Posted: Tuesday August 30, 2011 11:25AM ; Updated: Tuesday August 30, 2011 5:45PM
Bruce Martin
Bruce Martin>INSIDE RACING

Danica begins her IndyCar farewell tour (cont.)

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Danica Patrick
Danica Patrick, shown here with 4-year-old fan Henry Freeman, says, "The kids are the best. They make it [racing] all worth it."
Bruce Martin/SI.com

"Clearly, I'm leaving because I want to. I'm going to miss some of the races and some of the sensations that these cars give you that the stock car doesn't. And I will miss some of the people. But I'm not going to miss it all ... that is why I'm leaving."

1:04 p.m. -- After a quick lunch of homemade ravioli, Patrick hopped on a scooter and drove down the hill with Moore for a prearranged media conference at the track. When she walked into the press conference room it was packed.

"I'm not used to this big of a crowd for my Friday media availability," Patrick said.

But this was no normal media availability -- it was her first public appearance since her big announcement.

It was also a chance to answer the same questions from Thursday, which Patrick did in her typical style.

"These things become obvious," Patrick said of her decision. "I'm ready. I knew what I wanted to do. If I would have gone to NASCAR for the money, I would have gone a long time ago when we first started thinking of this in 2006. But I was not ready."

At 1:30 she does a quick television interview with Robin Miller of SpeedTV, who calls Patrick a "good ol' girl" because she is heading to NASCAR.

Patrick would go out and perform in IndyCar's Friday practice hopeful she could be a factor in Saturday's qualifications. Instead, she struggled, and ended up near the bottom of the 28-car field.

"It was a frustrating day for the GoDaddy team," she said. "We will go over all of our data tonight and look for an improved setup on Saturday. I didn't test here last week due to my NASCAR race in Montreal. But I have finished in the top 10 here several times. So I think we can get the proper setup for practice and qualifying."

Though Friday's practice was over, Patrick's day was not. She would attend a dinner at a winery for the Michael Andretti Foundation, an organization founded by her IndyCar team owner. Then it was off to a Napa Valley hotel to prepare for another long day in the life of Danica Patrick.

Saturday, Aug. 27

8:30 a.m. -- After having breakfast at the hotel with her husband, Patrick, she is back at the track for an early morning practice session. Again, her car is struggling for speed and she finishes 16th.

At 11:51 a.m. she climbs out of the car, takes off her gloves and helmet and complains about being held up in traffic by two slower drivers in her way.

"It's hard to put a complete lap together here with the traffic," Patrick tells her race strategist, George Klotz. She puts her black hair back into a ponytail, puts on her sunglasses and watch and walks back to the team's transporter in the paddock area of the track.

12:44 p.m. -- Every week at every track on the schedule the IZOD IndyCar Series holds an autograph session for fans. The line for Patrick's signature is often the longest, but she knows how to play to the crowd.

She begins by posing with three little girls, lighting up a big smile for the camera. Here teammate, Mike Conway, is seated next to her and even plays photographer when a fan wants to pose for a picture with Patrick.

Next, a female fan brings up NASCAR for the first time.

"Good luck in NASCAR," she said.

While some fans wished her well in NASCAR, the majority simply told her, "We're going to miss you." The fans at Infineon on this weekend are IndyCar fans -- a loyal but small group when compared to NASCAR fans.

Joan Deal of Chowchilla, Calif., surprises Patrick with a photo of her as a little girl karting at a meet in Solone, Nev.

After her a scrapping, bearded man wearing a cowboy hat steps up. His name is T.J. Woodward, 53, and he has a tattoo of Danica Patrick on his right arm that she autographed for him two years ago.

Woodward, who hails from Grass Valley, Calif., exemplifies Patrick's mass appeal. Everyone -- from little girls who look up to her as a hero to middle-aged men who look at her like a movie star -- loves Patrick.

At 1:07 p.m., the first NASCAR Nationwide Series die-cast No. 7 GoDaddy car makes an appearance in the autograph line for Patrick to sign.

While all this is going on, Conway sits at the same table virtually unnoticed by the autograph seekers. But many drivers in IndyCar have grown used to this (living in the shadows of Patrick's presence) by now.

A woman with tattoos in the line then yells at Patrick that she was the first to have a Patrick tattoo on her arm and predicted her future five years ago.

"I said you were going to Sprint Cup in five years, so I was the first," she said.

Patrick laughed.

As the autograph session begins to wind down, Patrick trades notes with Marco Andretti, from "I'm going to miss you" to other notes they share between themselves.

 
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