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ESPN's Craven: Patrick is 'getting long in the tooth'

Associated Press logo Associated Press 2/9/2017 By GARY B. GRAVES
Danica Patrick films a video segment during the NASCAR Media Tour in Charlotte, N.C., on Jan. 24, 2017. © AP Photo/Chuck Burton Danica Patrick films a video segment during the NASCAR Media Tour in Charlotte, N.C., on Jan. 24, 2017.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- Former NASCAR driver Ricky Craven said Thursday that Danica Patrick is "getting long in the tooth" and her window to win a Cup race is starting to close.

The two-time Monster Energy Cup series race winner and ESPN analyst touched on several topics during a news conference for Kentucky Speedway, including Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s return from a concussion and Carl Edwards' decision to retire. Craven's discussion of those drivers led to a mention of Patrick, who enters her fifth full-time Cup season still seeking her first victory.

Craven said Patrick has been good at drawing interest and called himself a "big fan" and supporter. He wants her to win but said, "I feel like she's stalled in terms of her progress" and noted sponsorship issues.

"If that (sponsorship) becomes a challenge, then her story becomes a little more difficult," he said.

Stewart-Haas Racing filed a $31 million breach of contract lawsuit against Nature's Bakery last week, accusing the company of refusing to pay millions of dollars it owes the team to sponsor Patrick this season. Nature's Bakery was scheduled to sponsor at least 20 races this NASCAR season, the second year of a three-year deal to be the primary sponsor for Patrick.

Patrick has been criticized off and on for years over her lack of wins in NASCAR. Craven explained that his comments were not meant to disrespect one of the sport's most popular drivers, but he was simply stating the obvious in a sport in which sponsorship is predicated on results. And now is the time for the Stewart-Haas Racing driver to show them after 154 Cup starts. She turns 35 next month.

"She's a talented race car driver, but the discussion is losing part of its shine," said Craven, who had 17 top-five finishes and 41 top-10s with six poles in 278 Cup starts. "This was a very vibrant story three or four years ago, and everybody has to perform to stay relevant."

As for Earnhardt, the outspoken Craven noted that there's a risk involved in returning from a concussion and noted his own recovery from the brain injury. But he noted that Earnhardt has the drive to succeed along with the education needed to make an informed decision that he supports.

PHOTOS: 5 KEYS TO SUCCESS FOR DANICA IN 2017

Editor's Note: Over the next several weeks leading up to The Clash at Daytona, we will feature keys to success for a different driver each day. Danica Patrick enters her fifth full-time season in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2017 and based off of the expectations, she hasn’t lived up to the hype. Patrick did make some smaller strides in 2016, like keeping her car clean and completing the fourth-most laps last season. Check out the five keys for Patrick to have a successful season in 2017: Looking ahead: 5 keys to success for Danica Patrick in 2017
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