Danica Debate Flares Anew During Kentucky Week
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
As a television “analyst”, Kyle Petty is paid handsomely to do little more than talk. On a national broadcast Thursday, Petty certainly earned his money as he offered up the opinion that Danica Patrick is “not a race car driver”, but “just a marketing machine”.
Bold analysis, for sure. But, astute analysis or baseless blather? That question dominated garage-area chatter on Friday at Kentucky Speedway, the track where Patrick will race her Stewart Haas Racing Sprint Cup Chevrolet on Sunday, and where Petty will help call the race from the broadcast booth.
Petty’s comments were made Thursday night on the SPEED cable network’s “Race Hub” show. They were made after the show’s host, Matt Clark asked Petty, a former Cup driver and the son of Hall of Fame driver Richard Petty, “What’s your take on Danica Patrick?”
Petty let fly with the following quotes as the interview rolled on:
– “I’ve said it from the very beginning; she’s just a marketing machine. That’s a fact, Jack.”
– “She’s a hot commodity and rightfully so. In a market where everybody that crawls into a race car on a Sunday afternoon in Cup racing is male; she’s the female. I don’t have a problem with her being a marketing machine – more power to her.”
– “She’s not a race car driver. There’s a difference. ‘The King’ (Richard Petty) 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.”
Petty did say that Patrick has shown speed, but only in non-racing situations. Petty, who won eight races in 829 Cup starts, admitted that he was a “journeyman” as a driver and never a star.
On Friday in Kentucky, drivers reporting for press conferences were greeted with questions about Patrick, Petty and the comments made by a guy more known for wearing a ponytail than his driving abilities.
Current drivers stood up for Patrick – with varying degrees of ferocity.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., not surprisingly as he owns the car which Patrick has driven in the Nationwide Series, offered the most vigorous defense.
“I have to disagree with Kyle,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I think she is a tough competitor and she works really hard at what she does. She has run some really good races. On every occasion she is out running several guys out on the circuit. If she was not able to compete and not able to run minimum speed or finish 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. 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.”
Five-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson defended Patrick – whose SHR team uses equipment and data put together by Johnson’s Hendrick Motorsports team – by stressing how hard it is for drivers who move back and forth between stock cars and open-wheel and sports cars to adapt.
Kevin Harvick, like Patrick and Johnson and Earnhardt, a Chevy driver, defended Patrick by saying that Cup cars are hard to drive.
“It is really hard to understand what you need to drive these cars,” the Richard Childress Racing driver said, “and to be able to drive them fast. It is just not something that is going to happen overnight. I don’t know that I would go as far as calling her not a racer because she has raced her whole life, and I think on a continuous learning curve. She’s obviously dedicated at what she does to try and get better, and knows she has a lot of hurdles to overcome in a short amount of time.”
On social media and in comment sections and in chat rooms, the validity of Petty’s analysis is being debated much more passionately today. She has some very ferocious defenders out there, and also some pretty adamant detractors.
There is little doubt that some of what Petty says is true: Right now, 16 races into the 2013 season, Patrick has looked lost on most race days. In good equipment, she is back running with people who are not in good equipment.
And Petty is right in saying that were it not for her marketing attributes, she would not be in Cup. Harvick kind alluded to that when he said, “She’s fortunate to have a sponsor that is willing to back her.”
And there is little doubt that her marketing abilities are also getting her free passes from many television announcers whose networks are self-described “partners” with NASCAR and, hence, anxious to see Patrick draw in viewers.
But not a race car driver? Depends on how you define that term.
And, Johnson is correct when he says, “You have to go out there and learn and learn through experience.”
Johnson also talked about how young drivers need a “five-year plan” when they embark on NASCAR careers. The problem there, of course, is that in these times of $20-plus-million sponsorships, very few are going to get five years to prove themselves.
Unless, that is, your lack of success on the track is offset by a nifty “Q Score”. Cup, is, after all, The Show. Drivers are expected – realistically or unrealistically – to deliver upon arrival.
And perhaps that is the pebble in Petty’s sandal – that Patrick is getting that five-year plan.
But then again, Petty should also understand that it turned out that he benefitted from a 30-year plan as a driver.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments