Babe, Wilt, Mickey, LeBron, Kobe, Shaq … and Danica.
Danica Patrick burst onto the scene in May 2005, when she stunned the world by leading 19 laps and finishing fourth in her first Indianapolis 500 – becoming the first woman to lead laps and score a top-five finish in the historic race. One week later, she graced the cover of Sports Illustrated, becoming the first Indy car driver to be featured on the front page in 20 years.
Three years later, in April 2008, Patrick became the first woman to win a major-league open-wheel race in a North American series with her victory in the IZOD IndyCar Series Indy Japan 300 at the Twin Ring Motegi oval in Japan. That victory set her up for her second Sports Illustrated cover just three weeks later, making her just the fourth racecar driver (joining Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Al Unser) to twice grace the cover of the popular magazine.
In February 2013, Patrick, driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet SS for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR), once again made headlines around the world with her record-setting performance in the 55th Daytona 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. She became the first woman to win a Sprint Cup pole when she set the fastest time in qualifying for the Daytona 500 and then finished in eighth place, the highest finishing position ever for a woman in the “Great American Race.”
She led laps 90 to 91 under caution, becoming the first female to lead NASCAR’s most prestigious race, and then held the top spot under green from laps 127 to 129 to became the first woman to lead a NASCAR race under green. The only other woman to lead laps in a Sprint Cup race is Janet Guthrie, who led five laps under yellow in 1977 at Ontario (Calif.) Motor Speedway.
By leading laps in the Daytona 500, Patrick joined an elite club of only 13 drivers to have led both the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500. The other drivers to accomplish the feat are A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Al Unser, Bobby Unser, Bobby Allison, Jim Hurtubise, Johnny Rutherford, Tim Richmond, John Andretti, Robby Gordon, Juan Pablo Montoya and Tony Stewart.
Of those 13 drivers, only Patrick, Foyt, Andretti, Gordon, Montoya and Stewart have led at least five laps in each race.
Patrick’s eighth-place finish in the Daytona 500, coupled with her six top-10 finishes in the Indianapolis 500, make her one of only 15 drivers to have top-10 results in each race. The other drivers are Foyt, Montoya, Gordon, Rutherford, Stewart, Mario Andretti, Al Unser, Bobby Johns, Cale Yarborough, Dan Gurney, Donnie Allison, Jerry Grant, Paul Goldsmith and Tom Sneva.
Just two months after Daytona, Patrick made history again by becoming the first woman to start a Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, a place that has hosted NASCAR events since 1949. While many expected her to struggled at the .526-mile oval, Patrick delivered an impressive 12th-place finish.
Her impressive rookie performance bested those of some other name drivers in their Martinsville debuts, most notably, her team owner, as Tony Stewart finished 20th in his first Martinsville start (1999). Five-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson finished 35th in his Martinsville debut (2002). NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace finished 15th (1984). Dale Jarrett finished 14th (1984). Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 26th (2000). Kyle Busch finished 39th (2005). Matt Kenseth finished 21st (2000). Kurt Busch finished 37th (2000). Fred Lorenzen finished 24th (1956).
In 2012, Patrick moved from the IndyCar Series to a full-time stock-car schedule competing in the stepping-stone NASCAR Nationwide Series for JR Motorsports while also competing in 10 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races for SHR. Her partial Sprint Cup schedule in 2012 began with the season-opening Daytona 500 and concluded with a season-best finish of 17th at Phoenix International Raceway in November, preparing Patrick for her assault on the full Sprint Cup campaign in 2013.
Patrick began adding another chapter to her already storied career by opening the 2012 season by qualifying on pole for the Nationwide Series race at Daytona, making her the first woman since Shawna Robinson in 1994 to win a pole in any of NASCAR’s top three divisions. She concluded the season with a top-10 finish in the Nationwide Series standings to eclipse the 63-year-old mark of the late Sara Christian, who finished 13th in the final Strictly Stock Series points in 1949.
Patrick’s story begins in Roscoe, Ill., 90 miles northwest of Chicago and 5 miles south of the Illinois-Wisconsin state line, where she was raised. Like many of today’s successful drivers, including SHR co-owner Tony Stewart, Patrick began competing in go-karts at a young age. During her time in karting from 1992 to 1997, she won numerous regional titles while also winning the World Karting Association Grand National Championship in 1994, 1996 and 1997. Her team owner, Stewart, captured the same title in 1987.
From there, Patrick made a career-changing decision, leaving the comfort of friends and family in the Midwest to move to Europe to compete in the cutthroat world of European road racing. After spending the 1998 and 1999 seasons driving in the British Formula Vauxhall series, Patrick moved to the British Zetec Formula Ford series for 2000 and 2001. She earned plenty of attention by finishing second in the prestigious Formula Ford Festival in 2000 at the famous Brands Hatch road course in England, the highest finish ever for an American in the event.
Patrick’s accomplishments in Europe caught the eye of three-time IndyCar Series champion and 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal, who signed her to drive in the United States for his team, Rahal Letterman Racing (RLR). After opening the 2002 season by winning the professional portion of the Toyota Pro/Celebrity race from the pole at the Long Beach (Calif.) Grand Prix, Patrick competed in five Barber Dodge Pro Series events for RLR. She again impressed by scoring a season-best fourth-place result at the Vancouver Grand Prix in Canada.
Patrick moved up to the Toyota Atlantic series in 2003 and became the first woman in series history to finish on the podium with a third-place result at the road course in Monterrey, Mexico. She improved upon that effort by one spot when she finished second on the street course in Miami. Patrick finished the year sixth in points, with five top-five finishes.
She continued to improve in 2004 as she finished third in the Toyota Atlantic series standings with an impressive run of 10 top-five finishes in 12 races. In June of that season, at the road course in Portland, Ore., Patrick became the first woman in series history to win the pole before finishing second in the race. Her runner-up finish gave her the points lead, making her the first woman ever to lead the standings in the elite feeder series.
In 2005, Patrick moved up with RLR to the IndyCar Series, and it didn’t take long for her to become a factor. In just her fourth career start, she qualified second and led 32 laps en route to an impressive fourth-place finish at Twin Ring Motegi.
Her momentum from Motegi carried her into one of the most memorable performances in more than a century of racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Patrick set numerous records during her Indianapolis 500 debut and set the tone early when she posted the fastest lap on the opening day of practice. She went on to set the fastest practice lap five times throughout the month – more than any other driver – including Pole Day and Carb Day.
Patrick’s practice lap of 229.880 mph on Pole Day was the fastest of any driver during the month and the fastest turned by any woman in the history of Indianapolis Motor Speedway. During her qualification attempt, Patrick made an impressive save as her car bobbled in turn one on her first lap, earning rave reviews for her car control by longtime Speedway observers. She ended up qualifying fourth, the best starting position ever by a woman in the historic race.
On race day, 11 laps before the end of the 200-lap race, Patrick blew past leader Dan Wheldon and held the point until lap 194, when she was forced to back off the pace to conserve enough fuel to make it to the finish. Patrick ended up fourth – the best finish ever for a woman at Indianapolis at that time – and earned Rookie of the Year honors for her efforts, which included leading the race three times for 19 laps.
Patrick went on to win poles at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kentucky Speedway in Sparta and Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., tying her with Tomas Scheckter for most poles by a rookie in a season. Patrick finished 12th in points with seven top-10 finishes and earned series Rookie of the Year honors and was named the series’ Most Popular Driver.
The 2006 season began with Patrick making her debut in the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series Rolex 24 At Daytona, co-driving a Porsche Crawford with Rusty Wallace, Allan McNish and Jan Lammers for Howard-Boss Motorsports. Unfortunately, the team suffered a mechanical failure just past the nine-hour mark and placed 24th after retiring early.
In the IndyCar Series that year, Patrick scored a pair of fourth-place finishes en route to a ninth-place finish in points. At Indianapolis, she continued to impress as she started 10th and finished eighth while again being named the series’ Most Popular Driver.
For 2007, Patrick switched to Andretti-Green Racing (now Andretti Autosport) and continued her rise in the season-ending point standings with a seventh-place result on the strength of 11 top-10 finishes. She tied Sarah Fisher’s record for best finish by a woman with a second-place effort at the Belle Isle street circuit in Detroit and, for the third consecutive year, was named the series’ Most Popular Driver. Patrick again performed well at the Indianapolis 500 with her third straight top-10 finish as she came home eighth in the rain-shortened race.
With her skills improving each year, it was only a matter of time before Patrick found victory lane. She made that history in April 2008 at Motegi. It was a win that was heard around the sports world and helped propel her to her best-yet points finish, as she ended the year sixth in the standings on the strength of nine top-10 results. Unfortunately, despite starting fifth at the Indianapolis 500, her string of top-10 finishes in the Memorial Day Weekend event came to an end after she was involved in a pit-road collision with Ryan Briscoe on lap 171 and placed 22nd.
In 2009, Patrick again opened the racing season in the Rolex 24 At Daytona, where she finished eighth driving a Crawford Pontiac with Andy Wallace, Rob Finlay and Casey Mears for Childress-Howard Motorsports. At the Indianapolis 500 in May, she started 10th and finished an impressive third, the best result ever for a woman at Indy.
Patrick continued to climb the points ladder as she ended the season fifth in the standings on the strength of 10 top-10 finishes – the third consecutive year she compiled at least 10 finishes of 10th or better.
More records came Patrick’s way in 2010 when, following the August race at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, Calif., she set the record for most consecutive races running at the finish. Infineon marked the 29th time she had completed a race without a DNF (did not finish), and she ended the year 10th in points. And once again, she was solid at Indianapolis with a sixth-place finish despite starting a career-worst 23rd.
While the IndyCar Series continued to be Patrick’s main focus, she began dabbling in stock-car racing in 2010 and started her career with an impressive sixth-place finish in the season-opening Automobile Racing Club of America (ARCA) event at Daytona. One week later, she made her NASCAR debut in the Nationwide Series at Daytona and finished 35th after being involved in a multi-car accident midway through the event.
She continued to adapt to the heavier stock cars throughout a 13-race Nationwide Series schedule that year. Her average finish in her first seven races was 31.1. Her average finish in her final six events improved to 24.3. To gain additional stock-car experience, she competed in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East event in September at Dover (Del.) International Speedway, where she started 13th and finished sixth.
In 2011, Patrick continued to drive in both the IndyCar Series and the NASCAR Nationwide Series and finished 10th in IndyCar Series points on the strength of nine top-10 finishes, including a 10th-place result in the Indianapolis 500. In her first seven starts at Indianapolis, Patrick accumulated six top-10 finishes and completed 97.7 percent of the laps available.
One again, she did not record an IndyCar DNF in 2011, extending her series-record streak to 50 consecutive races of running at the finish.
On the NASCAR side, Patrick continued to improve while running 12 Nationwide Series races with an average finish of 17.4. She scored three top-10 and six top-15 finishes, including a fourth-place result in March at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The finish was the best ever by a woman in a NASCAR national stock-car series, besting a fifth-place run by Christian in a Sprint Cup race in 1949 at Heidelberg (Pa.) Raceway.
In addition to her success at Las Vegas, Patrick led 13 of 100 laps in July at Daytona en route to a 10th-place result.
Patrick’s full season of Nationwide Series racing in 2012 produced a record-setting 10th-place finish in the final point standings, with four top-10 finishes, an average start of 14.9 and an average finish of 18.8. She started the season on a high note, becoming the first woman in 18 years to earn a NASCAR pole award when she was the top qualifier at the season opener at Daytona. Patrick went on to lead laps in six of 33 races, including a season-high 20 on the road course at Montreal’s Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. Her best finish of eighth came in April at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. She added a ninth-place effort at Bristol in August and brought home two top-10 results at Kansas and Phoenix during the season’s final four events. And, picking up where she left off during her IndyCar career, Patrick was voted the Nationwide Series’ Most Popular Driver for the first time.
On the Sprint Cup side, Patrick made steady improvement during her 10-race run. Her season culminated with finishes of 24th and 17th in her final two events at Texas and Phoenix, respectively, after joining forces with veteran crew chief Tony Gibson, who will guide Patrick’s Sprint Cup efforts full-time in 2013.
One of the most recognizable athletes in the world, Patrick has graced the cover of ESPN: The Magazine and TV Guide and was featured in pictorials in the 2008 and 2009 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. She has appeared in 12 Super Bowl commercials, which is more than any other celebrity. All were for Go Daddy.
In her free time, Patrick enjoys running, weight training, extreme yoga and shopping. She enjoys the music of Alanis Morissette, Miranda Lambert, Pearl Jam and Ingrid Michaelson and is anxiously awaiting the December release of the movie Anchorman 2.
Patrick resides in Phoenix.