Danica Patrick took the high road today in response to widely publicized comments by NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty that the Stewart Haas Racing driver could win a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race “(only) if everybody else stayed home.”
Asked if she takes such criticism to heart, Patrick said, “I really don't. I like that people have opinions. That is fine with me. I think that it creates conversation. As I said the last time somebody said something that was not so positive for me, it spawned so many positive articles.”
The “somebody” Patrick referred to was Kyle Petty, son of Richard Petty, who said last year that Patrick “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. I don't think she's ever going to be a race car driver, (it’s) too late to learn."
Patrick insisted that while the criticism may sting, “there's a positive side to it, too. More than anything, I love the conversation that it creates in sport. Across the board, it makes sports interesting. It makes life interesting when people have different perspectives, and that's fine with me.
Asked if Richard Petty’s comments stemmed from a generational issue, Patrick said, “I can't speak to that, I was born in the '80s.” She also said she has no plans to speak to the 200-time NASCAR winner about his comments, adding, “I don't know why I would.”
She said Kyle Petty sought her out after last year’s comments, and the two had a “lengthy” conversation.
“I came to the conclusion that everybody does have their opinion, and that is totally fine,” she said. “Even if some of the things that came across weren't completely accurate, there were things that I didn't quite understand from the comments that I learned (about).
“It really just doesn't matter,” she insisted. “It's an interesting conversation and I'm fortunate I'm in it.
While admitting she has been judged more harshly in NASCAR than she was early in her IndyCar career, Patrick said, “In IndyCar, I had probably a faster start. I started on the front row of Motegi and finished fourth, then just about qualified on the pole and just about won the Indy 500 my first year.
“That was race number four in IndyCar, so I had a fast start.”
She said NASCAR is more competitive from top to bottom than IndyCar, adding, “Not only are the drivers very good, but also the teams are extremely competitive. I don't think that any one of them sit still. There's no normal ranking of teams, it goes up and down among many. There are 43 cars -- not 23 cars – and it's just extremely competitive.
“Also, stock cars are not my background,” reminded Patrick. “I've done two full years; one in Nationwide and one in Cup. I still feel like I'm figuring stock cars out, and will for a long time. I will never stop learning.”
Patrick also said she likes her chances in next Sunday’s Daytona 500; a race she was in position to win a year ago before falling back on the final lap and finishing eighth.
“My team builds great speedway cars and I feel much more comfortable (than last year),” she said. “This is much more familiar to me than the rest of the racing in a stock car, because (at most tracks) you're learning how the car reacts to how the bump-stops work, how the track bar works, how different spring packages work.
That's not a concern on the speedways. It's just about navigating the cars around you and drafting. (It’s about your mindset throughout the whole thing, your discipline. So I feel like it could definitely happen.”