Few didn’t see it coming, and now it’s official: Danica Patrick won’t be back with Stewart-Haas Racing in 2018. It’s no one thing, it’s a lot of things.
Sponsorship is the publicly stated issue. After all, there’s more than a couple of really good drivers struggling to find someone for support. Former champion and perennial contender Matt Kenseth is looking for a ride, and you know sponsorship dollars are a part of it. What will shake out of Smithfield Foods leaving Richard Petty for Stewart-Haas? Where will Kasey Kahne land next? Sponsorship support is a part of what has made it difficult for Darrell Wallace Jr. to stay in one place.
At the heart of it, a sponsor wants return on investment. While it can’t help that fewer eyeballs are watching NASCAR races, there are those who will continue to back a driver or a team, provided that value exceeds cost. There’s the rub for Danica Patrick. She’s notable- by virtue of her gender- and she possesses that attractiveness that sponsors look for. On the other hand, in five years, Patrick has seven top ten finishes to show for it. What’s more, there’s no apparent signs of improved performance.
It’s one thing if Danica Patrick is working with an underfunded or start-up team. Stewart-Haas is not that team. While results vary from driver to driver, in any given race, you will see Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch contending for wins. Clint Bowyer has had his moments in his first season at SHR. Patrick just isn’t there. She’s not the worst in the series by any means, but one can’t help but wonder what a Kenseth or Kahne or even an Aric Alimorola might accomplish in the same ride.
One can’t fault Tony Stewart and Gene Haas for impatience. This is season is season number five for Danica Patrick in the Monster Energy Cup Series. She finished 27th in points in 2013, and if the season ended today, finish 28th. I don’t care who you are, those aren’t numbers that excite an owner about re-signing a driver.
Hey, Danica Patrick gave it the old college try. You have to give her credit for that. In some ways, she’s handled the ups and downs of racing admirably. It’s not easy busting up the boy’s club. Patrick never backed down was never a shrinking violet. Sometimes that hasn’t always gone over well.
Danica Patrick wasn’t the first driver of the fairer sex to get behind the wheel of a Cup Series car, and she won’t be the last. Personally, I hope that happens sooner, rather than later. That’s good for the sport. There are candidates who take the mantle. As for Patrick, the time has come for her to move on.