The King Is Close In His Assessment Of Danica
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
Last weekend, Richard Petty had some interesting things to say about Danica Patrick, the current state of racing in NASCAR, and how those two entities connect. None of it was very flattering to Patrick as a race car driver nor NASCAR as racing series driven by actual racing.
After giving it all a good read, one is left to wonder if it was grumpy old-dude talk or the must-be-considered views by one of the sport’s all-time greats.
The vote here is for the latter.
The setting was a visit to Toronto, Canada. Petty, the winner of a record 200 Cup races as a driver, was there to be part of the Canadian Motorsports Expo. He fielded questions from the media about Patrick and NASCAR and his answers were published on the Wheels.ca website.
It was the Patrick stuff that got the most attention.
Petty said that Patrick, who will be competing in her second full season as a Sprint Cup driver this year, would win a Cup race only “if everybody else stayed home.”
Not buying that.
Patrick would have a reasonable chance to win a race if others were on the track; as long as the others were driving equipment fielded by the likes of Front Row Motorsports, Tommy Baldwin Racing or JTG Daugherty Racing. She might even win a race at which everybody shows up – if that race is of the restrictor plate variety.
See, perhaps the most telling thing about Patrick and her rookie-year foray into Cup was not where she finished races, but who ran near her during the races and who finished behind her. That is, who she was beating. And that would be drivers like David Stremme, David Gilliland, Casey Mears, J.J. Yeley and top tier drivers who either wrecked or had mechanical problems. That is, she was running with and finishing ahead of merely decent drivers from third-tier teams.
Patrick ran with and finished near those folks even though she herself was driving top-tier Stewart-Haas/Hendrick Motorsports equipment that was being tuned by the best engineers and wrenches in the garages.
And the rookie excuse got thinner with each race.
Week after week, fans would hear people employed by NASCAR television partners say what a great job Patrick was doing for a rookie. What a great move that was or what a wonderful move this was.
The thing is, this is The Show. Even rookies are expected to be racy commensurate with the level of their resources. And when those rookies come in to the sounds of trumpets and drums, there had better be a payoff in performance (See: Joey Logano).
Patrick is not some teen-ager coming up from quarter midgets. She is a 30-something, well-seasoned pro who started over 100 races in the extremely competitive and professional IndyCar Series.
No, Indycars are not stock cars but, racing is racing. The good ones figure out how to translate and cross-pollinate – especially when inserted into top equipment.
Patrick may be a totally different driver in 2014. The light in the head my flick on and flick on brightly she may prove the negatoids – even Petty – wrong.
And if she does suddenly get it, her story will be even more noteworthy because during 2013, as Petty alluded to, Patrick looked lost behind he wheel.
With NASCAR’s blessing, Patrick was The Story a year ago. She continued to be that through the summer and fall. The smallest signs of life in her game were seized upon and bannered. The media was still doing her PR for her work well into the autumn.
Why? Petty offered up his answer in Toronto. Race time, he told Wheels.ca, has become show time.
“When NASCAR Cup racing first started, it was racing,” he said. “Over a period of years, with our sponsorships, what we had to do for TV, to get the fans to come, the first thing you know is that the race is secondary, because all the rest of it is buildup, buildup, buildup.”
And Patrick, he says, is little more than a star of the show.
Nothing wrong with that, Petty quickly adds. It helps everybody in modern NASCAR. It even helps Petty, a team owner himself.
Petty didn’t say he doesn’t want Patrick to win a race simply because she is a female or even because she is more about packaging than content. He didn’t say anything that could remotely be called sexist in Canada.
And he wasn’t ripping the buildup, buildup, buildup or show time. On the contrary.
No, Petty was not being disrespectful in his remarks on Patrick and NASCAR in the 2000s. He was simply being honest and how refreshing is that?
– Jim Pedley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Comments