CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Danica Patrick will join NBC Sports’ inaugural coverage of the Indianapolis 500 as an analyst alongside host Mike Tirico.
Patrick retired from racing after last year’s Indianapolis 500. Her eighth appearance in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” prepped her for a return as a television personality.
She told The Associated Press racing at Indy last year after an eight-year run in NASCAR refreshed her knowledge bank and gives her plenty to discuss. Patrick will be a studio analyst on race day and contribute to NBC Sports’ pre-race, in-race and post-race coverage. She will also be part of the broadcast team for qualifying on May 19 and will promote the race across NBCUniversal platforms.
“This is an event that means so much to me,” she said in a telephone interview ahead of Wednesday’s announcement. “I am so glad I did the 500 last year because my information is much more current and relevant. I think it’s going to be quite a bit of work — I’ve always thought being part of the broadcast team is a different kind of work — there’s a lot of preparation there.”
Her homework began in earnest with the IndyCar season opener in St. Petersburg, Florida, two weeks ago when Patrick tuned in to watch the race.
“I thought, ‘Oh my God, I’ve got to know all the names.’ I’ve got to know who’s the guy who has momentum and who doesn’t,” she said. “I need to respect the event and the position that I’m in. It’s so important for me to be up to date on everything.”
NBC Sports this season snagged the entire IndyCar broadcast package and with it the crown jewel Indy 500, which had been aired exclusively by ABC since 1965 in the second-longest-running partnership of its kind.
NBC has made the race part of its “Championship Season” marketing campaign that features high-profile events from May to July that include horse racing’s Triple Crown, Premier League Championship Sunday, the French Open, the Stanley Cup Final and the Tour de France.
In treating the race as a prized property, NBC Sports is building a strong team for its debut broadcast that is expected to include in some role star NASCAR analysts Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Steve Letarte.
Patrick is the surprise addition. It will mark her return to a race track for the first time since she crashed and finished 30th last May. Patrick has previous analyst experience from three Xfinity Series races with Fox Sports, and last July she was the first woman to host the ESPYs.
“Danica has a perspective unlike any other driver in the history of motorsports and will be a great addition to our first-ever coverage of the Indy 500,” said NBCSN executive producer Sam Flood. “She has proven to be as fearless with her opinions and analysis as she was in breaking barriers while racing in the most competitive motorsports circuits in the world.”
On the track, Patrick is the only woman to lead laps in the Indy 500 and win an IndyCar Series race. Her third-place finish at Indy in 2009 is the highest for a woman. She moved to NASCAR and was the first woman to win the pole for the Daytona 500, and she concluded her career last year with the “Danica Double” of racing in one final Daytona 500 and Indy 500.
Besides the ESPYs, Patrick has had a lower profile since her final race and has focused much of her time on personal travel and her line of wine.