DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – NASCAR Speedweeks at Daytona Int’l Speedway hasn’t even started and a new rivalry has surfaced between the winningest driver in NASCAR history and the most publicized driver of the current generation.
It pits a man who won the Daytona 500 seven times in his career against a driver who won the 2005 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year and achieved history in the IndyCar Series in 2008.
It’s Richard Petty versus Danica Patrick – King Richard against “America’s Princess of Speed.”
It all started earlier this week when Petty was asked at a motorsports expo in Canada when Patrick would win her first NASCAR race, the King responded, “She could win if everybody else stayed home” and that her popularity was “a female thing.”
“If she had been a male nobody would ever know if she showed up at a race track,” Petty said. “This is a female deal that is driving her. There is nothing wrong with that because that is good PR for me. More fans come out; people are more interested in it. She has helped to draw attention to the sport which helps everybody.”
Petty has current NASCAR drivers and those comments have gone relatively unnoticed. But his opinion on Patrick quickly became the hot topic as NASCAR teams arrived at DIS to prepare for the 56th Daytona 500.
Patrick was finally able to respond to Petty’s comments Thursday.
“You know, people have said things in the past, and they’re going to say things in the future,” said Patrick, who became the first female ever to win the Daytona 500 pole last year. “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.”
When asked if Petty’s comments motivated her, Patrick indicated she doesn’t need any extra motivation.
“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.
“It is what it is and, again, people are entitled to their opinions, and that’s fine.”
Petty is a true NASCAR icon – the winningest driver with 200 victories and a seven-time series champion. Patrick has never won a NASCAR race but is extremely popular as a cultural icon because she is the most competitive female driver in the sport and has a huge following.
She may not agree with Petty’s assessment but admitted he is entitled to speak his mind.
“I mean, really it’s more about my belief that everyone can have their own opinion,” Patrick said. “It has nothing to do with where it comes from. The people that matter the most to me are my team, my sponsors, you know, those little three-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 that I really focus on.”