Danica Patrick has always known she wouldn’t race cars forever.
Now, that reality may be less than a month away as she prepares for Sunday’s Texas AAA 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Patrick is leaving Stewart-Haas Racing after Nature’s Bakery ended its sponsorship agreement with the team in January with two years remaining on the contract. Patrick spent her six-year, 187-race NASCAR career with Stewart-Haas.
Patrick joined NASCAR after seven years in IndyCar, where she won the Japan 300 in 2008 to become to first woman to win a race on the circuit.
Even with retirement potentially on the horizon, Patrick has spent years crafting her personal brand. She said that awareness and self-reliance has prepared her to make the transition into the next phase of her professional life.
“These loves of mine that have manifested into businesses, they aren’t new to me,” Patrick said. “I’ve been working out since I was 14. I learned how to cook and drink wine, legally, during my time living on my own in England when I was 17 … I remember cutting my clothes up in third grade when I didn’t like them.”
Over the last couple of years, Patrick’s efforts to take on businesses and personal causes outside the track have escalated. This year alone she has started a clothing line (Warrior), released a wine (titled Somnium) and created a fitness routine. In January, she will publish a book about personal exercise and eating healthfully.
“You have to love what you’re doing and have your whole heart into it, or else it might not happen,” Patrick said. “I think it’s a matter of evaluating options and being honest about what makes the most sense.”
Other prominent figures in the NASCAR world believe in her projects and her passion.
“I don’t know what her plans are, but she’s one of the very few drivers that has so many options right now,” Tony Stewart, a three-time NASCAR Cup Series champion who co-owns Stewart-Haas Racing, said in a statement regarding Patrick’s departure. “She’s one of the most fearless people I’ve ever met, she’s never backed down from a challenge. My support for Danica is unwavering.”
Patrick has been the most successful female driver in the history of the sport. She has recorded seven top-10 finishes, including a career-best sixth place finish in the Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway in September 2014. Patrick said one of her proudest moments happened when she became the first female driver to win the pole at the Daytona 500 in 2013.
Patrick has made it clear that she only wants to return to NASCAR in 2018 if her new team is going to be competitive.
“At this point, you never want to say never to anything, because you never how how some of these opportunities might work out,” she said. “I’m an all-in sort of person … and I want to be the architect of my life.”
AAA Texas 500
1 p.m. Sunday, NBCSN