EXCLUSIVE! DANICA PATRICK QUITS racing in wake of tragedy, say sources, as The ENQUIRER reports that INDY speed king DAN WHELDON didn’t have to die!

The ENQUIRER has discovered that shortly before his final race, the two-time Indianapolis 500 winner secretly complained to pals he was unhappy that officials had allowed “so many” drivers to compete on the 1.5-mile-long oval track.

Wheldon’s fears turned into a horrifying reality in a fiery crash when his car became ensnared in a horrific 15-car pileup during the Oct. 16 “IndyCar” Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

As his No. 77 car was engulfed in flames, the scene was so unnerving that racing’s glamour girl Danica Patrick later broke down in tears and vowed to pals: “I will never race again!”

As the racing world mourned the loss of the 33-year-old father of two, a close source told The ENQUIRER: “Dan’s death could have been prevented if the racing bosses hadn’t al­lowed so many competitors – it was literally an accident waiting to happen.”

A total of 34 drivers were given the green light for the race – the most crowded field of the season. Al­though the Indy 500 which Wheldon won this past year had 33 cars, most races fea­turing the super-fast vehicles have far fewer drivers. At a similar competition in Kentucky a few weeks ago, there were 29 entries – and only 26 in Japan a month ago.

“Dan com­plained before the race, ‘There’s so many’ drivers,” said the source. “While he was extremely safety con­scious, he was also intent on competing and winning.”

As an extra incentive for the Indy 500 champ, race bosses offered him the chance to split a $5 million bonus with a lucky fan if he could capture the checkered flag.

“But the large field of racers on a 1.5-mile oval track may have been too much,” explained the source. “Veteran drivers like Dan knew that speeds of 225 mph on a track so smooth would create dangerous ‘pack racing.’”

With so many vehicles bunched up, the slightest error could spell disaster. And that’s exactly what happened on the 11th lap when two drivers’ wheels made contact with each other – triggering the deadly chain reaction of collisions.

Danica Patrick was behind Wheldon’s car and witnessed up close the crunching night­mare of twisted metal and scorching flames.

“Danica is so emotionally distraught over Dan’s grisly death that she’s ready to quit the sport,” a pal told The ENQUIRER.

Danica, who had lost to Wheldon in previous competitions, said: “There are no words for today. Myself and so many others are devastated. I pray for Susie and the kids, that God will give them strength.”

An insider revealed to The ENQUIRER: “Danica said, ‘I have an awful feeling that if I keep driving, the same thing is going to happen to me. I can’t stop shaking.’”