Kyle Petty is a likeable guy. He drove in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for 30 years, and while his success was limited, Petty has established a thriving second career as a television analyst for SPEED and TNT. He’s straightforward, perceptive, and offers up his honest opinion without hesitation. Most fans appreciate that.
Honesty, however, can incite criticism; right now, Petty is probably receiving an earful from Danica Patrick fans.
As NASCAR rolled into Kentucky Speedway late last week, Petty was asked about Patrick on SPEED’s “NASCAR Race Hub.” He commented on her popularity, calling Patrick a “marketing machine,” which no one will dispute. Patrick has been in the spotlight since she started racing in the IndyCar Series in 2005, and her celebrity status has skyrocketed even higher since she joined NASCAR.
But Petty also had this to say about Patrick:
“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.”
If Patrick isn’t a race car driver, what exactly has she been doing for the past nine years?
Petty seems to be implying that she isn’t much of a competitor. It’s true that people have extremely high expectations for Patrick, but her learning curve in NASCAR is incredibly steep. As soon as she made the decision to leave IndyCar for NASCAR, she was put on an accelerated track to a full-time ride in Sprint Cup. In reality, she should still be a full-time driver in the Nationwide Series. But regardless of where or what she races, Patrick still climbs in the car every weekend and competes.
It was asinine for Petty to declare that Patrick is not and won’t ever be a race car driver. Yes, she became a national celebrity with her Go Daddy commercials and photo shoots. But Patrick has made racing her career. Between IndyCar and NASCAR, she’s competed in the top two North American racing series. Sure sounds like she’s a racer.
Several drivers came to her defense after hearing Petty’s comments, including Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who she drove for in Nationwide, Kevin Harvick, and Patrick’s boss, Tony Stewart. They noted her work ethic and dedication, and reiterated just how difficult it is to succeed in NASCAR.
Perhaps more than almost any other active driver, Patrick is a polarizing figure in motorsports. She has a legion of fans who love her regardless of her on-track performances. On the other hand, plenty of race fans think the only reason Patrick has a ride in NASCAR is because of the mass media attention she receives, which ultimately attracts sponsors and money. But that outside attention doesn’t dictate what her primary job title is.
Petty is a great analyst. He shouldn’t tone down his opinions, but perhaps he should watch his word choice. Patrick, in all likelihood, has already forgotten about his comments. She’ll continue on to Daytona next weekend and focus on one thing—racing.