I'm sure when Danica Patrick spent a few fleeting moments in years past to think about how she'd like to close out her long racing career, there's no way this is what she pictured. There will be no season-long celebration, no fond farewell.  She's just left with the "Danica Double", going out small despite her big star status.

So, the beginning of the end starts this weekend here at Daytona when Danica runs the 500 for the seventh and final time.  She's driving not for one of the top teams, but Premium Motorsports who's getting the car and engine from Richard Childress Racing.  They'll use Danica's original number "7" and she'll be working with the first NASCAR crew chief she ever had, Tony Eury, Jr., a guy who used to call the shots for his cousin, Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

Most figure Danica is just here to ride around, but that's not the case. "I'm not here to fill the field," she said. "I'm not one of those athletes that will ever answer a question, I'm just glad to be here.  That's not why I show up.  I show up to compete."

She is also willing to admit this isn't the plan she would have picked out. "Truthfully, this isn't how I envisioned the end of my career playing out," Danica told the Player' Tribune. "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."

Danica started her driving career in go-karts at the age of 10 and quick success had a lot of people talking about the feisty young lady out of Roscoe, IL.  She made it all the way to the Verizon IndyCar Series, dabbling in NASCAR in 2010 before making the jump to stock cars only in 2012.  Danica is the only woman to ever lead both the Daytona 500 and Indy 500.  She won an open-wheel race when IndyCar went to Japan in 2008 and in 2013 captured the pole for the Daytona 500.

The highs, however, have been outweighed by the lows, especially during her NASCAR career. While Patrick is the only woman to ever to compete in over 100 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races, she's collected only seven top-10 finishes in 190 starts.  Clearly, the 35-year-old driver has not been as successful as she would have liked, but former teammate Kevin Harvick felt part of the problem was something she could never overcome.

"You know, this is a conversation that I had with her," Harvick explained. "I had 20 years on her when she started in a stock car. That is experience and the things that come with that, you are never going to make up that ground. As long as I am still racing, I am going to be 20 years ahead regardless.

"I have never driven an IndyCar but based on everything I have heard the characteristics and how you drive them are 180-degrees different. It has been very hard for a lot of the open wheel guys to come over here and drive these 3,600 pound cars. It is the total opposite of everything they have been taught their whole lives. A lot of the kids we have coming up through our ranks now have been in stock car since they were 12 or 13 years old. It is much different. I think you have to pick a path. If you want to race open-wheel cars and do those things it is probably going to be carts and into an open wheel series. There are very few people that have been able to do them both. Tony Stewart and Montoya have done it the best in my opinion, but there have been a lot that have tried."

Indy fans will get a chance to say goodbye in May, but her large flock of NASCAR faithful get the final opportunity Sunday.  "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," Danica confided. "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.

"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.

"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."

She added, "I want to enjoy every second of it."

We should as well because she has a tremendous amount of ability, more than most people give her credit for.  She didn't always get a fair shake from her competitors or the teams she worked for. Yet, that didn't stop her determination to succeed or from making a huge impact in the world of motorsports, becoming an iconic figure to little girls who would have never aspired to be race car drivers until Danica.  She also became a brand herself and will be a busy businesswoman long after she hangs up her helmet.

Danica was a one of a kind and I, for one, will celebrate getting a chance to experience her career. It wasn't always pretty, but it was always pretty interesting.