"If you could take a performance-enhancing drug and not get caught, would you do it if it allowed you to win Indy?" Danica Patrick, arguably the face of the IndyCar Series, was asked during a radio interview last week.
"Well, then it's not cheating, is it? If nobody finds out? Yeah, it would be like finding a gray area," Patrick answered.
Those comments are now coming under fire by the U.S. Anti Doping Agency, who said Patrick's answer was "totally irresponsible."
"In one interview, she undercut what millions of parents try their best to teach their kids everyday in this country, that winners never cheat and cheaters never win,'' Travis Tygart, the CEO of the USADA, said.
Five-time Olympic gold medalist and mother, Dara Torres, also spoke out on Danica's comments.
"As an athlete that has been tested a thousand times whether through blood or urine samples—I've even offered DNA samples to prove that I'm clean—I really can't ever imagine saying if you don't get caught that it's not cheating."
Torres also added that, after Patrick's third place finish in the historic Indianapolis 500, "it just kind of spoils it a little bit."
The controversy comes amidst rumors that Patrick, 26, will be leaving Andretti Green Racing and the IndyCar Series for a NASCAR career.
NASCAR is in the middle of its own drug controversy, pending a lawsuit from owner-driver Jeremy Mayfield, who was suspended May 9 after failing a drug test.
Patrick has since backed away from her comments.
"It was a bad joke,'' she said in an interview published on the USA Today Web site. "There is a lot of sensitivity in our culture about (performance-enhancing drugs). With all the baseball stuff, I've followed it and this is a real problem. It's a shame kids think they have to do this to get ahead. It's very dangerous.''
"We're glad she apologized, admitting that she made a terrible mistake, and we accept that," Tygart said.
"But it's clear that cheating, whether you get caught or not, is wrong. And if left unchecked, the temptations to do it are high, which is why you need to have the most effective policies in place to stop the threat of cheating."
The next time Patrick and the IndyCar Series takes the track will be this Saturday night, as the series heads to Texas Motor Speedway.
Thanks to People Magazine, FanHouse, Kansas City Star, and Sports Illustrated for the quotes and information used this piece.
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