Danica Patrick quiet, focused as her final Indianapolis 500 approaches

NEW YORK -- Danica Patrick stood in her firesuit next to a life-size Lego statue in her likeness in Times Square when a school bus went by Tuesday afternoon.

"Danica," some of the girls screamed.

Patrick waved.

The screams and the spotlight likely will be less frequent for Patrick following Sunday, when she competes in her final race.

She starts seventh in the Indianapolis 500 (11 a.m. ET, ABC) and appears ready for one final shot at motorsports' biggest prize despite not having competed in the event for seven years. And while she will continue with various business ventures after that, she won't have dozens of racing events throughout the year where people are screaming her name.

"It's not like that was my goal when I first started racing was to be honored in any way," Patrick said. "It was just because I love doing it and I love to compete and be in the mix and beat everybody. The rest just comes as a byproduct of doing something that I love to do."

Patrick, 36, has not competed in the Indianapolis 500 since her move to NASCAR in 2012. Getting back in an Indy car was not initially easy for Patrick, as the wheel felt heavy -- the NASCAR stock cars have power steering -- and the G-forces in an open-cockpit car approaching 230 mph take a bit getting used to.

"We have fast cars," Patrick said. "They have been consistently good. I hope that keeps going all the way through the rest of the weekend -- there are two more times on the track, one for an hour [of practice] on Friday and the race on Sunday.

"If it keeps going the way it has gone, then I feel good. But at any point it can really shift and you can wonder what happened. I feel very strongly that you can't take good days at Indy for granted. So far, it's been a great month."

In November, Patrick announced she would run the 2018 Daytona 500 to end her NASCAR career and then take one more shot at the Indianapolis 500, where she finished fourth as a rookie in 2005. She posted the best-ever finish for a woman in the event in 2009 when she took third place.

Patrick crashed out of her final NASCAR race in the 2018 Daytona 500 and looks for a much better result Sunday. Patrick feels comfortable with her choice of Ed Carpenter Racing -- team owner/driver Carpenter is on the Indy 500 pole for the third time in his career -- for the final ride.

"I just knew that I was going to be in a good car, and that's what mattered to me," Patrick said. "And of course, sort of honoring what I had already done here, which was be able to run up front. That was what was really important to me, nothing else."

She hasn't thought too much about it being her last race in an emotional sense but has made a plan. She has a short list of friends and family whom she wants on pit road. The others she wants to stay away from her during the hours prior to the event.

"I can promise you I'll be quiet," Patrick said. "I'll be focused. I won't want distractions. ... I know everyone wants to be part of it, but we will have plenty of time to party after the race."

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