DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — A year ago, Danica Patrick came to Daytona International Speedway and found her budding romance with fellow Sprint Cup rookie Ricky Stenhouse Jr. the topic du jour at NASCAR’s Media Day.
Happily, Patrick entertained all questions about her relationship with Stenhouse and what it would be like to race against her boyfriend, who went on to win Rookie of the Year honors.
“That was much more fun, I smiled a lot more,’’ Patrick said Thursday after she found herself again in the spotlight at Daytona, this time from media seeking her response to an unflattering remark by Richard Petty, who said the only way Patrick was capable of winning a Sprint Cup race was if “everybody else stayed home.’’
Patrick shrugged off the comment by the seven-time Cup champion.
“People have said things in the past and they’re going to say things in the future,’’ said Patrick, who is winless in 46 Sprint Cup starts, but recorded her only pole victory in last year’s Daytona 500. “I still say the same thing, that everyone’s entitled to their own opinion. People are going to judge what he said, whether they judge it well or not, and I’m just not going to [judge].’’
It’s not the first time a member of NASCAR’s first family has called out Patrick.
Kyle Petty, an eight-time winner on the Sprint Cup Series who currently works as an analyst on Fox/Speed, said last June the former Indy Car driver “was not a racecar driver.’’
“Danica has been the perfect example of somebody who can qualify better than what she runs,’’ Kyle Petty said. “She can go fast but she can’t race.’’
Patrick shrugged off that comment, too.
“Obviously, it’s hard to rattle her,’’ said Kevin Harvick, Patrick’s Stewart-Haas Racing teammate. “She’s so used to people saying this and that it doesn’t bother her. And that’s not a front. It really doesn’t faze her. So you really don’t have to stick up for anything that someone says or does.
“She is not fazed about anything. She just doesn’t care and moves on and lets it roll off. I think she’s dealt with so much for so long that she’s immune to it.’’
“The people that matter the most to me,’’ Patrick said, “are my team, my sponsors, and those little 3-year-old kids that run up to you and want a great big hug and say they want to grow up to be like you. That’s the stuff I really focus on.’’
Patrick did not feel compelled to seek out Richard Petty for any clarification about his comment. “I don’t know why I would,’’ she said.
Petty’s remark was not likely to motivate her to try any harder.
“You can’t try any harder in the car,’’ Patrick said. “I think that’s something that probably every driver would tell you when someone questions our effort level. You can’t try any harder. You’re doing everything you can. And maybe, subconsciously, there’s some motivation, but I can’t tell.
“I’m giving it my all every single time I’m getting in the car, whether I’m making a simple qualifying run or I’m in the race,’’ Patrick added. “It is what it is and, again, people are entitled to their opinions, and that’s fine.’’
Patrick said Kyle Petty’s criticism sparked a positive reaction.
“More than anything, I love the conversation it creates,’’ she said. “Across the board, it makes sports interesting. It makes life interesting when people have different perspectives. That’s fine with me.’’
As long as the dialogue moved the sport forward, Patrick said, “It’s interesting conversation. I’m fortunate I’m in it.’’Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.