SPARTA, Ky. -- Kyle Petty has always been one who enjoys going outside the lines.
That was never more apparent than this week when he called Danica Patrick "a marketing machine" and "not a race car driver."
Naturally, these comments stirred up a hornet's nest.
"I have to disagree with Kyle," said Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who co-owned the car Patrick drove on the NASCAR Nationwide Series from 2010-2012. "I think she's a tough competitor. She works really hard at what she does and she has run some really good races. On every occasion, she's outrunning guys on the circuit."
Kevin Harvick said, "I don't know that I would go as far as calling her not a racer because she's raced her whole life and I think on a continuous learning curve. She's obviously dedicated at what she does to try and get better and knows she has a lot of hurdles to overcome in a short amount of time. She's fortunate to have a sponsor that is willing to back her and take those learning experiences with her and hopefully as the week progress, she gets better and better."
Patrick, the only woman to win an IndyCar race, won the pole for the Daytona 500 in February and finished eighth in the race as she became the first woman to lead the Daytona 500 and the first woman to finish in the top 10 in the 500. Patrick also has the best finish for a woman in the Indianapolis 500, placing third.
Petty said, "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.
"Where fans have brought into the hype of the marketing, to think she's a race car driver. She can go fast, and I've seen her go fast. She drives the wheels off of it when she goes race. She's not a race car driver. There's a difference. The King (Kyle's father Richard) 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 races.
"Quick synopsis is she has been incredible to the sport, brought a lot of attention to the sport, has brought a lot of eyes to the sport but has not changed the sport one iota on the race track. She hasn't done anything."
Patrick, in her first full season on the Sprint Cup Series, took the high road when asked about Petty's comments.
"I just think that it's funny how he said I could qualify, but I can't race because those of you that actually watch what I do would know that I can't qualify for crap," she said. "In the race things go much better. It's a little bit funny, but the most important thing to me is that I can keep my team happy, we're moving in the right direction, that Go Daddy is happy and that when you walk out of the garage or walk around the track and meet a little girl that wants to grow up to be like you, then you're doing something right.
"Thanks Kyle, thanks for motivating me. I really don't care. I don't. It's true that there are plenty of people who say really bad things about me. I hear about them or I read about them or read them on Twitter. 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 and all that matters is the people around you believe in you."
Patrick's average starting spot is 32nd and her average finishing position is 25.8. Her best finish since Daytona has been 12th at Martinsville and 13th at Michigan.