Pa­trick heads into NASCAR home­stretch with few op­tions

Porterville Recorder - - SPORTS - By DAN GELSTON

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.

MATT SLOCUM,

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.

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