If she can find a competitive team, Danica Patrick will keep racing

Danica Patrick isn't driving for Stewart-Haas Racing next season, and analyst Ricky Craven says her days in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series are over. Craven discusses other potential options for Patrick to be on the track in 2018.

Danica Patrick is not ready to give up racing, but she is ready to retire if she cannot find a competitive ride with a team that believes in her.

Patrick announced Tuesday that she wouldn't return to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2018. She said Wednesday that she found out earlier this summer that SHR would not field a car for her in 2018 if it could not find sponsorship.

"There wasn't a lot of push to make it happen, but it's OK," Patrick said in a phone interview. "I'm fine. I believe everything happens for a reason, and you never know how good something can be until you try it.

Bob Pockrass

Danica Patrick won't return to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2018, but she's open to keep driving if she finds both sponsorship and a competitive team that fully supports her.

"So whether that's of course with another team or whether that's doing something completely different, I'm open. I just want to do what feels right and what will give me the best chance -- if I'm racing, will give me the best chance to perform and get in the winner's circle, which is what I want to accomplish in NASCAR. Or if I don't feel like that's something that will be possible, then I'm OK with that, too."

The 35-year-old Patrick, the only woman to sit on a pole for a NASCAR Cup Series race (the 2013 Daytona 500), has seven top-10s in 180 career starts, all with SHR. She accepts her release as part of the business. Nature's Bakery ended a three-year deal after one year, prior to the 2017 season.

Patrick said she believes there are opportunities with NASCAR teams if she can land sponsorship.

"It is out there and it's something that's being worked on," Patrick said. "I've said for a year or two now, that if running 20th to 25th is something that is going to happen on a regular basis, that's not fun to me, and I don't want to just fill field.

"That's not why I participate. I've never related to an athlete when they say, 'I'm just happy to be here.' Ever."

Patrick spent part of her Wednesday doing the business work of NASCAR, driving go-karts in downtown Chicago for Aspen Dental to encourage people to overcome emotional barriers to going to the dentist. She said the news of the week didn't change her outlook on having to do an appearance and that she was in a good place.

"I'm good," Patrick said. "It's always good when a sponsor does something different. ... We have a good message and no matter what time of day it is, it's a good time to tell it."

Since her announcement Tuesday, her car owner Tony Stewart released a statement saying he is supportive of her, and her teammate Kevin Harvick said Wednesday that he hopes she can continue to drive.

"The impact and the footprint that she has brought to our sport is big," Harvick said. "On the other side of that, you have the performance side of things that at some point measures into everybody's sponsorship. ... I hope that Danica gets a sponsor because she's an important part of our sport."

But Patrick needs more than a sponsorship. She has driven for an organization that has won two championships since 2011. She drove 10 races in 2012 for SHR in Cup as part of her transition from IndyCar (she ran a full-time Xfinity Series season in 2012 for JR Motorsports) and then full-time with SHR in NASCAR's top series in 2013. The message Patrick will send to those wondering if she will keep racing is she wants to race for a team that she feels is behind her.

"It takes people," Patrick said. "In NASCAR, you're better off with a group of guys or girls that are working day and night and diligently for you. It is a hard job. ... The workload it takes to be competitive at the Cup level is relentless.

"I feel bad for them, but that is what it takes. If you have a group of people willing to work that hard, you're better off at a second-tier team than a first-tier team that has a group of people who doesn't care about you."

Did she have people who cared about her when driving at SHR, ones willing to fight for her?

"At times," Patrick said. "I don't think it's always constant. At the Cup level, I partially blame just how difficult it is, the workload challenge of it -- it's wide and deep, especially at Stewart-Haas, where it's a crew-chief driven team where the crew chief makes all the calls and the car build and how it is and what setup ultimately goes on it.

"There are no two cars identical at the shop. ... There are times when the envelope gets pushed and I yell and scream loud enough and sometimes things go a little bit better. But, I think at times, it's also been very average. There's been a mix of both."

Patrick has struggled this year, sitting 28th in the standings.

"I don't deny that I've always been in a good situation," Patrick said. "I've always driven for good teams, and I'm grateful for that, which is why if I don't feel like I'm given the opportunity to be with a team that can do that for me and give me opportunities on a more consistent basis, then I don't have interest."

Patrick said she is not considering a return to IndyCar.

"I am just way too old to say never," Patrick said. "That's definitely nothing I'm seeking."

Patrick also said while she wants to start a family (she dates NASCAR driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr.), that wouldn't impact her decision.

"Everything in this world is possible," Patrick said. "If I have the opportunity to drive for a team that is going to give me a chance to win, then I'll do it."

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