Richard Childress Racing

Patrick heads into NASCAR homestretch with few options

Danica Patrick was the darling of Daytona before she put on a helmet. Patrick ushered in the 2013 season accompanied by hype perhaps no other NASCAR rookie had ever faced: Her love life, Super Bowl ads and racy photo shoots were trendy themes that generated more enthusiasm than her actual career accomplishments.

She was projected as the new face of the sport — a face that corporate America adored — was flush with sponsor cash and was counted on as a role model for the next generation of little girls and casual fans who couldn't flip through a magazine or turn the dial without seeing "Danica." Then she raced, and became the first woman to win the pole at NASCAR's top...