Patrick’s scramble for sponsorship dollars unsettling for NASCAR

The ramifications of the breakup between Danica Patrick and Nature's Bakery -- her primary sponsor in the Monster Energy Cup Series -- run deep.

It's personal for Patrick, one of the most prominent faces in the sport. And it's business, too, given the sponsorship-driven world of NASCAR and Patrick's ability to move the needle from a marketing standpoint despite her struggles on the track.

Speaking of business, does anybody have $15.2 million to spare?

It's kinda important and time-sensitive. With Speed Weeks right around the corner in Daytona, Patrick has been left in the lurch by her primary sponsor.

Nature's Bakery, based in Nevada and specializing in healthy products like gluten-free fig bars and dairy-free brownies, is reneging on its Cup sponsorship deal with Patrick, who drives for Stewart-Haas Racing. The original deal -- signed before the start of the 2016 season -- spans three years and is worth an estimated $45 million.

Whether Nature's Bakery is still on the hook for $15.2 million for each of the next two years will be settled in court, most likely.

"You hate to see it for the sport," said Larry McReynolds, a Fox Sports analyst and former crew chief. "It's not good for Stewart-Haas Racing. It's not good for Ford coming in for the first year with Stewart-Haas. It's not good for anybody. It's not the publicity our sport needs."

There's plenty of it, unfortunately.

Nature's Bakery claims that Patrick was in breach of contract for promoting competing products. Stewart-Haas Racing has sued Nature's Bakery for breach of contract.

It's a prickly situation for all involved. But the most pressing issue is how will Patrick cobble together enough sponsorship dollars for the entire 36-race Cup season?

Nature Bakery's sponsorship included at least 20 races this season. Do the math. Not good.

"I'm hopeful that we're gonna come to a resolution on that," Dave Pericak, Director of Ford Performance, said in a conference call on Monday.

"But at the end of the day what I can say is that you have my commitment and the commitment of Stewart-Haas Racing and everyone that's involved that it is not going to affect our ability to hit the track and run that car and run it the way that it needs to be run."

It sounds as if somebody will pony up a pile of money, even if it's not Nature's Bakery. Patrick and the company seemed like an odd fit from the beginning. Patrick most certainly leads and promotes a healthy lifestyle, but Nature's Bakery is a small company among sponsorship giants like Lowe's and Nationwide Insurance. It has fewer than 500 employees in the United States.

"It's one of those that makes you tip your head a little bit," McReynolds said of the original deal.

Regardless of how this plays out in court, we have a problem.

"When talking those kind of dollars, this could drag on for years," McReynolds said.

We shall see. Patrick has secondary sponsors in Aspen Dental (four races), TaxAct (three races) and Code 3 (three races).

Meanwhile, the clock keeps ticking on the season countdown, and Patrick has 15 million reasons to worry.