Danica Patrick may be in her first full season in the Sprint Cup Series, but former driver Kyle Petty says she's not a race car driver.
Appearing on SPEED's RaceHub, Petty was on with host Matt Clark. When the discussion shifted to Patrick, Petty called her a marketing machine, a phrase he's used to describe the 30-year-old driver many times before. Then Clark asked Petty where Patrick was as a driver.
"That’s where I have a problem. Where fans have bought into the hype of the marketing, to think she’s a race car driver," Petty said. "She can go fast, and I’ve seen her go fast. She drives the wheels off it when she goes fast."
Petty, who is also an analyst on TNT's Sprint Cup coverage continued after he was asked if she's learned to race.
"She’s not a race car driver.There’s a difference. The King (Richard Petty, Kyle's father) 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."
"Because I think it’s too late to learn."
While Petty is certainly entitled to think what he wants about Patrick as a race car driver, using her qualifying position relative to her racing position isn't necessarily the best argument. Through 26 races in the Sprint Cup Series, Patrick's average finish of 26.8 is 6.8 positions better than her average starting position.
Yes, part of that reason is because Patrick has qualified poorly – her average starting position is 32nd this season – but that still runs counter to Petty's argument.
As someone who faced weighty expectations because of his father's incredible success, Petty knows what it's like to struggle in the NASCAR spotlight too. While Richard Petty won 200 NASCAR races, Kyle won eight Sprint Cup Series races and 1992 was his only season with multiple victories. To his credit, Petty is open about that – calling himself a "journeyman" driver during the segment as the topic transitioned to the differences between good and great drivers. But those adjectives were never used in the conversation about Patrick.
In the final 10 seasons of his career, Petty drove for his father's team, Petty Enterprises, after stints with the Wood Brothers, Felix Sabates and his own team. You could make the argument that the Petty Enterprises equipment in that span wasn't as good as Patrick's Stewart-Haas cars are relative to the field this season, but it's worth pointing out that Patrick's average finishing position this season (25.8) is better than Petty's average finish in seven of those 10 seasons.
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