It couldn't have been foreseen when Danica Patrick "scheduled" her farewell bid for the Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the Izod IndyCar World Championships season finale. The race had barely started, only 11 laps in, when Dan Wheldon and 14 other cars piled-up in a crash that resulted in the reigning Indianapolis 500 champion's life.
The race was not restarted. To honor Dan Wheldon, the remaining drivers in the race drove five laps at slow speed.
Danica Patrick narrowly avoided the pile-up. She was running low in the 1.5-mile oval, and coming out of the second turn. In fact, one of the on-fire airborne cars sailed just to the right of hers.
After the race, Patrick tweeted: "There are no words for today. Myself and so many others are devastated. I pray for suzi [Dan Wheldon's wife] and the kids that god will give them strength." Wheldon and wife Suzi, his former long-time assistant, had 2 sons: Sebastian, who was born in February 2009, and Oliver, born in March 2011.
Patrick finishes her full-time IndyCar career as the only woman to win a race, the Japan 300 in 2008. In 2005, she was named rookie of the year. She placed third in the 2009 Indy 500, the highest finish ever by a woman. This year, her fifth with Andretti Autosport, she had one top-five and nine top-10s this season.
It's hard to argue with her popularity. She was voted Most Popular Driver of the IndyCar series the past six years. She is expected to win again when the 2011 results are announced next month.
Danica Patrick, 32, will now race stock cars full time in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, where she has raced a partial schedule since last year. She will race for a team owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr. She definitely wants to win.
Dario Franchitti, who once left IndyCar to race in NASCAR in 2008 but returned the following year, commented on her move."It is a very tough move, but one advantage Danica will have is she'll be driving good cars. That will be a massive help for her. I hope she does well, she's a friend of mine.
"I could tell you she was getting frustrated with the lack of success [in IndyCar]. She has a good chance of finding some of it in Nationwide."
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons