NASCAR's Danica Patrick adamant she fairly promoted sponsor

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) Danica Patrick defended her support of former sponsor Nature's Bakery on Friday and insisted she never promoted any rival products as her racing team and the food company veer toward a court fight.

Stewart-Haas Racing has filed a $31 million lawsuit against Nature's Bakery, saying the food company concocted false claims to dump the remaining two years on its deal to sponsor Patrick.

The suit claims Nature's Bakery took issue with Patrick using Instagram to promote protein powders, home-made energy balls, a homemade spinach smoothie and various other home-cooked meals ranging from ice cream to grilled cheese. SHR maintained Nature's Bakery ''liked'' most of the Instagram posts, and Nature's Bakery never complained about the posts until it began missing payments.

''I did not promote rival products,'' Patrick said at Daytona International Speedway with little more than a week to go before the season-opening Daytona 500. ''I always do my very best to bring return on investment to all of my partners, and so all I can say is I did my best to promote them authentically and truthfully.''

The food company has said it will fight the allegations in court.

Nature's Bakery, based in Reno, Nevada, was one of the smallest primary sponsors in NASCAR. It completed only one year of a three-year deal.

The pairing with Nature's Bakery and Patrick seemed natural from the start because the driver heavily promotes a healthy lifestyle and clean eating. She said she ate the fig bars before she was partnered with the company.

The severing of the contract left Stewart-Haas Racing in a funding lurch weeks before the season. Patrick had at least 20 unsponsored races without Nature's Bakery, but Aspen Dental this week broadened its role with her. Aspen Dental will be Patrick's primary sponsor for double-digit races, debuting with the Daytona 500. TaxAct is on her car for Saturday night's exhibition race.

''For me, it's less of my job and more of other people's, and for me, it just means even more to buckle down and race hard and have great finishes and serve the partners that are there,'' Patrick said, ''and they are stepping up. It's really just business as usual for me.''

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More AP auto racing: www.racing.ap.org

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