Petty says Patrick ‘not a race car driver’? It takes one to know one

I never thought I would be the one rushing to Danica Patrick’s defense, but here I come.

I’ve never been a big fan, and it has nothing to do with her being a woman. She’s always seemed to have a chip on your shoulder, and is personally guilty of more finger-pointing than a tour guide for the deaf.

But she didn’t deserve the criticism she received during Friday’s qualifying at Kentucky Speedway, and she definitely didn’t deserve it from Kyle Petty, a guy who spent more time riding his famous father’s coat tails rather than driving a competitive race car. He even referenced King Richard while slamming Princess Danica.

“She’s not a race car driver,” Petty said on the Speed Channel’s broadcast. “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.”

Funny that a guy who won only eight races in more than 800 career starts has such a handle on a relatively rookie. Unlike Petty, who needed eight seasons to get his first victory and failed to take a single checkered flag in his final 11 seasons, Patrick could be one of those drivers who gets better with experience.

Yes, Patrick has received a lot more help than the Average Joes who work their way up the ranks. She has better sponsors and better equipment and better people for something she has little control over – her gender. Sounds a lot like Kyle Petty, who got more mileage out of his last name than any driver not named Dale Earnhardt Jr. Patrick and Petty have more in common than just ponytails.

To my surprise, Patrick handled it better than I had imagined. Always quick to play the blame game on the track, she wisely dismissed Petty’s comments without taking the bait. In fact, she managed to make Petty look like an idiot for his comments on a factual basis, pointing out that she doesn’t qualify well at all, then lumped him in the same category as all the Danica-haters out there.

“I really don’t care, I don’t,” Patrick said. “It’s true that there are plenty of people that say really bad things about me. I hear about them, or I read them, or read them on Twitter – people want me to die – but at the end of the day, you just get over that kind of stuff and all you can do is trust that you’re doing a good job.”

It’s true that Patrick has a long way to go, both on and off the track. She has to learn to control her temper, realize that it’s not all about her, and learn how to stay out of trouble to be around in the end. But the one thing she doesn’t need is off-target criticism from one of the most overrated drivers in NASCAR history.

Patrick knows the only way to silence the critics is to start contending for wins, and actually winning races. Yes, much of the criticism is because she’s a woman, and that’s unfair and unfortunate. And much of it is dead on, and that’s to be expected. But until Friday, none of it was fiction from a pot calling a kettle slow.

Does Petty really believe he would have been able to race for 30 seasons if his name was Kyle Jones? Petty may be an expert at picking out who is and isn’t a race car driver. I have a similar talent for smelling B.S. from TV announcers looking to stir up trouble where there’s not any.

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