Patrick could be changing direction
What’s next for Danica
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.
Driver Danica Patrick won’t return to Stewart-Haas Racing.