NASCAR mailbag: What is Danica Patrick’s future with Stewart-Haas Racing?

Posted by    |    February 16th, 2017 at 6:18 pm

Questions on whether Patrick’s sponsorship shortage will lead to her departure from Stewart-Haas Racing, Joe Gibbs Racing’s decision to name Daniel Suarez as Carl Edwards’ successor, and more.

Each week SB Nation’s NASCAR reporter Jordan Bianchi answers your questions about the latest news and happenings within the sport. If you have a mailbag question email jordanmbianchi@gmail.com.

With Danica Patrick no longer having a fulltime sponsor and with her continuing to struggle on the track, is it farfetched to think that maybe she’s not as popular as everyone thought and that her days in NASCAR are numbered?

–Chris

It’s fair to say Patrick’s star power has diminished some, which will happen when you go four years with modest results and are coming off a year without a single top-10 finish. As with any driver who arrives with a lot of hype, eventually the results need to come to fruition or people will lose interest and begin seeing you as someone not worthy of all the attention.

Patrick is not the first driver or athlete to experience this, nor will she be the last.

What Patrick’s future is with Stewart-Haas Racing, or for that matter in NASCAR, depends on funding. Just as many things center around in the sport.

She remains a marketable driver whose appeal extends outside the world of motorsports, but companies are going to want more than a recognizable name and social media posts. And that means she must evolve into a driver who runs and finishes near the front with greater frequency. Because if Patrick cannot perform on the track or draw the necessary sponsorship, then SHR certainly will have no shortage of candidates who can do one or the other — and maybe even both.

I have a hypothetical about Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez and Carl Edwards’ retirement. If Jones wasn’t already set to join Furniture Row Racing would he have replaced Edwards or would Suarez still be the choice? It seems like Joe Gibbs Racing would’ve had a tough decision to make and whomever wasn’t picked would have hurt feelings and created a rift.

–Mike

That Jones was already locked into joining FRR certainly made JGR and Toyota’s decision clear-cut, allowing the avoidance of any hurt feelings. Now if Jones wasn’t headed to FRR and set to stay in the Xfinity Series for another season, it certainly would have put JGR in a tough situation.

Ultimately, despite Jones’ high ceiling with many touting him as a future Cup Series champion, the sponsorship side of the equation is the overriding factor when determining who drives the No. 19 car. And because Arris served as a primary sponsor for both Edwards in Cup and Suarez in the Xfinity Series last season and was set to do the same again in 2017, that preexisting relationship is why when Edwards announced he was retiring Suarez would have likely been the pick.

Although losing a championship-caliber driver in his prime is something no team wants to experience, if there is a silver lining it’s the logjam JGR was dealing with has been freed up. Both Jones and Suarez are in Cup where they belong, and each with teams where they can achieve success.

What do you think about the Cup series running twin 250-mile doubleheaders in a weekend to give NASCAR more finishes, more excitement and less need for artificial cautions?

–Dylan

Taking a 400-mile race and splitting it into two 200-mile races is an idea that has merit, and one NASCAR has bandied about over the past couple of seasons with a contingent of drivers even lobbying publicly and privately for several years.

In fact, among the many format changes NASCAR considered before settling on the three-segment concept was this very idea, as this too would help break up long periods of green-flag racing where the field spreads out, in addition to providing NASCAR’s television partners with natural commercial breaks. Obviously, NASCAR opted to go in a different direction — albeit with a far more confusing format that reemphasizes points racing.