Danica Patrick won't return to Stewart-Haas Racing next season, possibly ending her racing career after five years as a full-time NASCAR Cup driver.
The 35-year-old Patrick has seven top-10s in 180 career starts. She has driven for Stewart-Haas Racing throughout her entire NASCAR career, and while her contract originally ran through 2018, the team did not have an anchor sponsor for her for next year when Nature's Bakery ended its three-year deal after one season following the 2016 season.
"It has been my honor to drive for Tony Stewart, Gene Haas and everyone at Stewart-Haas Racing for the past six seasons," Patrick said in a statement on her Facebook page. "Together we earned a Daytona 500 pole, seven top-10 finishes, and we also had some exciting racing along the way.
"My time driving for them, however, has come to an end due to a new sponsorship arrangement in 2018. ... I wish SHR the best of luck with their new sponsorship and driver. Thanks for the memories. Right now, my focus is on the remainder of the 2017 season and finishing the year strong. I have the utmost faith in myself and those around me, and feel confident about my future."
SHR announced earlier Tuesday that it had signed Smithfield as a sponsor but did not say who will drive that car. It indicated that there would be a new driver to the lineup.
"Sponsorship plays a vital role in our sport, and I have been very fortunate over the course of my career, but this year threw us for a curve," Patrick said. "Our amazing partners, such as Aspen Dental and Code 3, stepped up in a big way on short notice this year and I am incredibly grateful."
In interviews over the last several weeks, Patrick has been philosophical about her racing career.
"Quite simply, I just have faith what is meant to be will be," Patrick said Aug. 16 at SHR. "I believe in certain things like the law of detachment -- detaching from the outcomes that I think are supposed to happen and just like letting things go and letting things flow. The law of least resistance -- just let it go, stop trying to force and have in your heart what you want and just work really hard at what you're doing. There's nothing good can come from letting things spiral."
Patrick has struggled this year, and sits 28th in the standings, which would be the worst of her NASCAR Cup career. She has repeatedly said that she is financially secure enough that she does not have to race, and it wouldn't be worth doing if it made her miserable.
"I want to continue racing if I have an opportunity to do well," Patrick said Aug. 16. "I have no interest, as I've said for years now, to run 20-25th. That's not fun. "If I don't feel like I can have the opportunity to move on from there and have a better opportunity, then honestly, I don't care [about racing] just because it's not fun. I don't drive because I love the thrill of getting sideways."
Winning the IndyCar race in Japan in 2008 and becoming highest finishing woman in Indianapolis 500 history with a third-place run in 2009, Patrick began her transition to stock cars in 2010. She competed part time in the Xfinity Series in 2010 and 2011 while also competing full time in IndyCar before going full time in NASCAR racing with JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series in 2012.
She also competed in 10 Cup races for SHR that year before running a full Cup schedule in 2013. She has finished from 24th to 28th in the standings in each of her first four seasons.
Patrick is the only woman to win a Cup pole -- at the 2013 Daytona 500 -- and her seven top-10 finishes are the most of any female Cup driver.
Her racing accomplishments helped earn her fame worldwide, and website hosting service GoDaddy latched on her to celebrity, growing it with what some would term as risqué ads that debuted during the Super Bowl. She also has appeared in photo shoots in several magazines, including twice in Sports Illustrated's annual swimsuit issue.
SHR found it difficult to get sponsors after GoDaddy ended its team sponsorship in 2015. SHR landed fig-bar company Nature's Bakery to sponsor Patrick from 2016-18, but the company terminated the deal, SHR sued Nature's Bakery, and they eventually settled.
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 2018 because it appeared there was little chance of Patrick and SHR wanting to continue racing together beyond next season.
Patrick also has increased her activities off the track, including developing a clothing line, Warrior. While not likely racing next year, she likely will remain a familiar face at the race track as boyfriend Ricky Stenhouse Jr. competes for Roush Fenway Racing. http://www.espn.com/espn/print?id=20684854&type=HeadlineNews&imagesPrint...