Pa­trick at ca­reer cross­roads as days as driver ap­pear over

Porterville Recorder - - MOTOR SPORTS - By JENNA FRYER

Given the right sit­u­a­tion, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. be­lieves his girl­friend still wants to be a race car driver.

Dan­ica Pa­trick will have to scram­ble to make that hap­pen. And if the op­por­tu­nity doesn’t present it­self, well, she has plenty of other things to fill her time.

Pa­trick is at a ca­reer cross­roads and will not re­turn to Ste­wart-haas Rac­ing next sea­son. Un­less she can se­cure sig­nif­i­cant sponsorship to bring with her to an­other team, she likely won’t be able to find an­other full-time ride.

“I know that she en­joys rac­ing. She loves the com­pet­i­tive­ness of it and has been do­ing it for a long time, so I think if it was up to her she would try get­ting in a com­pet­i­tive car and keep go­ing out and com­pet­ing,” Stenhouse said Wed­nes­day.

But, Pa­trick has a lot of other busi­ness in­ter­ests to fall back on.

She has launched a cloth­ing line, has a book com­ing out next year and has made a tran­si­tion into pro­mot­ing a healthy and fit life­style. She’s 35, in a long-term re­la­tion­ship with Stenhouse and has ac­knowl­edged she’d like to get mar­ried and have chil­dren.

Pa­trick had an ap­pear­ance Wed­nes­day for Aspen Den­tal in Chicago and told ESPN.COM that she’s in a good place men­tally.

“I be­lieve ev­ery­thing hap­pens for a rea­son, and you never know how good some­thing can be un­til you try it,” she said. “So whether that’s of course with an­other team or whether that’s do­ing some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent, I’m open.

“I just want to do what feels right and what will give me the best chance — if I’m rac­ing, will give me the best chance to per­form and get in the win­ner’s cir­cle, which is what I want to ac­com­plish in NASCAR. Or if I don’t feel like that’s some­thing that will be pos­si­ble, then I’m OK with that, too.”

Stenhouse, who will make his de­but in the play­offs this week­end at Chicagoland, said he’s cer­tain she’s go­ing to be fine.

“She is very pas­sion­ate about all her other busi­nesses that she has go­ing,” he said. “It def­i­nitely makes her re­ally happy do­ing that, so if she didn’t have all those other things go­ing on that she en­joyed, I think I would be a lit­tle con­cerned be­cause no­body wants to just quit rac­ing.”

Pa­trick is the only woman rac­ing at NASCAR’S top level, and she’s also the most ac­com­plished. Tony Ste­wart called her “fear­less” in his first com­ments about her up­com­ing de­par­ture from his race team.

“She has never backed down from a chal­lenge,” Ste­wart wrote on his Face­book page.

Close friend Kyle Lar­son said Pa­trick has noth­ing left to prove in rac­ing.

“She could leave right now and she’s made a great im­pact,” Lar­son said. “She’s a great race­car driver ... the great­est fe­male race­car driver of all time. It’s fun to get to see her away from the track. Her com­pet­i­tive­ness is some­thing that’s un­matched.”

Pa­trick has driven for Ste­warthaas Rac­ing her en­tire Cup ca­reer. She 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 never won a NASCAR race in her six Cup sea­sons, but is the only woman to win a pole and her seven top-10 fin­ishes are the most of any fe­male Cup driver.

AP PHOTO BY CHUCK BURTON

In this May 25, file photo, Dan­ica Pa­trick stands by her car be­fore qual­i­fy­ing for Sun­day's NASCAR Cup se­ries auto race at Char­lotte Mo­tor Speed­way in Con­cord, N.C.

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