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Patrick out after sponsor shakeup

Profile image for Jenna Fryer
Jenna Fryer, AP Auto Racing Writer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Danica Patrick, the only female driver at NASCAR's top level, could be at the end of her career after a sponsorship shakeup left her without a ride at Stewart-Haas Racing.

Patrick posted a statement Tuesday on Facebook saying her time with Stewart-Haas "had come to an end" due to a new sponsorship arrangement for the team. The statement came shortly after Smithfield Foods said it will leave Richard Petty Motorsports to become a primary sponsor at Stewart-Haas next year.

The news is a blow to RPM, which is also losing driver Aric Almirola. But it also forced changes at Stewart-Haas, which has struggled with sponsorship for three of its four cars, including the No. 10 Ford driven by Patrick.

"It has been my honor to drive for Tony Stewart, Gene Haas and everyone at Stewart-Haas Racing for the past six seasons," Patrick wrote. "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."

Sponsorship dollars have been hard to come by for a number of drivers and teams. Smithfield's decision leaves Petty's team in need of a sponsor, and Almirola is looking for a ride.

"Details of the agreement, including the driver who will be added to SHR's Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series lineup in 2018, will be provided at a later date," SHR said.

Clint Bowyer and Kurt Busch both need sponsorship, too. Busch, the Daytona 500 winner, does not have a deal with SHR for next season.

Patrick has seven top-10 finishes in 180 career starts and is 28th in the 2017 standings.

She won the pole for the 2013 Daytona 500, won an Indy car race in 2008, is the highest finishing woman in Indianapolis 500 history with a third-place run in 2009 and is the only woman to lead laps in both the Indy 500 and the Daytona 500. Patrick is the only woman to win a Cup pole, and those top-10s are the most of any woman.

"She will go down as the best female NASCAR driver of all time," Brad Keselowski wrote on Twitter. "Have come to accept that mankind never knows or appreciates what it has until it's gone. NASCAR fans will miss her badly in time."

RPM's talks on a contract extension with Almirola stalled when Smithfield began looking at other options.

"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," Petty said. "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.

"Losing a sponsor of this magnitude in September is a significant setback. ... We've been around since 1949, and we'll be around a lot longer."