In regards to Richard Petty's recent comments about her, Danica Patrick took the high road as fast as she could during media day at Daytona International Speedway Thursday.
And for that, Patrick should be commended.
But let's be clear about one thing here: Petty said nothing for which he needs to apologize.
Petty said Patrick could only win a Sprint Cup Series race "if everybody else stayed home." The seven-time Cup champion also said Patrick only gets attention because she is a woman but added that he believed the publicity generated by her was good for NASCAR.
Petty made the comments during an appearance at the Canadian Motorsports Expo in Toronto last Sunday, according to Wheels.ca and other media outlets, who quickly pounced on his words.
"If she'd have been a male, nobody would ever know if she'd showed up at a race track," Petty said, according to the website. "This is a female deal that's driving her. There's nothing wrong with that, because that's good PR for me. More fans come out, people are more interested in it. She has helped draw attention to the sport, which helps everybody in the sport."
Taken as a whole, it's a mostly positive statement Petty made about Patrick—who is likable (most of the time), beautiful and has proven she can drive a stock car fast when there are few other stock cars around, such as during the old NASCAR qualifying system that is going away this season to be replaced by one not likely to favor her.
Beyond that, nothing the all-time winningest driver in NASCAR's premier series said about Patrick rings with even a smidgen of untruth or a hint of malice.
Perhaps Petty, nicknamed "The King," could have worded the first part differently—the comment about her only being able to win "if everybody else stayed home." But the facts clearly state that she's not very good as a driver in either of NASCAR's top two series, offering evidence that after three years of doing this full time, she very likely never will be.
In 106 career starts in the Nationwide Series and Sprint Cup, she's never really come close to winning.
In response to Petty's comments, Patrick told Nate Ryan of USA Today and others during media day that she doesn't intend to make a big deal out of this.
"People have said things in the past, they're going to say things in the future," Patrick said. "I still say the same thing: Everyone's entitled to their own opinion. People will judge what he said, whether they judge it well or not, and I'm just not going to (judge).
"The people that matter most to me are my team, my sponsors and those little 3-year-old kids that run up to you and want a great big hug and say they want to grow up to be like you. That's the stuff I really focus on."
There is truth and value in what Patrick says about being a role model for young kids who might want to grow up to be female race car drivers. But if she's a role model for that, she's also the poster girl for posing in skimpy clothes to push products in commercials, such as the ones she has starred in for primary sponsor GoDaddy.com in the last 13 Super Bowls.
You can't have it both ways and not expect some people to think you're better at marketing yourself—for, well, being yourself—than you are at actually performing in your sport of choice.
So it can be argued that Patrick is sort of like the Paris Hilton or Kardashian (pick one of them) of NASCAR: mostly famous for being famous.
All of these folks have grown rich by growing their market share in America's psyche, and for that you have to applaud them. After all, isn't that the American way? But don't then expect someone to apologize for stating the obvious.
Patrick presently is in Daytona preparing to run her second full Sprint Cup season and her third overall in NASCAR (she ran a full-time Nationwide Series schedule in 2012 with JR Motorsports before moving to Cup and her current team at Stewart-Haas Racing last year).
She shocked the racing world by winning the pole in qualifying for last year's Daytona 500 and backed it up by finishing eighth in the race. Those were accomplishments never before achieved by a woman racer, and she received credit where credit was due for it.
But if, say, driver Paul Menard had won the Daytona pole and finished eighth, there would have been some nice stories written about him and that would have been it. He wouldn't have been written much about again—until he did something noteworthy on the track again.
That's the point The King was trying to make.
And that's not bashing Danica Patrick. That's simply telling the truth.
Follow Joe Menzer on Twitter @OneMenz
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