NASCAR surprisingly weighs in on Danica Patrick leaving SHR and it opens a ton of questions

Normally, when any sports icon leaves a team, the people that run the sport don't say much. When a prominent athlete retires, it's customary for those executive types to offer praise.

NASCAR has gone a different way with Danica Patrick.

In remarks reported by Forbes Magazine, NASCAR says -- quite plainly -- it needs Danica Patrick. Here's what Forbes said:

Jill Gregory, NASCAR's chief marketing officer, said Patrick's presence in the series was "hugely important," adding, "She kind of transcends NASCAR. She's kind of iconic. She really resonates with kids."

That's a very strong statement, with "hugely important," "transcends NASCAR," and "iconic" all in a 16 words.

Patrick announced Tuesday she's leaving Stewart-Haas Racing -- she couldn't find a sponsor for 2018 -- and is looking for another opportunity.

This is, quite possibly, an acknowledgement that NASCAR -- already struggling with sagging TV ratings, sponsorship losses, and attendance issues at the track -- needs a driver who is more well known for her brand than fir her work on the track. So you  have to wonder:

  • Is her marketing ability now more important to NASCAR than the results free agents like Kurt Busch and Matt Kenseth have steadily produced for years?
  • Is NASCAR working behind the scenes to keep her involved in the sport?

We'll certainly see.