Pa­trick could be chang­ing di­rec­tion

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS - Mike Hem­bree ANAL­Y­SIS

What’s next for Dan­ica

Pa­trick?

Will one of the most fa­mous per­son­al­i­ties in auto racing, de­spite her lack of sus­tained suc- cess, stay in the sport af­ter an­nounc­ing Tues­day that she won’t be back with Ste­wart-Haas Racing next sea­son?

Although the NAS­CAR “silly sea­son” is very ac­tive, there ap­pears to be no vi­able spot avail­able

for Pa­trick next year. She leaves SHR amid spon­sor dif­fi­cul­ties — in a Face­book post she said, “My time driv­ing for them ... has come to an end due to a new spon­sor­ship ar­range­ment in 2018” — and there has been no in­di­ca­tion that she could de­liver a solid spon­sor to an­other team af­ter los­ing Na­ture’s Bak­ery this year when the com­pany could not ful­fill its mon­e­tary com­mit­ment.

While SHR ear­lier Tues­day an­nounced a new re­la­tion­ship with spon­sor Smith­field Foods, a driver was not named.

It’s un­likely that Pa­trick, 35, would ac­cept a ride with a low­er­level team, and she has in­di­cated that she has no in­ter­est in racing part time. She told USA TO­DAY Sports last month she would con­sider racing for an­other team but would not con­sider a part-time ride. A re­turn to IndyCar racing, where she started her ma­jor league mo­tor sports ca­reer, seems ex­tremely un­likely.

“I think there is a larger chance that she won’t be in a car next year than she will be just be­cause of the race teams avail­able and the seats avail­able,” NBC NAS- CAR an­a­lyst Steve Le­tarte said. “The busi­ness model she has out­side of the race car is very suc­cess­ful.”

Per­haps an­tic­i­pat­ing her depar­ture from driv­ing, Pa­trick has trav­eled other av­enues. Early this year, she be­gan an ath­letic cloth­ing line called War­rior by Dan­ica Pa­trick, and she has writ­ten a book — sched­uled for re­lease next year — on health and fit­ness.

An ex­er­cise and nu­tri­tion devo­tee, Pa­trick has blogged about life­style is­sues, and she has been ac­tive in so­cial me­dia cir­cles, in­clud­ing Twit­ter and In­sta­gram. Many of her In­sta­gram posts are yoga poses of the day or shoutouts to other yo­gis, photos of culi­nary cre­ations she has whipped up or shots with her long­time boyfriend and fel­low driver Ricky Sten­house Jr. and their dogs. She has built a sig­nif­i­cant port­fo­lio out­side mo­tor sports.

Part of Pa­trick’s ap­peal to spon­sors and me­dia out­lets is that she has at­tracted new eyes to auto racing, bring­ing in fans who knew lit­tle about the sport.

She was fea­tured in Su­per Bowl com­mer­cials for on­line do­main ser­vice GoDaddy (a ma­jor Pa­trick spon­sor un­til it pulled away from auto racing in 2015), and those ap­pear­ances spread her name — and brand — across in­ter­na­tional lines.

She also has ap­peared twice in the Sports Il­lus­trated swim­suit is­sue, a claim quite un­usual for a NAS­CAR driver.

Pa­trick’s star has con­tin­ued to be rel­a­tively bright de­spite her strug­gles in NAS­CAR cir­cles. In four-plus Cup sea­sons, she has had only seven top-10 fin­ishes and has not been a re­al­is­tic threat to win a race. She scored four con­sec­u­tive top-15 fin­ishes for the first time this sea­son.

Her big­gest achieve­ment in NAS­CAR was win­ning the Day­tona 500 pole in 2013 as she be­came the first woman to lead qual­i­fy­ing for a Cup race.

Although Pa­trick has not been reg­u­larly com­pet­i­tive, her depar­ture from NAS­CAR race fields would elim­i­nate one large and di­verse source of star power. And this would be on the heels of the sport los­ing four-time cham­pion Jeff Gor­don, three­time cham­pion Tony Ste­wart, Carl Ed­wards and 14-time most pop­u­lar driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is leav­ing at the end of this sea­son.

The Ver­i­zon IndyCar Se­ries was Pa­trick’s big-time launch­ing pad. She won an IndyCar event in Ja­pan in 2008 and threat­ened to win the In­di­anapo­lis 500 in 2009 be­fore fin­ish­ing third, the high­est fin­ish by a woman in the world’s big­gest race.

TI­MOTHY T. LUD­WIG, USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Driver Dan­ica Pa­trick won’t re­turn to Ste­wart-Haas Racing.

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