Once upon a time, when the world was young and NASCAR still looked like an eternally flowing money fountain, Danica Patrick was the hottest property this side of a private island in the Caribbean.
IndyCar had made her the face of its sport, a sketchy move that was both crassly commercial and an eventual detriment to everyone concerned. She had, yes, the face, but not the resume. And so resentment of her unduly exalted status quickly grew within IndyCar's ranks.
It didn't help, of course, that she handled both the status and the resentment badly. It also didn't help that, like a handful of other IndyCar stars, she then made the mistake of jumping to NASCAR, lured by all that eternally flowing dough.
As with other IndyCar defectors (Sam Hornish Jr., Juan Pablo Montoya, Dario Franchitti), she hasn't found anywhere close to even the limited success she enjoyed in IndyCar. Worse, the eternal money fountain didn't turn out to be eternal after all.
Oh, NASCAR is still the king of American motorsports, and likely will be for a very long time. But as the sport descends from its unsustainable peak, the sponsorship deals are drying up, both for the drivers and the product itself. It says something, after all, when your title sponsor used to be a communications giant and is now an energy drink (Monster). And mostly what it says is not good.
As for Danica, the marketing magic is gone. She's just another back marker now, scrambling for dollars the way all the back markers do. And so now comes news, via George Diaz of the Orlando Sentinel, that she's short $15.2 million to go racing this year -- and Daytona is less than three weeks away.
Her primary sponsor, Nature's Bakery, abruptly bailed on its deal with Patrick, an act that will land it in court as Patrick's team, Stewart-Haas Racing, sues for breach of contract. So at least she has that going for her. She also still has three primary sponsors to pick up the tab for 10 races: Aspen Dental (four races), TaxAct (three races) and Code 3 (three races).
The bad news here is that it's Aspen Dental, TaxAct and Code 3, entities that are not exactly on the tip of America's tongue. Neither is Nature's Bakery, a tiny company of similar obscurity.
This is a far more than a stone's throw from the sponsors Patrick used to attract. And it's the starkest evidence that her star has truly dimmed.
It's not just that her primary sponsor has ditched her, you see. It's that her primary sponsor was Nature's Bakery.