just mic drop that thing. It would be the perfect way to go out."
The 36-year-old American has enjoyed the greatest success of any woman in IndyCar history as she prepares for this weekend's qualifying for the 102nd edition of the Indy 500 on May 27.
Patrick won the 2008 Indy Japan 300, the only victory by a woman in IndyCar history, and she was third in the 2009 Indy 500, the only podium finish for a woman in the race's history.
"I've been very fortunate in my career," Patrick said. "I know that racing has given me everything I have. It has given me every opportunity I have. It really all started here."
Patrick began racing go-karts at age 10 and became a national champion. Her parents approved her dropping out of high school in 1998 and moving to England, where she competed for three years before returning to America and driving in development circuits for three years until being hired for IndyCar in 2005.
She made a major splash in her Indianapolis debut, setting the fastest overall practice speed and starting fourth in the oval classic. Patrick led 19 laps but had to conserve fuel late and settled for fourth, matching her best finish of the season on the way to Indy 500 and IndyCar Rookie of the Year honors.
Patrick became the first woman to win a top-level open wheel race in 2008 when she captured the IndyCar race at Motegi in Japan. The next year she was third at Indy. But after the 2011 season, Patrick switched to US stock car racing and competed there full time through the end of 2017.
She finished 35th at the Daytona 500 earlier this year after being involved in a six-car crash and plans to complete what she's dubbed the "Danica Double" this month with a second race of her final season.
She completed her first official practice at Indianapolis on Tuesday.
- 'Humble and respectful' -
"The over-sweeping feeling every time I come to this track is that you have to be humble and respectful of it," Patrick said. "And that you're going very fast. Things happen very fast. You can go out from one run to the next and not change anything and the car can be different. You just need to keep your wits about you."
Patrick soon will turn her attention to business interests, a clothing line and wine vineyards, and her own brand stressing empowerment for women.
"I'm not shy about my message," Patrick said. "The next phase of moving into life after racing is I want to spread that message of empowerment and dreaming, setting big goals for yourself and finding what it is that you love to do so you have the motivation to do it past when it's challenging."
As Patrick has worked to settle herself in behind an IndyCar again, she is working to maximize the car for competitive speed in qualifying and racing.
"The car has a lot of good, natural speed. It's really just a matter of making a good racecar," Patrick said.
"I've improved my comfort level in traffic. I ran in traffic virtually all day. I feel like that's going to pay off in the long run. We still have to make the car better but me getting more comfortable is also going to help that process."
Danica Patrick, pictured February 2018, has enjoyed the greatest success of any woman in IndyCar history
Danica Patrick is helped into her car during practice for the Indianapolis 500 in 2005, the year she earned the title IndyCar Rooke of the Year
Danica Patrick became the first woman to win a top-level open wheel race in 2008 when she captured the IndyCar race at Motegi in Japan
Danica Patrick enjoys the pre-race festivities prior to the start of the Daytona 500 in February 2018