Yesterday, Kyle Petty, a former NASCAR driver, TNT and SPEED NASCAR commentator, and son of the legendary King Richard Petty said Danica Patrick is "not a race car driver." It's an astute observation, and one that Kyle is uniquely qualified to make.
Kyle, a veteran of of 829 NASCAR races over nearly 30 years, said that Danica is "a hot commodity and rightfully so." He's right, of course, because she's both a woman and competes on a race track. But that's not enough for her to be a racing driver.
I think we all agree on this.
Petty, who won eight races over his 829 races (that's a hit rate of one percent!), says that "Danica is the perfect example of somebody who can qualify better than she runs. She can go fast, but she can't race."
Kyle makes an interesting point about Danica not being able to race, as well. In her first full season of Sprint Cup and after 26 total races, Danica has one pole position, one top 10 finish and three top 20s. She sits 27th in points.
Mr. Petty grew up seeing a racing driver, Richard Petty, dominate NASCAR. His father won seven championships and 200 races over his storied career. Kyle ran 300 races less than his father, which is probably why his win total lags 192 behind his dad.
Kyle, a real racing driver who ran his final full Sprint Cup season in 2006, finished 27th or worse in the standings in nine of his 12 final full seasons in Sprint Cup racing. He also scored 0 poles (that's a big huevo) in his first 243 races run over 10 years. A real racing driver like Kyle knows to let the veterans get poles for the first decade in the sport. Danica, who isn't a real racing driver, got pole in her first start as a full time driver.
Real racing drivers don't go for it until they're sure it's ok with the veterans.
Likewise, real racing drivers don't do well in races in junior formulas. Kyle can tell you that, since he never won a race in NASCAR's second tier Nationwide series, where he ran 55 races. Kyle did win his first ever ARCA race at Daytona in 1979, but other than that, success is hard to come by in his career.
Danica, who can't race, started in the ultra competitive British Formula Ford Festival in 10th place in 2000 and worked her way up to 2nd by the finish. Real racing drivers don't start back in the pack and move up to the podium. It wasn't a win, but it was the best ever finish by an American at the main event (Josef Newgarden from Tennessee won the Kent Event in 2008).
Danica qualified fourth, led a ton of laps, and then finished fourth in the 2005 Indy 500. I have no doubt she would have gotten pole for that race either, but she got wicked loose on her qualifying run and saved it. A real race driver would have just crashed.
She also became the first woman to win an IndyCar race at Motegi in 2008. Yes, it was a fuel mileage race, but it doesn't matter how it happens, a win is a win. Kyle, your first win was in 1986 at Richmond. Remember when Dale Earnhardt and Darrell Waltrip wrecked from first and second with two laps to go and you won the race? Yeah. Same thing here.
Danica also didn't rest on her laurels like a real racing driver does. Kyle was able to parlay the Petty name to racing drives, not necessarily success, over a number of years. Danica had to leave school and her family at age 18 to move to England to get a formula car ride. She had to play up her looks and results in order to get noticed. She still does play up her looks to the chagrin of many, but you have to do what you have to do to succeed.
All Kyle had to do was grow that ponytail that he has to this day.
To his credit, Kyle does say he was "not a great racing driver." He instead calls himself a "journeyman racer," which I guess means he was on vision quests the whole time instead of concentrating on becoming a quality driver. That's what happens to a lot of second generation drivers who can't live up to their fathers. They make up synonyms for the word "bad." In this case, that word is journeyman.
I've met and driven with Kyle before, and he was a super nice guy who wasn't terrible behind the wheel. But the truth is that over 30 years of racing, Kyle made less of an impact on NASCAR than Danica has made in 26 races at the top level of the sport.
Real racing drivers, I guess, take it slow? They don't have more success in the last 15 years than you had in the last 40? They don't bring home the equipment almost every time (accidents are rarely her fault) despite still learning the ropes of NASCAR racing?
No matter what you think of women in sports, no sane person can doubt Danica has worked damn hard to get where she's gotten.
Let's make a deal here: If it takes more than 173 races for her to win a Sprint Cup race, which is how long it took you, then you can joke with your buddies about how you're a real race car driver and she's just some girl with a steering wheel.
Until then, Kyle, maybe it's best to take a moment, reflect, and see if you can recognize who is the real race car driver and who is the has-been who never was.