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Patrick may sound like she’s suddenly found herself, but there’s still a ton she hasn’t figured out. She doesn’t know how long she wants to race, but says she could see herself in NASCAR another 10 years.

“I always thought I’d race for 10 years, but then I did seven in IndyCar and now I’ve done two in NASCAR,” she said. “So I am closing in on that 10 years of professional racing thing, but I am starting over and I have to start that 10-year clock over. I really don’t know. I don’t know if there’s any way to pinpoint when you are going to lose passion for it or not be competitive.”

That is certainly not now, not when Patrick is entering her first full season racing in the elite Cup Series. She drives for three-time champion Tony Stewart with sponsorship from longtime partner GoDaddy, and Stewart last year hand-picked 10 of the toughest tracks in NASCAR for Patrick to run in preparation for the move to the top series.

To say she struggled would be an understatement.

Patrick’s average start was 36th, her average finish 28th and she crashed out of two of her 10 races. Fans howled she was undeserving of her ride and didn’t warrant any media attention, then they voted her the Most Popular Driver in the second-tier Nationwide Series, where she finished 10th in points with four top-10 finishes.

That’s the irony of Patrick, who was polarizing to fans in her seven seasons of IndyCar racing. She was the first woman to lead laps in the Indianapolis 500, and her third-place finish in that race in 2009 was the highest for a woman. She’s also the only woman to win an IndyCar race, which she did in Japan in 2008.

Those three highlights were about it for Patrick, who never finished higher than fifth in the standings and had just seven podium finishes in 115 career starts. But she was IndyCar’s biggest star and the spotlight rarely reached any other drivers, which wasn’t lost on her fellow competitors.

Patrick makes no apologies for the attention she receives, and is taking a no-regrets attitude about much of her life. She’s left behind IndyCar, maybe for good _ she’s sitting out the Indianapolis 500 for a second straight year _ and she walked away from an unhappy marriage. She doesn’t always like the things the Danica marketing machine wants her to do, but she’s a businesswoman who learned a long time ago from Bobby Rahal to prepare for a life after racing.

If there’s anything she would do over, Patrick isn’t saying.

“I say that I learned an incredible amount in my 20s about everything, and about myself came at the end,” she said. “I learned a lot about people, relationships, business, employees. I enjoyed it all, and I learned a lot.

“But I think it took me all the way until the last year how happy it makes me to be able to be myself, and how much I like myself. And you know, you take it or leave it. That’s it. This is me, people can take it or leave it.”


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