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Danica Patrick, the only female driver to win the Daytona 500 pole and one of the most popular figures in NASCAR, will not return to compete for Stewart-Haas Racing in 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 Tuesday in a statement posted through Facebook. “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.
“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. 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.
“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.”
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Stewart-Haas Racing team co-owner and Patrick’s former teammate Tony Stewart released his own statement on Wednesday.
“I’ve always been a believer in Danica’s ability as a race car driver and that continues to be the case,” Stewart said via his Facebook page “She’s one of the most fearless people I’ve ever met. She has never backed down from a challenge. In fact, she’s sought out new challenges throughout her career, and that’s what brought her to NASCAR and Stewart-Haas Racing.
“Making the jump from IndyCar to NASCAR is not easy, yet she had the courage to do so and put up better numbers than a lot of other drivers who have tried to make that same transition. I’m proud of how hard Danica has worked during her time at Stewart-Haas Racing, and she continues to work hard.
“My support for Danica is unwavering. We’re going to end this season strong and make the most of these last 10 races.”
Patrick, 35, has 180 career starts in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in the No. 10 entry for SHR and currently has a career-best finish of sixth at Atlanta in 2014. Her top finish through this year’s 26-race regular season has been 10th at Dover in the spring.
Stewart Haas officials announced earlier Tuesday that Smithfield Foods, currently a sponsor for Richard Petty Motorsports, would move to SHR for 2018 and that a driver change would follow. Aric Almirola drives the No. 43 for RPM at this time, although the SHR statement only said details of the new driver would be announced at a later date. RPM officials announced Tuesday afternoon that Almirola would not be returning, appearing to set the stage for the Tampa, Florida, native to join SHR.
Patrick became the first female to start on the pole for the Daytona 500, NASCAR’s season-opening race, in 2013 with her qualifying lap of 196.434 mph. Her eighth-place finish in that race was also the best by a female competitor.
Prior to her move into the Monster Energy Series as a full-time competitor, Patrick competed with JR Motorsports for a full season in the XFINITY Series in 2012 as well as a limited schedule in 2010-11. She posted one top five, seven top-10s and won one pole in that series.
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Patrick’s best points finish in the MENCS thus far has been 24th, which she accomplished in 2015 and ’16. She is currently 28th in points with 10 races remaining.
Patrick did not address whether she will attempt to continue to compete in NASCAR going forward. Earlier this year she told NASCAR.com she did not know how much longer she wanted to race in the series.
“I said this last year, it’s not any fun to run 20th or 25th,” she said in June. “It’s not.”
Her average finishing position this year is 23rd and she has a career high seven DNFs this season, an increase that could be due in part to NASCAR’s new Damaged Vehicle Policy that limits teams from making repairs to damaged cars in an effort to return to the race.
“Just keep digging. Just letting it flow,” she said of her approach. “… Stop worrying about how you think everything should go and just let it happen. Give it your best all the time, every day, don’t be too worried about how it’s all going to go and, if it’s going to happen, when it’s going to happen and just let it go.”