SPARTA, Ky. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he disagrees with Kyle Petty's assessment of Danica Patrick as a race car driver, coming to the defense of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rookie of the year candidate Friday at Kentucky Speedway.
Patrick, who competes for Stewart-Haas Racing, drove for Earnhardt Jr.'s JR Motorsports team in the Nationwide Series full-time last season while running a limited Cup schedule for SHR. She ran a limited Nationwide schedule with JRM from 2010-11 while making the transition from IndyCar to NASCAR.
"I think she's a tough competitor," Earnhardt Jr. said. "She works really hard at what she does. She has run some really good races. On every occasion she's outrunning several guys out on the circuit. If she was not able to compete and not able to run minimum speed or finishing in last place every week, I think you might be able to say Kyle has an argument. But she's out there running competitively, running strong on several accounts."
In a piece that aired on NASCAR Race Hub on Thursday, Petty said Patrick was a "marketing machine," but that the 31-year-old was "not a race car driver."
"Danica has been the perfect example of somebody who can qualify better than what she runs," Petty said. "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."
Patrick, 27th in points, became the first female to start on the pole for a Sprint Cup Series race earlier this year when she qualified No. 1 for the season-opening Daytona 500. She finished eighth in that race, her only top 10 thus far in 26 career Cup starts.
"I think she's got a good opportunity ? to keep competing and she just might surprise even Kyle Petty," Earnhardt Jr. said.
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