Danica Patrick is busy.
The Stewart-Haas Racing driver is the writer, recipe tester, photographer, and athlete behind the future publication of “Pretty Intense: The 90-Day Mind, Body, and Food Plan.” The 35-year-old has launched Warrior by Danica Patrick, a line of athletic clothing. She has Somnium, her own wine label. Patrick and seven of her fellow NASCAR pilots participated in an all-driver broadcast of last weekend’s Xfinity Series race at Pocono Raceway.
Patrick’s diversification happens to be taking place at a good time.
NASCAR is experiencing a generational upheaval. The Cup series is in its first year of sponsorship by Monster Energy. Tony Stewart, Patrick’s boss, is one of the iconic drivers who have recently retired from the racetrack. Jeff Gordon and Carl Edwards also have made left turns for the final time, soon to be followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr., who will say goodbye after this season.
For the July 16 Overton’s 301, New Hampshire Motor Speedway will take its first swing at hosting NASCAR’s inaugural three-stage race, in which drivers receive points for top-10 finishes in each segment. NASCAR introduced the wrinkle this year as part of an attempted brake-slamming on fading interest, both at the track and on television.
“It’s for the fans,” Patrick said during a Wednesday appearance in Boston to promote July’s race. “It’s not really because us drivers are saying, ‘Gosh, let’s break the race up.’ It’s all to make it more entertaining in this world of six-second videos, 10-second videos, social media, and quick little blurbs.”
NHMS has felt the decline harder than most tracks. The Loudon facility traditionally has hosted two Cup races annually. But this will be its last season with two dates. Starting next year, Loudon’s September date will move to Las Vegas Motor Speedway, leaving the 1.058-mile track with only a July race.
It is within this context of uncertainty that Patrick, via her business ventures, could be setting herself up for what comes next. The former open-wheel racer roared into the Cup Series in 2012 as driver of the No. 10 Go Daddy Chevrolet. Patrick is still the driver of the No. 10, although its sponsorship, like many in the Cup garage, is regularly in flux.
For Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway, Patrick will be behind the wheel of the No. 10 TaxAct Ford. On Wednesday, she participated in a promotional video while wearing an Aspen Dental firesuit.
Consistent sponsorship is hard to come by, which makes drivers like Patrick just as valuable as marketers. The precious dollars they’re all chasing may be why Patrick has sensed a change in the garage, even from when she started five years ago.
“Look back at the old days,” Patrick said. “It was just guys, young kids having fun, going out, going to work the next day and sweating their butt off, going to Victory Lane, and at least having fun in the midst of it. Now it’s just so serious.
“The garage hours are long. I just feel like it’s kind of exhausting. I think our season has too many races. I think the teams are overworked. The only way you’re successful as a team is if you’re working to total exhaustion all the time.
“I feel bad. As a driver, there’s frustration in not being able to do more and make more of a difference. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I should be in Victory Lane every weekend. But the car really makes a huge difference.”
Lately, Patrick hasn’t been in a bad car. She finished 16th at Pocono last Sunday. The week before that, Patrick scored a 10th-place finish at Dover International Speedway, her first top 10 of the season.
Patrick, however, is in 30th place in the standings. She has led seven of 4,094 laps. Her 2017 performance is on a par with her four previous NASCAR seasons: zero wins, no top-fives, and one pole.
“As a driver, I don’t really think we get worse,” Patrick said. “We might get uninspired at some point in time. But as a driver, our abilities don’t get worse. Look at Mark Martin. He had a great year one of those last couple years. That was very late in his career.”
It will not get easier next month at NHMS. Patrick’s best Loudon finish was last July, when she grabbed 14th place. The best she’s qualified is 18th in September of 2014. At Loudon, where track space is at a premium, a sluggish qualifying run does not translate to race-day results.
Patrick and her competitors will have four races before pulling into Loudon. They represent a mix: a high-speed 2-miler at Michigan, a road course at Sonoma Raceway, a superspeedway at Daytona, and a 1.5-mile track at Kentucky Speedway.
Patrick promises to remain occupied before her return to New England, a region she may not visit for much longer.
“The job of my life is getting more crowded,” Patrick said. “But the racing always comes first.”