Today, Danica Patrick and Aric Almirola announced they will not remain with their current teams for the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season, placing doubt on where the two drivers will race next year, if at all.
In a statement posted on Facebook today, Patrick announced that due to sponsorship issues, she will leave Stewart-Haas Racing at the end of the season.
“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 in a statement. “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.”
Patrick and sponsor Nature’s Bakery signed a contract in 2015 that would have kept her with the organization through 2018. But before the season started, Nature’s Bakery sued Steward-Haas Racing for a breach of contract, saying that Patrick violated her contract through Instagram posts, promoting what they deemed competing companies.
The two settled out of court, and Nature’s Bakery sponsored Patrick and teammate Clint Bowyer for two races this season as part of the agreement.
Also announced today, Smithfield Foods, which sponsored Almirola at Richard Petty Motorsports, backed out of a handshake agreement with Richard Petty Motorsports, announcing instead an agreement with Stewart-Haas Racing with a driver yet to be announced.
“The decision to leave Richard Petty Motorsports and join Stewart-Haas Racing was difficult, but we feel this move will improve our competitiveness on the track and strengthen our position as a leading consumer packaged goods company,” Smithfield said in a statement.
The decision leaves Richard Petty Motorsports in a bind, as the organization thought it had a sponsor locked up for next year and stopped searching for sponsors. But after today, the team is without a sponsor and driver.
“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,” team owner Richard Petty said in a statement. “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.”
With the news of Smithfield leaving the organization, Richard Petty Motorsports announced that Almirola will not be back with the organization next year. It is unclear where Almirola will end up, if anywhere.
Often times, sponsorship contracts prohibit a sponsor from following a driver to another organization, but the details of contracts in NASCAR are not made public.
Zach Horrall is a NASCAR reporter for the Indiana Sports Report and is recognized as an accredited member of the media by NASCAR and has full media access. Follow @ZHorrallBU and the @IndySportsRep on Twitter.
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