Danica Patrick now at a crossroads, as fourth fiddle at SHR in 2014

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Stewart-Haas Racing’s newest driver for 2013 entered the NASCAR world as its media darling, its most discussed and highly scrutinized driver, and one of its most marketable stars.

A year later, and Danica Patrick will be reduced to a near afterthought in the SHR stable in 2014.

It’s been a fascinating evolution because for the first time in her career, she’s not the story, and that’s purely down to the results she and the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet team are or are not producing on the track.

Objectively speaking, she’s getting the right amount of attention now as the rest of her male counterparts who are consistently finishing races in the 25th to 30th place range on average – little at best.

That’s no knock on her. It was always going to be an uphill struggle in her first year and the results have been understandably difficult to procure in such a competitive field and with Patrick at a several-year disadvantage to her peers in this level of stock car racing. She has only five top-20 finishes in 24 starts this year, and six top-25 starts.

Patrick was brought into SHR as much as for her marketing ability as her driving ability, which is no secret to any casual or serious observer of the sport.

But for 2014, SHR has went out and acquired Kevin Harvick, a consistent champion-in-waiting who’s usually good for two or three wins a year and a Chase berth, and now, Kurt Busch, the 2004 champ who in his two years of “lower team purgatory” has outperformed his equipment and reminded everyone of his serious ability level.

Patrick’s name is rarely brought up on teleconferences, and there’s been a bunch of them in the last few weeks following Tony Stewart’s injuries. SHR competition director Greg Zipadelli and subsequent replacement drivers Max Papis, Austin Dillon and Mark Martin have been the focus, not Danica.

It seems that for the first time in her career, the Danica “brand” has not been able to overpower the Danica results. That will be even tougher next year; she’ll likely be able to improve in her second full year of Cup, but she’ll be measured against three of the best ever in her discipline. And that’s no easy task.