COMMENTARY | Kyle Petty has never been afraid to say how he feels.
That's why he is one of my favorite broadcasters in NASCAR. He's not afraid of any reaction his comments might bring.
And he's certainly ignited some controversy with his latest comments regarding Danica Patrick, who is having a tough rookie year in the Sprint Cup series this year and is already one of the most simultaneously loved and hated figures in NASCAR in a long time.
Mention her name, and you either get big cheers from her supporters, or very angry denouncements of her from folks who believe she didn't earn her way to the Cup series and is all hype.
But let's stick to the on-track Danica for this piece, because Petty's comments in an interview on SPEED's Race Hub were regarding her ability to race.
After saying Patrick is a marketing machine (something that is undeniably true, even Patrick would admit that and is always hyping her brands like most NASCAR drivers), Petty was asked to talk about his views on how Danica is progressing on track in her NASCAR endeavours. In pure Kyle Petty fashion, he didn't hold back.
"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."
"She's not a race car driver.There's a difference. The King 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."
There you have it. Now let's examine Petty's comments.
On one hand, he is accurate in this statement. When she does qualify well (which is not a common occurrence lately) or begin a restart in the top 10 due to pit strategy, she pretty much always falls back. She's not passing people and going forward, she's being passed and going backward. That's mostly because she's a rookie and is surrounded by veteran drivers who are better than her talentwise, without a doubt.
But on the other hand, Petty is stretching the truth with this statement, because Danica's situation is hardly unique. She may be having a tough rookie year, but so did pretty much every rookie in the sport's history.
Even Mr. Patrick himself, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who many thought would be killing Danica in the Rookie of the Year race, isn't doing all that great in his rookie campaign. He's leading, but not by a lot, over Danica. Juan Pablo Montoya, Brad Keselowski and a host of other great drivers did very little of note in their rookie years in Cup, so this is hardly a new phenomenon.
I'm not saying Danica is in their level of ability, not by far. But it goes to show that rookie struggles don't mean someone is "not a race car driver".
Danica has a ton to learn about racing, and I'll argue she's probably the least experienced on the track any given week when it comes to stock car racing. She would admit that herself, as it's just a fact.
But that doesn't change the fact that she has raced her entire life. From a young age she competed in the open-wheel ranks and for a time was competitive in Indycar, and I'm pretty sure she passed a few people in some of those races. I also disagree with the "too late to learn" part of Kyle's comments to some extent. The best racers will be good from the start of their careers, but plenty of drivers have struggled early in their careers and gone on to do pretty well, even if they aren't the best on the track.
So while we can all agree that Danica doesn't have the pure racing ability of the best ever like the King and other legends, it's a bit ridiculous to say she's not a race car driver. Kyle Petty himself put up lackluster numbers in his career at times, such as only finishing in the lead lap under 25 percent of the time in his 800+ career races, and many people criticized his ability to race throughout his career (though to be fair, he would never have measured up to his father even if he won a ton of races).
Depending how you view her, Danica Patrick may be a good race car driver, or a mediocre race car driver, or a below-average race car driver.
But to say she is not a race car driver is a bit of a stretch, and I think Kyle Petty knows that.
Matt Myftiu lives in Michigan, has been a walking encyclopedia of NASCAR since immersing himself in the sport over 15 years ago, and has worked as a journalist for two decades. His blog on the sport, NASCAR: Beyond the Track, has been published by The Oakland Press for the past 5 years. Follow him on Twitter @MattMyftiu.
- Motor Racing
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- Danica Patrick
- Kyle Petty
- race car driver