Danica Patrick is one of NASCAR’s most polarizing drivers. Since her move to NASCAR, she has been the center of attention. She has many fans, but also many critics. It also seems that some members of the media try to make her a story, for everything she does, no matter how insignificant. This past week someone even tried to make it a bog deal that she was seen getting out of a Ford street car, though she is a Chevy driver.
Her name was thrust back into the spotlight again this week, when former NASCAR driver turned TV analyst, Kyle Petty, made some comments about her.
During a Speed interview with Matt Clark, Petty said, “Danica has been the perfect example of somebody who can qualify better than 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 is ever going to be a race car driver.”
Clark followed up by asking why she wouldn’t be a driver in his opinion, Petty replied, “…too late to learn.” Petty made no bones about the fact that he, himself was not a great driver saying, “I was not a great driver, and I’ll be the first to admit it. I was a journeyman driver.”
At least Petty is consistent with his comments. In 2010, he had very similar comments towards the Go Daddy driver. When Patrick was announced as the driver of the No. 7 Go Daddy Chevrolet for JR Motorsports in the Nationwide Series, Petty said, “If she gets in that car and doesn’t win races, it’s not the car, it’s not the engines, it’s not the team. They only changed one thing. Initially, she’ll have an impact on the sport. If she’s successful, she’ll have a long term impact on the sport.” He went to compare her to other open wheel drivers who have made their way to NASCAR, saying, “Juan Montoya is probably, car control wise, one of the most amazing human beings you’ve ever seen in a car and he struggled for three years at this level, and she’s not Juan Pablo Montoya.”
On Friday, Patrick had a scheduled press conference at Kentucky Motor Speedway, of course the Petty comments were a major topic of discussion. Patrick did an excellent job handling those questions. When asked if she knew about Kyle Petty’s comments, she replied, “Read it, yes. I just think it’s funny how he said I could qualify, but I can’t race because those of you who actually watch what I do know I can’t qualify for crap. In the race things go much better.”
Patrick seems to be right on this account, her average starting position this season has been 32.0, but her average finishing position is 25.8. An indication that she races a little better than she qualifies.
When she was asked if it mattered to her what people said about her and if it motivates her if someone speaks negative of her, Patrick said, “Thanks (Kyle) 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 on Twitter. People want me to die. 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 that’s all that matters and the people around you believe in you.”
She also took time to explain why she was driving a Ford street car last week. “For those of you who follow me on Twitter, you would have seen that it was taking a really long time to get into the track, and he (boyfriend Ricky Stenhouse) had a team meeting at the top of the hill. That was a long walk and he was going to be late if we parked down in the paddock area, so being the nice girlfriend that I am, I said I would just drive the car down and park it and you get on with your meetings. So it was as simple as that.”
Patrick obviously gets over-hyped by a large portion of the media. We should keep in mind that she has only started 26 races in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. She is a rookie. Rookies struggle, they wreck cars and have a lot to learn especially on tracks they have never been to before. This is, however, the premier stock car series in the world.
After a conversation on social media on Friday, I decided to compare her stats to another NASCAR driver. At first I wanted to pick a driver with a similar background, but someone said she should be compared to other NASCAR drivers for a fair comparison, not someone who came from open wheel. So I decided to make it tough. I picked a driver who a proven he could win in other NASCAR series, then made the huge step into the Sprint Cup Series. I chose Travis Kvapil. Travis won the Camping World Truck Series championship in 2003. In 143 starts, Travis compiled nine wins, 51 top-5’s and 85 top-10’s. A pretty impressive resume’.
Travis made the jump to Sprint Cup in 2005 after 96 of those truck series starts and of course the championship. An obvious proven driver in a NASCAR series. So let’s compare:
Travis Kvapil first full season in Sprint Cup:
Starts – 36, Poles – 0, Top 5 – 0, Top 10 – 2. Laps led – 36, RAF – 29, Final position in points – 33rd
Danica Patrick Cup career (two partial seasons) so far:
Starts – 26, Poles – 1, Top 5 – 0, Top 10 – 1, Laps led-5, RAF-22, Position in points (16 races) – 27th
The two drivers compared pretty close. One stat that needs to be noted is – Running at Finish (RAF). This is one of the most crucial stats for a rookie. Keeping the car in the race is a very important first step becoming a successful driver.
When assessing Patrick, we also must consider the fact that until recently, her team, Stewart-Haas Racing, has also struggled. Her teammate, Ryan Newman, has 420 starts in the series and this season only has an average starting position of 18.9 and an average finishing position of 18.2. Not considerably better, given how much more experience he has. Newman is a proven performer, he has a total of 16 wins, and 173 top-10’s.
The team will get better, without a doubt. Will Patrick get better? Only time will tell. One thing she has definitely learned, is how to play the media game and to not let negativity affect her.