By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.—When Danica Patrick arrived for media day Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, she knew exactly what to expect.
It didn’t take long for the inevitable questions to surface. What did she think of comments made by seven-time champion Richard Petty earlier in the weekend?
In essence, Petty doubted Patrick could ever win at NASCAR’s highest level, saying that the driver of the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet could win a race only “if everybody else stayed home.”
Patrick, however, artfully deflected Petty’s comments, which were made Sunday during an appearance at the Canadian Motorsports Expo in Toronto and reported by the website http://www.wheels.ca.
“People have said things in the past, and they’re going to say things in the future,” said Patrick, who is winless in 46 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts. “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.”
Patrick added it would be difficult to use Petty’s comments as a source of motivation, because she’s already giving 100-percent effort.
“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 said if Patrick were a male driver, “nobody would ever know if she showed up at a race track.” But Petty also said the attention Patrick has brought to NASCAR racing has been good for the sport in terms of broadening its audience.
Brad Keselowski, the 2012 series champion, believes Petty’s remarks about Patrick’s inability to win went a bit too far.
“He makes some pretty strong points, when you read his whole transcript, but it’s a long ways to go out there and say someone will never win a race,” Keselowski said. “I wouldn’t want to have my name behind that comment, so I think I would probably give that a little more time and see how that one plays out, because there are races where I think she could win.”
Aric Almirola, one of Richard Petty Motorsports’ two Sprint Cup drivers, offered a balanced view of his boss’s comments.
“I think that RP’s opinionated, and sometimes he says stuff, and I think it gets taken out of context just because of the way he says stuff,” Almirola said. “At the end of the day, Danica’s got talent. She knows she has talent. If she didn’t have any talent at all, she wouldn’t be in the position she’s in, right?
“She has talent. There’s no doubt about that. But for people to put expectations on her, to say that she’s going to come in here and win races and contend for a championship, I think is very lofty, especially at this point right now. You look at guys like Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. He went all season last year and didn’t win a race.
“He certainly is capable of winning races. He’s proved that before. She’s never proved that she’s won races at this level or against this kind of competition. And I think people underestimate how tough our sport really is.”