Danica Patrick only had a few words for Kyle Petty and his observation that she was “not a race car driver,” because they really had no impact on her, she says.
“I really don’t care,” Patrick said Friday (June 28), according to USA Today. “I don’t. It’s true there are plenty of people who say really bad things about me. I hear about them or I read them or I read them on Twitter. People want me to die. At the end of the day, you just get over that kind of stuff. All you can do is trust that you’re doing a good job and that’s all that matters and the people around you believe in you.”
Petty made the remarks disparaging Patrick as “marketing machine” and “not a race car driver” on SPEED Network’s “Racehub.” Discussing drivers, host Matt Clark asked Petty what he thought about Danica Patrick.
Petty said he had a problem: “Where fans have bought into the hype of the marketing, to think she’s a race car driver. She can go fast, and I’ve seen her go fast. She drives the wheels off it when she goes fast.”
“She’s not a race car driver.There’s a difference. The King (Richard Petty, Kyle’s father) always had that stupid saying, but it’s true, ‘Lots of drivers can drive fast, but very few drivers can race.’ Danica has been the perfect example of somebody who can qualify better than what she runs. She can go fast, but she can’t race. I think she’s come a long way, but she’s still not a race car driver. And I don’t think she’s ever going to be a race car driver.”
Why? “Because I think it’s too late to learn.”
Patrick is in her first full season of Sprint Cup Series racing in NASCAR, having run in a few races in 2012. She’s 31 years old. She won the pole at the first NASCAR event in February, the famed Daytona 500, becoming the first woman to ever do so (for any Sprint Cup Series event). But she finished 8th, her only Top 10 finish thus far this season. She’s currently 27th in the Sprint Cup points standings through 17 races.
But Patrick did note a flaw in Petty’s conclusions on her driving abilities. “I just think that it’s funny how he (Petty) said I can qualify but I can’t race,” she said. “Those of you who actually watch what I do would know I can’t qualify for crap, and then in the race things go much better.”
She’s right. Her average qualifying position has been 26.8. Her average finish has been 20th.
Nick Bromberg at Yahoo Sports also noted Petty’s mistake. And he found that perhaps the son of Richard Petty might not want to keep throwing stones, because Kyle Petty’s own average finish position in seven of his ten NASCAR Winston Cup and Sprint Cup Series seasons were behind that of Patrick’s current average of 26.8.
“It’s a little bit funny,” she went on. “The most important thing to me is that I keep my team happy, we’re moving in the right direction, that GoDaddy (her primary sponsor) is happy and that when I walk out of the garage and meet a little girl who (says she) wants to grow up to be like you, you’re doing something right. Those are the things that feel right.”
Her endorsements have placed her on Forbes magazine’s highest paid female athletes list for the last few years. She just made Forbes Celebrity 100, a list that is topped by Oprah Winfrey. She placed at No. 91, just one spot back of actress Sandra Bullock. The list tracks the most powerful celebrities.
But what about learning as a driver? Kyle Petty said he believes it is too late for her to learn. Now a TNT race analyst, Petty was once a driver, winning eight races in a ten-year career and placing in the Top 10 in 173 races. Thus far, Patrick has just the one Top 10 finish at Daytona.
“At times I feel like I’m ahead of it and at times behind it,” she said, saying that she thinks the learning curve is different for each individual driver. “I don’t know at what point in time it flattens out. I’m feeling the car better. I think over time feeling the car better is going to result in a car that’s set up for me and result in a car that’s faster and better.”
And in the end, it may not even matter if she goes on to win dozens of races. There will still be those NASCAR purists and chauvinists who think she’s just a “marketing machine” and “not a race car driver.”
But one of them won’t be Dale Earnhardt Jr. Her former boss (in 2012 when she ran the Nationwide circuit) defended Patrick, according to USA Today.
“I have to disagree with Kyle,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said Friday at Kentucky Speedway. “I think she’s a tough competitor. She works really hard at what she does and she has run some really good races. On every occasion, she’s outrunning several guys on the circuit.
“If she was not able to compete or not able to run minimum speed or finishing in last place every week, I think you might be able to say Kyle has an argument. But she’s out there running competitively and running strong on several accounts.”
Earnhardt said that she just “might surprise even Kyle Petty” at some point in the future.
Danica Patrick finished 23rd at the Quaker State 400 at the Kentucky Speedway Sunday. Her starting position: 29.