Pa­trick at ca­reer cross­roads as days as driver ap­pear over

Kingston Whig-Standard - - SPORTS - JENNA FRYER

CHAR­LOTTE, N.C. — Tony Ste­wart called Dan­ica Pa­trick “fear­less” on Wed­nes­day, his first com­ments about her up­com­ing depar­ture from his race team in a fi­nan­cial move that could end her full-time driv­ing ca­reer in NAS­CAR.

Pa­trick will not re­turn to Ste­wart-Haas Racing next sea­son. Un­less she can se­cure sig­nif­i­cant spon­sor­ship, she likely won’t be able to find an­other full-time ride.

Pa­trick is the only woman racing at NAS­CAR’s top level and she’s also the most ac­com­plished.

“I’ve al­ways been a be­liever in Dan­ica’s abil­ity as a race­car driver and that con­tin­ues to be the case. She’s one of the most fear­less peo­ple I’ve ever met. She has never backed down from a chal­lenge,” Ste­wart wrote on his Face­book page. “In fact, she’s sought out new chal­lenges through­out her ca­reer, and that’s what brought her to NAS­CAR and Ste­wart-Haas Racing.”

Pa­trick has driven for Ste­wartHaas Racing her en­tire Cup ca­reer. She has seven top-10 fin­ishes in 180 ca­reer starts and is cur­rently 28th in the stand­ings, the low­est in her Cup ca­reer. She won the pole for the 2013 Day­tona 500, won an IndyCar race in 2008, is the high­est fin­ish­ing fe­male driver in In­di­anapo­lis 500 his­tory with a third-place run in 2009 and is the only woman to lead laps in both the Indy 500 and the Day­tona 500. Pa­trick is the only woman to win a Cup pole and those top-10 fin­ishes are the most of any fe­male Cup driver.

“Mak­ing the jump from IndyCar to NAS­CAR is not easy, yet she had the courage to do so and put up bet­ter num­bers than a lot of other driv­ers who have tried to make that same tran­si­tion,” Ste­wart wrote. “My sup­port for Dan­ica is un­wa­ver­ing. We’re go­ing to end this sea­son strong and make the most of th­ese last 10 races.”

Pa­trick’s spon­sor­ship pack­age fell apart at the start of this sea­son when Na­ture’s Bak­ery backed out of a three-year deal af­ter just one sea­son. Pa­trick’s con­tract with SHR ran through 2018, but the team has been search­ing for spon­sor­ship since the Na­ture’s Bak­ery fi­asco.

Smith­field Foods on Tues­day said it was mov­ing its spon­sor­ship from Richard Petty Mo­tor­sports to Ste­wart-Haas next sea­son, and the fi­nan­cial de­ci­sion set in mo­tion Pa­trick’s depar­ture. Ri­card Petty and the Smith­field CEO traded in­sults over lack of per­for­mance at RPM be­ing the rea­son Smith­field is leav­ing.

Kevin Har­vick noted Wed­nes­day that Pa­trick’s per­for­mance likely played into her cur­rent predica­ment. The two are team­mates at SHR and Har­vick has tried to help Pa­trick over the years. Like Ste­wart, he pointed to the dif­fi­cult tran­si­tion Pa­trick had to make from Indy cars to stock cars.

“Dan­ica has been a huge part of this sport and turned a lot of peo­ple into racing that might not have ever turned into racing,” Har­vick said. “I hope that Dan­ica gets a spon­sor be­cause she’s im­por­tant to our sport.”

SHR and Smith­field have not said which driver the com­pany will spon­sor next year. The team does not have a deal yet with cur­rent Day­tona 500 win­ner Kurt Busch, and Busch, Pa­trick and Clint Bowyer have all had spon­sor­ship dif­fi­cul­ties this sea­son. Smith­field could end up on the car Pa­trick has driven with an­other driver, or the team could down­size.

Matt Kenseth, mean­while, said he’s not a can­di­date to re­place Pa­trick and he be­lieves SHR al­ready has a driver in line for the No. 10 Ford.

Pa­trick has launched a cloth­ing line, has a book com­ing out next year and has made a tran­si­tion into pro­mot­ing a healthy and fit life­style. It has her po­si­tioned for a sec­ond ca­reer at the age of 35 if she chooses. A Wis­con­sin na­tive who grew up in Illi­nois, she is in a long-term re­la­tion­ship with fel­low driver Ricky Sten­house Jr., who will make his de­but in the play­offs this week­end at Chicagoland.

VAUGHN RI­D­LEY/GETTY IMAGES

DeMar DeRozan dunks in Game 5 of the 2016-17 quar­ter­fi­nals against the Mil­wau­kee Bucks. DeRozan’s spot in a Sports Il­lus­trated NBA player rank­ing is caus­ing con­tro­versy and rais­ing ques­tions about DeRozan’s abil­ity to adapt to the cur­rent NBA. Casey, plus Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka — it is ev­i­dent that if change is com­ing, it is com­ing in a sig­nif­i­cant way from the guys who were al­ready here.

Can DeRozan be a part of that change? I am re­minded of the 2016 play­offs when, mired in a shoot­ing slump, DeRozan kept fir­ing away with long two-point at­tempts, even as they weren’t fall­ing. He was proud of his will­ing­ness to keep gun­ning.

It’s that in­stinct that he will have to fight this sea­son. Long two-point at­tempts have made DeRozan an All-Star, and a very rich man. But they aren’t go­ing to make the Rap­tors any bet­ter.

This is just the lat­est chal­lenge for a player who has a his­tory of ex­ceed­ing ex­pec­ta­tions. But if he can adapt, the Rap­tors should change with him. And he might even get a cou­ple more MVP votes, and some love from a cer­tain mag­a­zine’s player rank­ings.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILES

Dan­ica Pa­trick at qual­i­fy­ing for the Coca-Cola 600 at at Char­lotte Mo­tor Speed­way in Con­cord, N.C., on May 25. Pa­trick is done at Ste­wart-Haas Racing and her fu­ture in NAS­CAR is now up in the air amid a spon­sor­ship shake-up.

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