The NASCAR career of Danica Patrick, the first female driver to ever win the pole position at the Daytona 500, may be over.
Stewart-Haas Racing, for whom Patrick has driven throughout her entire NASCAR career, does not have a corporate sponsor for her next year, meaning she is racing’s equivalent to a free agent for 2018.
“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.”
“Right now, my focus is on the remainder of the 2017 season and finishing the year strong,” she added. “I have the utmost faith in myself and those around me, and feel confident about my future.”
The 35-year-old Patrick has never won a NASCAR race — or even finished in the top five — in 180 career starts.
This has been one of her worst seasons on the circuit. Her average finishing position this year is 23rd and she has a career-high seven races where she was unable to finish.
Earlier this year, Patrick got into a verbal exchange with some fans who booed her after she did not sign autographs after a qualifying race at Pocono Raceway.
“You know that … my job is not to sign autographs, right?” Patrick told those who booed her. “My job is to drive a car and to tell the crew chief what’s going on. I don’t appreciate the booing. It hurts my feelings. I’m a f—ing person, you know what I mean? I’m a person too. I have feelings. When you boo me, it hurts my feelings.”
While Patrick would need to sign with another team to be a part of NASCAR next season, she must first decide if she wants to remain a part of the series. Her struggles this year led to her suggesting she may not return next season.
“I said this last year, it’s not any fun to run 20th or 25th,” she said in June. “It’s not.”
Patrick made her NASCAR debut in 2012, and she won the pole at the 2013 Daytona 500. She has six career top-10 finishes, but only one in the past two seasons.
She joined NASCAR after seven years on the Verizon IndyCar Series. She had one victory on that series, the 2008 Indy Japan 300.
Despite her relative lack of success on the track, Forbes listed Patrick as the eighth-highest-paid woman in sports in 2016, with earnings of $7.8 million.
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