SPARTA, Ky.—There was one aspect of Kyle Petty’s criticism that Danica Patrick found downright comical.
“I just think that it’s funny how he said that I can qualify but I can’t race, because those of you who actually watch what I do would know that I can’t qualify for crap,” Patrick said Friday at Kentucky Speedway when asked about Petty’s critical comments a day earlier. “So it’s a little bit funny.”
In an interview on SPEED, Petty said of Patrick, “She’s not a race car driver. … 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.”
Petty also referred to Patrick as “just a marketing machine,” something the driver-turned-analyst has been saying ever since Patrick announced her intention to move from IndyCar to NASCAR more than three years ago.
Clearly, Patrick realizes that one consequence of her celebrity — and of being the only female driver in a field of 43 — is becoming a target for criticism.
“I really don’t care, I don’t,” Patrick said. “It’s true that there are plenty of people that say really bad things about me. I hear about them, or I read them, or read them on Twitter — people want me to die — but at the end of the day, you just get over that kind of stuff and all you can do is trust that you’re doing a good job. That’s all that matters, and that people around you believe in you.”
Petty’s comments notwithstanding, Patrick believes she’s making progress. She won the pole for the season-opening Daytona 500. She ran 12th at Martinsville in April and 13th two weeks ago at Michigan.
“The most important thing to me is that I can keep my team happy,” Patrick said. “We’re moving in the right direction. (Sponsor) GoDaddy’s happy.
“And then, when you walk out of the garage or walk around the track and you meet a little girl who wants to grow up to be like you, you’re doing something right.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr., who co-owned the car Patrick drove in the Nationwide Series, also came to the driver’s defense.
“I have to disagree with Kyle,” Earnhardt said. “I think she’s a tough competitor, and she works really hard at what she does. 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, or not able to run minimum speed or finshing in last place every week, I think you might be able to say Kyle had an argument.
“But she’s out there running competitively and running strong on several accounts. I think that she has a good opportunity and a rightful position in the sport to keep competing — and she just might surprise even Kyle Petty.”