Craig Murto: Patrick needs to perform on track

Danica Patrick needs a sponsor.

GoDaddy.com announced that they will not renew their more than $20 million sponsorship of the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) machine Patrick drives on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit. On top of this, Patrick is in the final year of her contract with SHR.

The decision not to renew its sponsorship was strictly business, GoDaddy claims. They have offered a personal services contract, so GoDaddy may not be on the car but Patrick still may be a spokesperson for the brand.

The brand is well known. It has an 81 percent recognition rate in the United States. GoDaddy, now publicly traded, wants to branch out into other markets, something easier to do if $20 million isn’t sitting on the side of a Sprint Cup car.

SHR marketing people and Patrick’s own representatives are searching for sponsorship. It’s doubtful that SHR will campaign the car without a title sponsor.

The 2015 season has been the strongest for Patrick. She’s 16th in points and has two top-10 finishes, amazingly both on short tracks which arguably require the most skill. She ran in the top 10 at Talladega before transmission trouble hurt her efforts. Fans watching at home see her name scroll by on the ticker in 20th most of the time, rather than 30th. It appears she’s made improvements.

But is it enough? It cannot be denied that she is marketable, to the point that she is recognized by her first name alone. But she also demands a high salary, one that GoDaddy no longer will support. In 2014 Forbes estimated that Patrick’s annual income from salary, endorsements and merchandise was upward around $15 million, putting her in the top 10 best paid NASCAR drivers and the fifth highest paid female athlete in the world.

She has a fan base and has been good for the sport. Young girls all over the globe look up to Danica and have an interest in racing solely because of her presence.

And it can’t be denied that she has talent. A decade ago she was the first woman to lead the Indy 500. She became the first woman to win an IndyCar race. These things don’t happen if there is not some ability behind the wheel.

But her NASCAR career has been less than stellar. And it’s not because she isn’t in good equipment. Has she been unable to adjust to the heavier cars and the longer races? Does she provide enough good feedback to her crew chief to make the changes she needs in the car? Why does she routinely finish 20th to 30th while her teammate wins the Cup championship and finishes first or second every week?

Whatever the issues, it’s time for the Danica brand to improve. Even the most diehard fan loses interest if their favorite driver runs around the back of the pack. Danica Patrick needs to rack up a string of top-10 finishes, including her first top five. She needs to race to the front of the pack on a track that isn’t all about the draft. And she needs to finish there consistently.

And she needs to do it now, while she hunts for a sponsor. She needs to show that she’s worth spending more than $20 million to put a corporate logo on the side of her car. She needs to show SHR that she’s worth their marketing efforts. She needs to start performing while she’s still in a car capable of running at the front.

I suspect we’ll hear about a deal for Patrick soon, one that will keep her at SHR for at least two more years. It’s worth something when people recognize you by your first name, and all those marketing people working on her behalf sure would like their finder fees or whatever incentive is waved in their direction.

But this may be the last go-round for Danica Patrick. Being the first (and so far only) woman to win an IndyCar race can only take her so far. And though she continues to tie and break NASCAR records for top-10 finishes by female drivers, etc., it’s not lost on people that it’s taken Patrick three times the number of races to reach those marks.

It’s time for Danica Patrick to perform on the racetrack; she needs a sponsor.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.