In a Tuesday afternoon NASCAR silly season shocker, Danica Patrick announced she will not return to Stewart-Haas Racing next season just hours after Smithfield Foods declared in a separate release that it would leave Richard Petty Motorsports for Stewart-Haas.
In simpler terms, Patrick has become a free agent and Aric Almirola is expected to follow his longtime sponsor to Stewart-Haas.
Patrick broke the news herself on her Facebook fan page, stating that she would not return to Stewart-Haas “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,” Patrick wrote. “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.”
Patrick began the season with Nature’s Bakery as the primary sponsor on her No. 10 Ford, but the company withdrew its support over a supposed breach of contract. The dispute was settled out of court, and the company eventually sponsored three races for teammate Clint Bowyer instead.
“I wish SHR the best of luck with their new sponsorship and driver. Thanks for the memories,” Patrick wrote. “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.”
In 180 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series starts, Patrick has zero wins, zero top-fives and seven top-10 finishes. She captured the pole — the only pole of her Cup career to date — for the 2013 Daytona 500. Her best finish was sixth at Atlanta Motor Speedway in 2014.
Meanwhile, Richard Petty and RPM principal owner Andrew Murstein were left jilted by Smithfield Foods. Petty, a seven-time Cup Series champion, said he had a handshake agreement with the company that has adorned his No. 43 since the 2012 season.
“We have had numerous discussions with Smithfield Foods regarding the extension of our relationship dating as far back as February,” Petty said. “Over the past few months, Smithfield had continually told me they wanted to be with us, and I recently shook hands on a deal to extend our relationship. I come from a time when we did major deals with sponsors like STP on a handshake. I’m sad to see this is where we are now. This decision is very unexpected, and we are extremely disappointed in this late and abrupt change of direction.
“Losing a sponsor of this magnitude in September is a significant setback to Richard Petty Motorsports, but (Murstein) and I are committed to moving forward with the No. 43 team. We have a lot of great partners who have expressed their continued support, and our fans will rally around the No. 43. We’ve been around since 1949, and we’ll be around a lot longer.”
Bubba Wallace made four starts in the Petty No. 43 while Almirola, who has one win and 10 top-five finishes in 234 career Cup starts, recovered from injuries sustained in a violent crash at Kansas Speedway back in May. He remains a candidate to return to that car full time, dependent on sponsorship. Almirola did qualify for the NASCAR Chase in 2014, when he finished 16th in the standings.
As for Patrick, her future remains even murkier due to a lack of sponsorship that threatened to disrupt her 2017 season.
Aric Almirola is leaving Richard Petty Motorsports at the end of the 2017 season and likely headed to Stewart-Haas Racing to replace Danica Patrick.
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