What’s your favorite track?
Are you excited to be back at ____________?
What does it feel like to be a girl driver?
Do people treat you fairly?
As I approach the final races of my career, there are a lot of things I know I’m going to miss about this sport. But I definitely won’t miss answering the same questions that I’ve been asked almost every day for more than a decade.
By now I can answer them almost unconsciously. My favorite track is whichever one I do best at. Yeah, sure, of course I’m excited to be back at __________. I don’t know what it feels like to be a guy, so I don’t know anything different than being a female driver. And I’ve never walked in anyone else’s shoes, so how can I say what’s fair?
That’s not to say I hold anything against the people asking the questions. It’s quite the opposite, actually. I’m very thankful to have had so many people take an interest in this journey that started when I was 10 at Sugar River Raceway in Wisconsin. All these years later I could never have dreamed that my NASCAR career would end with a race at Daytona. Not just because it’s Daytona, but also because that’s the first major race of the season — kind of an odd place to end, no?
That leads me to another question I’ve been getting recently:
How do you feel about retiring?
This one is a little harder to answer because my feelings are still evolving.
Truthfully, this isn’t how I envisioned the end of my career playing out. I didn’t plan any of this. It actually began with a pretty big jolt when I lost my sponsor last fall. That was really hard. My passion for racing has never wavered. I don’t think it ever will. But that experience made me more honest with myself about my relationship with racing. It was changing, and looking back now, I know that change was inevitable. It was always going to happen.
I’ve always been interested in other things, but racing was my rock. It was a really big part of my identity, for obvious reasons. But I have a lot of other passions away from the track that are completely unrelated to racing. I love to travel, cook, work out and experience nature, among many other things. I’ve recently started leaning into these passions more and more, and I’ve even been inspired by them to start different companies. In a way, subconsciously, I think I’ve been preparing for this next phase of my life for some time. I always knew a time would come when I wouldn’t have a race coming up, but I guess I’d just never really anticipated when that time would actually come — until it finally did.
I don’t think humans are meant to be stationary. We’re not meant to stay in one place and maintain the same perspective. This is definitely a time of transition in my life, but I’m embracing it because it’s the only way to continue to grow. I’ve always been at the mercy of racing schedules and sponsor obligations. Everything else has had to fit between those priorities, which were generally non-negotiable requirements of my career. The opportunity to reevaluate those priorities — while it was kind of scary at first — is pretty liberating.
Over the past few months, as things have come together for me to race at Daytona and then at Indianapolis in May, I started to feel a greater sense of peace. Even if how it all came together wasn’t exactly the way I would have liked, I realize now that this is the perfect way for me to finish — on the track, in the No. 7 GoDaddy Chevy, with the people closest to me watching as I compete like hell to win.
Chris Graythen/Getty Images
It’s hard to say exactly what I’m going to miss the most about racing. I guess I won’t really know that until it’s not there anymore.
Right now, I feel pretty good. It just feels right to have GoDaddy back as my primary sponsor and to be back in the No. 7 car at Daytona. I’m excited to have Tony Eury Jr. as my crew chief. He was my crew chief when I began my NASCAR career, so it definitely feels right to be back with him. Just talking with Tony about the different things we’re going to do to make the car as fast as possible has me feeling really positive about our plan. It’s going to be a blast.
I know I’ll be prepared for race day. This is my 27th season doing this. At some point you fall into a routine. As part of that routine, there are things I’ll miss and things I definitely won’t miss. But I think because Daytona and Indy will be my last races, I’ll appreciate the entire experience in a different kind of way.
The Daytona 500 one of the greatest traditions in sports. I’m thankful for the challenges that joining NASCAR presented to me, because I was forced me to push myself in ways that I never had before. It made me to look inward to find a sense of peace and happiness so that I could push through the hard times. Now as I emerge from my NASCAR career as the person I am today, I can only be thankful for that. There couldn’t be a better place for my NASCAR journey to end.
There are a lot of things I’m looking forward to, but for now I’m excited about the chance to walk on the beach at Daytona one last time before a race – to be able to feel the sand and listen to the ocean for a few moments.
I want to enjoy every second of it.