By Steve Keating
Nov 17 (Reuters) - Danica Patrick will drive in the Daytona and Indianapolis 500s next year before retiring, the world's most recognisable and successful female driver said on Friday.
Patrick, the only woman to win an IndyCar race and to start from pole at the Daytona 500, announced her decision ahead of the NASCAR Cup season finale on Sunday in Homestead, Florida.
"This will be my last season as a full-time driver," the 35-year-old Patrick told a news conference as tears ran down her face.
"I feel like this is where my life should be headed. And sometimes we just get kind of nudged there.
"But I’m not totally done. I’m going to do the Daytona 500 next year and the Indy 500. I think it’s going to be a great way to cap it off.”
One of the most marketable athletes in North America, Patrick had seen her popularity wane in recent years, unable to produce the type of results many had expected when she made her much publicized jump for IndyCar to NASCAR in 2012.
One of the "nudges" Patrick was referring to was her inability to secure a full-time sponsor next season.
"I was faced with situations at the beginning of the year that I had never faced before," said Patrick. "I had never had sponsor issues.
"It made me think about things and so I’m excited about the next phase. Trust me."
Patrick established herself as an elite driver and fierce competitor in IndyCar, blazing a path to the winner's circle when she took the checkered flag at a race in Japan in 2008.
But it was the Indy 500 where the diminutive driver loomed large by taking third in 2009, the best result ever at the Brickyard for a woman driver.
Patrick was never able to match that result in NASCAR despite driving for Stewart-Haas Racing, one of the series top teams.
She has competed in 189 NASCAR races but never found Victory Lane, her best result was a sixth at Atlanta in 2014.
Her biggest success in NASCAR came in 2013 when she grabbed the Daytona 500 pole.
"The difficulty is that it (NASCAR) is super competitive," said Patrick. "I mean, it’s twice the field of Indy cars. It’s 40 cars instead of 20, basically.
"I tried every approach I could to figure it out how to make the car go fast.
"I was like, shoot, nothing really works. So here I am.”
Patrick said she hopes to announce which teams she will drive for in the next two weeks but no matter the results she already knows what she would like to be her legacy.
“What I’ve always wanted is to just be remembered as a great driver, then remembered as a girl," said Patrick. "I don’t care if your remember me as a girl. Of course I am, it’s obvious. But to be remembered as a great driver. That’s it.” (Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto, editing by Gene Cherry)