NASCAR driver Danica Patrick is "likely at the end of her driving career after a sponsorship shake-up left her without a ride at Stewart-Haas Racing," according to Jenna Fryer of the AP. Patrick in a statement yesterday said that her time with SHR "'had come to an end' due to a new sponsorship arrangement for the team next season." The statement came shortly after Smithfield Foods said that it will "leave Richard Petty Motorsports to become a primary sponsor" at SHR next year. The addition of Smithfield "forced changes" at SHR, which has "struggled with sponsorship for three of its four cars, including the No. 10 Ford driven by Patrick." SHR "didn't reveal where Smithfield will be in the organization" in '18. That means Smithfield "could end up on the car Patrick has driven." Drivers Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch "both need sponsorship on their cars, too." Fryer noted Patrick's contract with SHR ran through '18, but the team has "been searching for sponsorship since Nature's Bakery abruptly ended its three-year deal after one season" (AP, 9/12). ESPN.com's Bob Pockrass noted SHR found it "difficult to get sponsors after GoDaddy ended its team sponsorship" in '15. SHR "landed Nature's Bakery to sponsor Patrick" from '16-18, but the company "terminated the deal" after just one year. While SHR got Aspen Dental to "increase its number of races with Patrick, the team found itself this summer trying to sell races" for Patrick for just '18 because it "appeared there was little chance of Patrick and SHR wanting to continue racing together beyond next season" (ESPN.com, 9/12). Patrick has "struggled this season," as she currently is in 28th place on the points list. That is "tied for the worst season in her six-year career" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 9/13).
WHAT'S NEXT? NBCSN's Nate Ryan reported Patrick wants to continue driving in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, but "only if it's a competitive ride." Looking at the "landscape of the Cup Series right now, there certainly aren't a lot" open. She has made it clear she "doesn't want to drive in the Xfinity Series" ("NASCAR America," NBCSN, 9/12). Meanwhile, in Indianapolis, Jim Ayello writes Patrick returning to the Verizon IndyCar Series, "while unlikely, would be great for the series." IndyCar would be "wise to explore a reunion," as Patrick's return would be "invigorating to a series." Fans would "tune in to watch 'The Return' in order to, A) Root her on in proving her doubters wrong; or B) Cheer against her and proudly say, 'I told you so,' if she fails." Either way, it would be a "win for the series, which could use one right now as it negotiates new TV and title sponsorship deals" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 9/13).
BLAZING A DIFFERENT TRACK: USA TODAY's Mike Hembree writes Patrick recently has "traveled other avenues," perhaps "anticipating her departure from driving. 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." Hembree notes many of her Instagram posts are "yoga poses of the day or shout-outs to other yogis" (USA TODAY, 9/13). NBCSN's Ryan said, “She’s got a lot of other things going on outside the car right now. She’s got a winery, an athleisure brand, a book that’s coming out soon. She says all of those things aren't an escape plan, but she also has said she doesn't have a timeline for finding something for 2018. She told me she’s going to go with the flow, so I think it’s fair to say right now that there is a chance she couldn’t be racing after this season” ("NASCAR America," NBCSN, 9/12).
LEAVING A LEGACY: In Orlando, George Diaz writes if Patrick is done racing, she will "leave a conflicted legacy in the sport." She was "never competitive in her five full seasons as a Cup driver." She does "not have a win or a Top 5 finish in 180 races and has never finished higher than 24th in points." But her "marketing reach was long, and she drew eyeballs to a sport that is struggling for relevance these days." Fox NASCAR analyst Darrell Waltrip said, "She has done a tremendous job marketing her brand and has developed a great reputation. Even if she never drives again, Danica has changed the face of NASCAR and been great for the sport" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 9/13). Driver Regan Smith said, “Danica is an A-lister, a Dale Jr.-type figure, when you look at the sport of NASCAR and what she means to people who don't know anything about NASCAR. She's opened up the door for so many different females and more importantly, young girls that are out there racing. ... They look up to Danica Patrick, and that is the reason that they feel like they can make it in this sport. I hope she's around." Richard Petty Motorsports crew chief Drew Blickensderfer: “Not only do they want to become drivers, but they are paying attention to the sport. It's a fan base that NASCAR couldn't tap into before, and she's brought them into the sport" (“NASCAR Race Hub,” FS1, 9/12).