By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
SPARTA, Ky.-There was one aspect of Kyle Petty's criticism that Danica Patrick found downright comical.
"I just think that it's funny how he said that I can qualify but I can't race, because those of you who actually watch what I do would know that I can't qualify for crap," Patrick said Friday at Kentucky Speedway when asked about Petty's critical comments a day earlier. "So it's a little bit funny."
In an interview on SPEED, Petty said of Patrick, "She's not a race car driver. ... 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."
Petty also referred to Patrick as "just a marketing machine," something the driver-turned-analyst has been saying ever since Patrick announced her intention to move from IndyCar to NASCAR more than three years ago.
Clearly, Patrick realizes that one consequence of her celebrity - and of being the only female driver in a field of 43 - is becoming a target for criticism.
"I really don't care, I don't," Patrick said. "It's true that there are plenty of people that say really bad things about me. I hear about them, or I read them, or read them on Twitter - people want me to die - but 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. That's all that matters, and that people around you believe in you."
Petty's comments notwithstanding, Patrick believes she's making progress. She won the pole for the season-opening Daytona 500. She ran 12th at Martinsville in April and 13th two weeks ago at Michigan.
The most important thing to me is that I can keep my team happy," Patrick said. "We're moving in the right direction. (Sponsor) GoDaddy's happy.
"And then, when you walk out of the garage or walk around the track and you meet a little girl who wants to grow up to be like you, you're doing something right."
Dale Earnhardt Jr., who co-owned the car Patrick drove in the Nationwide Series, also came to the driver's defense.
"I have to disagree with Kyle," Earnhardt said. "I think she's a tough competitor, and she works really hard at what she does. She has run some really good races. On every occasion, she is outrunning several guys out on the circuit. If she was not able to compete, or not able to run minimum speed or finshing in last place every week, I think you might be able to say Kyle had an argument.
"But she's out there running competitively and running strong on several accounts. I think that she has a good opportunity and a rightful position in the sport to keep competing - and she just might surprise even Kyle Petty."
RACING THE BLUES
Friday night's NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Kentucky Speedway carries specific significance beyond who wins and loses and how many championship points the drivers earn.
The Feed the Children 300 will establish the eligibility of the first four drivers for the series' lucrative "Dash 4 Cash" program, the first step on a path that could lead to a $1-million payday.
The top four drivers earning Nationwide Series championship points at Kentucky - in other words, those competing for the series title - earn Dash 4 Cash eligibility for the July 5 NNS race at Daytona. There, the highest finisher among those four will collect a $100,000 bonus and earn eligibility in the following race July 13 at New Hampshire, along with the three other highest finishing drivers to receive championship points at Daytona.
The format continues through races at Chicagoland (July 21) and Indianapolis (July 27). Should one driver win the first three $100,000 Dash 4 Cash bonuses and then win the Indianapolis race outright, that driver would receive a total of $1 million.
To Nationwide regular Justin Allgaier, the Dash 4 Cash program adds spice to the racing, especially since there's an easy way to identify the four eligible drivers in a given race.
"The four drivers that are eligible have a blue windshield banner and a blue spoiler," Allgaier told the NASCAR Wire Service. "I can tell you that blue really fits in with a lot of paint schemes - not all of them - and so, especially with the guys where the blue doesn't match, you know exactly where they are on the race track at all times. ...
"I think you have to change your style of racing. You're going to maybe take some chances at those races or push yourself a little bit harder, just because of those bonuses, than you would if you were just running for points on a normal day."
Fans also have a chance to share the wealth, by registering at www.NASCAR.com/Dash4Cash. Four individuals will be chosen to receive an all-expenses-paid trip to the race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The four fans will be paired at random with the four eligible drivers, and the fan whose driver wins the cash bonus also will earn $100,000.
TIME TO GET TESTY
Jimmie Johnson, comfortably atop the NASCAR Sprint Cup points standings, would like to see Hendrick Motorsports save its four allotted tests at Cup tracks for venues in the Chase - unless a test will help a teammate qualify for the playoff.
Johnson, however, realizes that other organizations won't have that luxury, especially if they're on the Chase bubble.
"The other teams in that bubble area - you'll see a lot of tests and you'll hear a lot about testing," Johnson said Friday at Kentucky Speedway. "Teams have been very smart about preserving test sessions.
"And as we get closer to the Chase, I think you'll see a lot of teams in that 8-to-14 or 8-to-12 range using those test sessions to make sure they have good finishes and collect a lot of points."