Richard Petty, the unofficial King of NASCAR as a seven-time Cup champion and NASCAR Hall of Famer, not to mention the face of what is, arguably, the first family of the sport, normally isn’t seen as a controversial figure. But on Monday, Petty made a rather controversial comment regarding Danica Patrick. Basically, he said that the only chance Patrick had of winning a race at NASCAR’s Sprint Cup level would be for none of the other drivers to show up. Specifically, here’s what Petty told a group of reporters at the Canadian Motorsports Expo:
“If everybody else stayed home (Patrick could win). If she’d have been a male, nobody would ever know if she’d showed up at a race track. This is a female deal that’s driving her. There’s nothing wrong with that, because that’s 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 in the sport.”
Does the above statement make Petty sexist? Is he just stating fact? As a female, I’d say yes and no, and kind of leaning toward the no side when it comes to the whole sexist thing. I can see, at least somewhat, where the sexist criticism comes from. After all, Petty said several years ago that he “just don’t think it’s a sport for women.”
But, still, I’m not so sure that makes him sexist. Maybe he’s just looking at the numbers. After all, those numbers pretty much back up his statements. Granted, there hasn’t exactly been an overabundance of women competing in NASCAR over the years. And Patrick’s arrival in NASCAR has kind of backed up Petty’s remarks.
Before Patrick, I guess an argument could’ve been made that women competing at NASCAR’s top levels weren’t in equipment equal to that of the guys who were winning races. Patrick has blown that argument out of the water, though. After all, Patrick’s driving for Stewart-Haas Racing, a top-level organization.
Yes, there is the argument that 2013 was her rookie season, and compared to other rookies in recent years, she hasn’t really fared any worse. But those other rookies weren’t in top-notch equipment, either. Wouldn’t a more accurate assessment include comparisons to the likes of her boss, Tony Stewart and others who started out with top-flight Sprint Cup rides?
Sure, her stock car racing experience was limited upon her arrival in NASCAR, but so was Stewart’s. And another point — does getting to NASCAR with limited stock car experience mean that she didn’t have to pay her dues as much as some of her fellow competitors?
Yes, Patrick won the pole for the 2013 Daytona 500 and set in-race records that included becoming the first woman to lead the race and posting the highest-ever finish for a female, but, in all honesty, even though the Daytona 500 is the highest profile and most prestigious race in NASCAR, it doesn’t seem to take the most talent to win. Sometimes winning at Daytona just seems to be a crap shoot. It took seven-time champion and eventual NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt some 20 tries to win the race. Meanwhile, and not trying to slight these drivers any, the likes of Derrike Cope and others who never seemed to be factors in other races throughout their careeres found their ways to victory lane after Daytona 500 wins. Besides, aren’t race wins a bigger deal than qualifying on the pole? On top of that, while she may have posted the highest-ever finish for a woman in the race, overall, an eighth-place finish doesn’t normally get all those ooohhs and aaahhhhs. Remember, we’re looking at her stats without throwing in the “woman” card, here.
Patrick lovers, be honest with yourselves for a minute. If male driver “X” put up stats similar to Patrick, would he still be employed by a team at the Stewart-Haas Racing level? If he came with big-dollar sponsorship, maybe. And maybe the GoDaddy dollars were SHR’s motivation for providing her a ride. Money aside, would a male driver with similar stats get such a ride at the Sprint Cup level? I’m guessing no.
Although it may seem like it, I’m not hating on Patrick, here. I don’t have anything against the girl, but I can see where Petty’s coming from without going the sexist route. Plus, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that her only chance of winning would be for everyone else to stay home. Other drivers have managed to luck into wins at Daytona and Talladega. Patrick could do the same. Winning at places like Bristol, Martinsville, Darlington, etc., though? Ummm, not so much.
What do you think? Let us know on Twitter @AutoRacingDaily or like Auto Racing Daily on Facebook (facebook.com/autorcngdaily). Amanda’s also on Twitter @NASCARexaminer and has a fan/like page on Facebook: NASCAR Examiner.
Also, check out this Danica Patrick photo gallery (photos courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR):