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Danica Patrick prepares for Daytona 500, her final NASCAR race

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Danica Patrick will be driving the No. 7 Chevrolet in the Daytona 500 on Feb. 18, which is her last scheduled NASCAR start.

NASCAR: Can Am Duels-Practice Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

There were no tears nor any emotional moments. Instead, it was all business when Danica Patrick talked to the media Saturday at Daytona International Speedway in preparation for the Daytona 500, her final scheduled NASCAR start.

Patrick had to stop and compose herself multiple times when she announced last November at Homestead-Miami Speedway that her full-time racing career was coming to an end following the 2017 Cup Series season finale. That emotion was absent Saturday, Patrick explained, because she came to peace with her decision and is excited about her prospects of competing in the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500 in May, then calling transitioning to a life outside motorsports.

“With the announcement, there was so much loaded emotion in that weekend that to me, that had a lot of a feel for kind of the end on some level,” Patrick said.

Of course, with the Daytona 500 still a week away, things can change, and Patrick admits that her feelings may differ by the time the Feb. 18 race rolls around.

“When I think next Sunday comes, I’m sure I’ll be a lot more retrospective or introspective and emotional about the finality of it,” Patrick said. “But right now, I’m fine. I’m good. I’m excited about it all. I made the decision last year that this is what I was good with. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been doing it. So, I’ve had a lot of time to mentally transition. And that transition started last year.”

The entirety of Patrick’s stint in Cup was spent with powerhouse Stewart-Haas Racing. But with the Tony Stewart and Gene Haas co-owned team having signed Aric Almirola to replace her, Patrick joined Premium Motorsports, a modest organization, where she will drive the No. 7 Chevrolet.

Leading Patrick’s team is crew chief Tony Eury Jr., who has previous experience working with Patrick when he filled the same role for 51 Xfinity Series races from 2010-2012. That she and Eury have reunited is an appropriate way for Patrick to put a bow on her time in NASCAR.

Patrick’s experience with Eury helps mitigate the challenges of a deal that wasn’t finalized until mid-January. It was expected that Patrick would settle on a team with enough lead time before Daytona, but when that didn’t occur due a lack of funding, she stepped in to push things along. It was Patrick who facilitated sponsorship with GoDaddy, her previous sponsor from 2010-2015 and played a significant role in helping launch her into the national spotlight when the company had her star in multiple Super Bowl commercials.

“Tony Eury Jr. is a really good spirited, happy guy that knows what he is doing,” Patrick said. “That to be honest is and will be the most critical element to come together for this program was having him.”

Patrick won the Daytona 500 pole in 2013 then went on to finish eighth in the race, the best result by a female driver in NASCAR’s biggest race. On Saturday during practice, she was atop the scoring chart for part of the session before finishing in the 16th position.

A combination of qualifying on Sunday and the finishing order of the Duels heats on Thursday will determine the starting lineup for the 60th annual Daytona 500. Regardless of how she does in either, Patrick is assured a spot in the field with Premium holding a charter that guarantees the team automatic entry.

“I really hope that I finish and that I’m hopefully in contention. That’s really my hope for the Daytona 500,” Patrick said of her expectations. “There’s no such thing as a runaway here, you just hope that you’re in contention.”