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Analysis: What's next for Danica Patrick?

USA TODAY SPORTS logo USA TODAY SPORTS 9/13/2017 Mike Hembree, Special for USA TODAY Sports

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What’s next for Danica Patrick?

Will one of the most famous personalities in auto racing – despite her lack of sustained success – stay in the sport after announcing Tuesday she won’t be back with Stewart-Haas Racing next season?

Although the NASCAR “silly season” is very active, there appears to be no viable spot available for Patrick next year. She leaves SHR amid sponsor difficulties - in a Facebook post she said ''My time driving for them ... has come to an end due to a new sponsorship arrangement in 2018"  - and there has been no indication that she could deliver a solid sponsor to another team after losing Nature's Bakery earlier this year when the company could not fulfill its monetary commitment.

While SHR earlier Tuesday announced a new relationship with sponsor Smithfield Foods, a driver was not named.

It’s unlikely that Patrick, 35, would accept a ride with a lower-level team. She told USA TODAY Sports last month she would consider racing for another team, but would not consider a part-time ride.

A return to IndyCar racing, where she started her major-league motor sports career, seems extremely unlikely.

“I think there is a larger chance that she won’t be in a car next year than she will be just because of the race teams available, and the seats available,” said NBC NASCAR analyst Steve Letarte. “The business model she has outside of the race car is very successful.”

More: Danica Patrick announces she will not return to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2018

More: Danica Patrick at peace despite uncertain future with Stewart-Haas Racing

Perhaps anticipating her departure from driving, Patrick has traveled other avenues. Early this year, she began an athletic clothing line called Warrior by Danica Patrick, and she has written a book – scheduled for release next year – on health and fitness.

An exercise and nutrition devotee, Patrick has blogged about lifestyle issues, and she has been active in social media circles, including Twitter and Instagram. Many of her Instagram posts are yoga poses of the day or shout-outs to other yogis, photos of culinary creations she has whipped up or shots with her longtime boyfriend and fellow driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and their dogs. She has built a significant portfolio outside motor sports.

Part of Patrick’s appeal to sponsors and media outlets is that she has attracted new eyes to auto racing, bringing in fans who previously knew little about the sport.

Her biggest achievement in NASCAR was winning the Daytona 500 pole in 2013 as she became the first woman to lead qualifying for a Cup race.

Although Patrick has not been regularly competitive, her departure from NASCAR race fields would eliminate one large and diverse source of star power. And this would be on the heels of the sport losing four-time champion Jeff Gordon, three-time champion Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards and 14-time most popular driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is leaving at the end of this season.

The Verizon IndyCar Series was Patrick’s big-time launching pad. She won an IndyCar event in Japan in 2008 and threatened to win the Indianapolis 500 in 2009 before finishing third, the highest finish by a woman in the world’s biggest race. She is the only female driver to lead laps in an IndyCar and NASCAR race.

Patrick went through a divorce while racing in NASCAR and has a relationship with Stenhouse. Neither side of the famous motorsports couple had a win in Cup before Stenhouse scored a pair of victories this season to qualify for the Cup playoffs, which start Sunday.

Patrick’s name and image have carried her far, and, despite some sponsorship challenges this year, her brand is likely to keep her in the spotlight, even without weekly rides in fast cars.

Follow Hembree on Twitter @mikehembree

Related slideshow: Danica Patrick through the years (Provided by Photo Services)

Danica Patrick, driver of the #10 Warrior by Danica Patrick/HSN.com Ford, practices for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway on September 8, 2017 in Richmond, Virginia. Danica Patrick through the years

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