Patrick heads into NASCAR homestretch with few options
DOVER, Del. — Danica Patrick was the darling of Daytona before she put on a helmet. Patrick ushered in the 2013 season accompanied by hype perhaps no other NASCAR rookie had ever faced: Her love life, Super Bowl ads and racy photo shoots were trendy themes that generated more enthusiasm than her actual career accomplishments.
She was projected as the new face of the sport — a face that corporate America adored — was flush with sponsor cash and was counted on as a role model for the next generation of little girls and casual fans who couldn’t flip through a magazine or turn the dial without seeing “Danica.” Then she raced, and became the first woman to win the pole at NASCAR’S top level, her Q-rating soaring higher than her race speeds and a career rebirth in stock cars seemingly under way. She led three times for a total of five laps, was running third behind Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. with one lap left and finished eighth. Patrick turned in the best finish by a woman in the Daytona 500.
It may turn out that her career peaked at Daytona.
Her 182-race NASCAR Cup career has never yielded anything close to the Danicamania that engulfed Daytona. She never had a top-five finish for Stewart-hass Racing. She never won another pole. She never had much success but, along with Earnhardt, was still one of NASCAR’S only true mainstream stars. But as results sank, so did interest in funding her ride. Sponsors bailed, cash dried up and at just 35, Patrick could be facing the final seven races of her NASCAR career.
Patrick has, at least publicly, seemed at peace with this possibility and said there has been little interest from other teams in bringing her aboard next season.
“I’ve had some (discussions) but not a ton,” she said Friday. “I let the business people in my business handle that and have those conversations and figure out what options are out there and I continue to let them do that.”
Even if Patrick somehow found a last-minute primary sponsor, rides are scarce for 2018. Richard Childress Racing and Furniture Row Racing could maybe field a car for her, and she won’t sign with a team that can’t offer a competitive ride. While Earnhardt’s final season has come with fanfare, gifts, donations and a celebration of his career, Patrick’s last ride has AP PHOTO BY been anything but, and if she’s going out, it’s not by choice.
In this Aug. 5, file photo, Danica Patrick watches during practice for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series auto race in Watkins Glen, N.Y. Patrick gets ready for perhaps the final races of her NASCAR career. With no sponsorship and no ride, she is about out of options.