SPARTA, Ky. — Danica Patrick doesn’t care that Kyle Petty thinks she’s better at getting attention than driving because she’s heard it all before.
But if Petty’s going to attack her, the NASCAR Sprint Cup rookie believes he should at least get his facts straight.
On Friday, Patrick responded to Petty’s comments a night earlier on Speed’s “Race Hub” program, in which the former Sprint Cup driver called her a “marketing machine” rather than a race car driver. Petty also doubted that Patrick would become a driver and insisted that she doesn’t race as well as she qualifies.
Patrick’s statistics suggest otherwise. On average she’s finishing almost six spots higher (25.8) than she starts (32nd), which she noted by saying, “those who watch know I can’t qualify for crap. The race goes much better.”
That likely won’t stop Petty, the 53-year-old son of seven-time Cup champion Richard Petty and an eight-time race winner on NASCAR’s premier circuit, from criticizing Patrick.
Now an analyst for TNT and Fox/Speed, Petty has periodically taken jabs at Patrick, a former IndyCar Series driver who now drives the No. 10 Chevy for Stewart-Haas Racing. The 31-year-old Patrick is 27th in points in her first full Cup season, which follows an open wheel career highlighted by a fuel-mileage victory in 2008 in Motegi, Japan.
On Thursday night, Petty seemed to elaborate on his views during the show. While he understands the mass appeal of Patrick, who has been featured in racy TV ads for sponsor Go Daddy and was IndyCar’s most popupopular driver for several years, her driving skills don’t justify the hype in his opinion.
“That’s where I have a problem, where fans have bought into the hype of the marketing, to think she’s a race car driver,” he said. “She can go fast, and I’ve seen her go fast. She drives the wheels off it when she goes fast.”
Asked if she has learned to race, Petty continued, “She’s not a race car driver. There’s a difference. The King 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.”
Patrick won the pole and finished eighth in the season-opening Daytona 500 but has admittedly struggled this season. She said she’s working toward that point where things level out but isn’t there yet.
The main thing is keeping her team, sponsor and fans happy — not giving a second thought to Petty’s comments.
“I really don’t care,” she said during a news conference at Kentucky Speedway. “It’s true that there are plenty of people who say bad things about me. I read them. People want me to die. At the end of the day, you get over that stuff and trust you are doing a good job.”
Asked what it will take to quiet her critics, Patrick’s response brought some laughs.
“Do you think I will silence my naysayers?” she asked. “You don’t. I’m sure everybody has them. You know who believes in you. That’s what matters.”
Former boss Dale Earnhardt Jr. has shown his faith in Patrick, giving her a chance to transition to stock cars over three years in the Nationwide Series at JR Motorsports. Earnhardt defended Patrick and called her a tough competitor who works hard and said she wouldn’t have a ride if she couldn’t stay with the pack or finished last every week.
“I have to disagree with Kyle,” Earnhardt said. “She has run some really good races. On every occasion she is outrunning several guys out on the circuit. If she was not able to compete, 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. I think that she has got a good opportunity and a rightful position in the sport to keep competing and she just might surprise even Kyle Petty.”