DAYTONA BEACH, Florida (Reuters) - For Danica Patrick, it was a proud but sad ending to her NASCAR career.
Stock car racing’s most successful female driver fell victim to a multi-car crash at the Daytona 500 on Sunday in what she had already announced would be her final race on the popular American circuit.
“That’s the gamble with Daytona,” Patrick said of the mid-race crash. “It can go so well and it can go so awful. I’m just sad that it ended that way.”
Until then, the 35-year-old had been competitive in what was not the fastest car on the track.
“I said earlier today that I feel like the whole thing was picture perfect... but it just wasn’t meant to be I guess today,” she added.
One of the most marketable athletes in North America, Patrick will run one more race before calling it a career, competing in IndyCar’s Indianapolis 500 in May.
In 2005, Patrick started and finished fourth as an Indy 500 rookie – at the time a record for a woman driver.
She finished third in 2009, the best result ever at the Brickyard for a woman driver, but has not competed in the event since 2011. Patrick is the only woman to win an IndyCar race and to start from pole at the Daytona 500.
Her popularity has waned in recent years, with Patrick unable to produce the results many expected when she made her much publicised jump from IndyCar to NASCAR in 2012.
However, Patrick said of her journey on the NASCAR circuit: “I am grateful for everything.”
After a kiss on the grid from her boyfriend, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Patrick went after the season-opening race where she was pole sitter in 2013.
“I am proud,” she said of her efforts on Sunday.
“We raced the whole race other than a little bit at the end of that first stage when it looked silly with all the cars with tires and no tires. Other than that, we raced it and the car was competitive. That is all you can do.”
Now it will be on to Indy to wrap up her career.
“Still have one more,” Patrick said. “It is not a stock car, but still have one more.”
Reporting by Lewis Franck in Daytona Beach, writing by Gene Cherry; Editing by Ken Ferris