The sharp criticism is different than when she joined IndyCar in 2005. She was fast from the start and came close to becoming the first female driver ever to win the Indianapolis 500 when she was in the lead with just seven laps to go before eventual winner Dan Wheldon passed her. Patrick would finish fourth in that race.
Three years later, she became the first female to win an IndyCar race at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan.
“In IndyCar I had probably a faster start,” Patrick said. “I started on the front row of Motegi and finished fourth, then just about qualified on pole and just about won the race at the Indy 500 my first year, so that was race number four in IndyCar. So I had a fast start.
“I think that it also shows just the competition level in NASCAR. Not only are the drivers very good, but also the teams are extremely competitive, too. I don’t think that any one of them sits still. There’s no like normal ranking of teams. It goes up and down amongst many. There are 43 cars, not 23 cars. It’s just extremely competitive.
“Also stock cars are not my background. I’ve done two full years, one in Nationwide, one in Cup. I still feel like I’m figuring stock cars out and will for a long time. I will never stop learning. But figuring out the basics of how it work, there’s still stuff when I look under the hood, I don’t really know what I’m looking at.”
Patrick realizes that NASCAR Sprint Cup racing is extremely competitive and for any driver to win a race it is a massive accomplishment. But she also believes that IndyCar is also very competitive and that her accomplishment at Motegi cannot be underplayed.
“The competition, it’s difficult to get to the top of both of them,” Patrick said. “But you’re just adding so many more cars into it. I think one thing that I learned last year in Cup is that we struggled to start the year off and we worked our butts off and tested a ton, tried to work on getting faster, working in the wind tunnel, doing everything we could to get better.
“We did make up some ground. And as soon as you sit on that for a second and think, Okay, now let’s calm down for a second, let’s everybody can have a week off. You know, I don’t think you’re doing it on purpose, but all of a sudden at the end of the year you realize you’re not making any more progress, in fact you’re falling behind again.
“So the effort level it takes when you are full bore, doing all you can do to go faster is the only mode that you can be in. That is a competition level that I don’t think I have ever experienced. So that’s how hard everyone’s working. That’s why I think there’s so many teams that come and go, but that come as well, because everybody’s working that hard.”
Patrick does not let other people’s opinions shake her confidence that she belongs in NASCAR Sprint Cup and deserves the amount of publicity that she generates.
“I like that people have opinions,” she said. “That is fine with me. I think that it creates such conversation. As I said the last time that somebody said something that was not so positive for me, it spawned so many positive articles. So, there’s a positive side to it, too. But more than anything, I love the conversation that it creates in sport. Across the board it makes sports interesting. It makes life interesting when people have different perspectives, and that’s fine with me.”
Patrick has not spoken to Petty since he made those comments and doesn’t intend to seek him out.
“I have this great shot of I think it was before last year’s race, maybe it was the Nationwide race, of him standing in front of my car on the pole and giving me two thumbs up,” Patrick said. “It’s a back shot of his butt sticking out. Apparently I didn’t notice him there for a while. I must have been getting strapped in.
“I think what I came to the conclusion was that really everybody does have their opinion, and that is totally fine. Even if some of the things that came across weren’t completely accurate, there were things that I didn’t quite understand from the comments either that I learned. So, I mean, it really just doesn’t matter. It’s interesting conversation and I’m fortunate I’m in it.”