CONCORD, N.C.–In the world of NASCAR, one off the cuff comment stirs up far reaching opinions and controversy. On Monday, NASCAR’s King, Richard Petty, made some comments that stirred up debate, and not surprisingly those comments were about Danica Patrick.
According to Petty, the only way Patrick will ever win a race is “if everybody else stays home.”
His son, Kyle Petty, said something similar last season and so have countless others. So what exactly is the deal with the hate against Patrick?
Patrick is one of the most prominent faces in NASCAR, and one could even argue that she is more recognizable that Dale Earnhardt Jr. outside of the motorsports world. Did that help her get a top ride in NASCAR? Absolutely. There is nothing wrong with that. In the cut-throat world that is the NASCAR industry, using anything you have at your disposal to get yourself a ride is not uncommon.
Much like several of her racing peers, Patrick brings in sponsorship dollars to whatever team she is driving for, plus her celebrity status and name recognition benefits any team that has employed her in a great way. Stewart-Haas Racing aren’t the only ones benefiting from her popularity. NASCAR, as an organization, receives plenty of the media buzz which she creates.
For example, when she won the pole for the Daytona 500, her history-making story made headlines in media outlets where NASCAR has never been, which to the sanctioning body meant more money and more attention. Her historic run at NASCAR’s Super Bowl continued to make headlines long after the checkered flag waved.
But what about talent? The majority of “Danica-haters” or “Danicant’s” say she has no talent. To those doubters, the response is simple. Get in her car, and let’s see what you can do. Patrick wouldn’t be where she is in her career, regardless of sponsorship, if she didn’t have the talent to drive these cars. Granted, she wasn’t “successful” in her seven years in the IndyCar Series but stock cars are vastly different. It’s hard to compare the two to each other. Patrick won one race in the IRL that most say was a fuel-mileage race, but a race win is a race win, regardless of how it came.
While other Indycar drivers have come in and failed (see Dario Franchitti or Juan Pablo Montoya), or taken close to half a decade to achieve a race win (Sam Hornish Jr.), Patrick is committed to making this work and given the time, will be successful and people forget she has only been driving full bodied stock cars for two years in total. For all the detractors that said her rookie year in Cup was a massive disappointment, they need to reconsider and look at her numbers objectively compared to many of her peer’s rookie seasons.
Not everybody is Jimmie Johnson or Tony Stewart, and Patrick will not be one of those drivers, but many other drivers won’t as well. Earnhardt Jr. seemingly only wins once every four years in the best equipment in the sport, yet the amount of detractors for the No. 88 are a lot less than for a Cup Series rookie who happens to be female.
As Patrick enters her second full Cup Series season, perhaps detractors should step back and realize the truth instead of coming to rapid conclusions. Patrick is a young and very inexperienced stock car driver learning her trade.
Will she ever win? Well, one does not need to win to have a successful NASCAR career-Ted Musgrave, Rick Mast, Kenny Wallace and the list goes on and on of successful and well-respected drivers who never won a race at the top level.
Judging Patrick based solely on her race finishes of her Rookie season is unfair. Many drivers and crew members who have worked with Patrick one-on-one have said that her knowledge of these cars is impeccable, and her drive to learn and improve each weekend is impressive.
When Patrick’s driving career is over, my hope is that she is viewed no differently and respected as someone who gave it her best shot. As for Richard Petty, he is called the King for a reason but in this instance, I feel he may be wrong about Patrick. Who knows, she might just prove him wrong on Feb. 23.