- Terry Blount, ESPN Staff Writer
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"I really don't care," Patrick said, chuckling a little Friday at Kentucky Speedway. "There's going to be people who believe in you and people who don't. Plenty of people say bad things about me. I see it on Twitter. Some people want me to die. But at the end of the day, you get over that stuff and trust you're doing a good job for the people who believe in you."
Petty, a Fox Sports/TNT analyst, a former NASCAR driver and the son of seven-time champion Richard Petty, made his comments Thursday on Speed TV's "NASCAR Race Hub."
"Danica has been the perfect example of somebody who can qualify better than what she runs," Petty said. "She can go fast, but she can't race. I think she's come a long way, but she's still not a race car driver. And I don't think she's ever going to be a race car driver."
Patrick said she laughed when she read that comment.
"It's funny he said I can qualify and not race," she said. "Anyone who has watched what I do knows I'm crap in qualifying. In the races, things go much better."
Patrick has struggled in her rookie season as a Sprint Cup driver. She ranks 27th in the Sprint Cup standings, driving the No. 10 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing. Her only top-10 finish came in the season-opening Daytona 500 when she finished eighth after becoming the first woman to win the pole for that event.
She finished 12th earlier this year at Martinsville and 13th at Michigan two weeks ago.
However, she is one of the most successful female auto racers in history. She is the only woman to win a major open-wheel race, finishing first in a 2008 IndyCar Series race in Japan. She has six top-10s in the Indy 500, including third place in 2009, the best finish ever for a woman in the historic event.
Patrick, 31, finished in the top 10 in the IndyCar standings for six consecutive seasons (including fifth in 2009) before making the full-time move to NASCAR in 2012. She is one of only 13 drivers in history to lead a lap in both the Daytona 500 and the Indy 500.
"This is my second full year in NASCAR, and it's in Cup Series," she said. "It's definitely jumping in the deep end. The [learning] curve is different for everybody. There are times when I feel I'm ahead of it and times when I feel behind it.
"I definitely think I'm feeling the car better, and over time, it will result in a car set up for me to drive harder, faster and better."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has a different opinion than Petty. Patrick drove for his JR Motorsports Nationwide Series team last year and finished 10th in the standings with four top-10s.
"I have to disagree with Kyle," Earnhardt said Friday. "I think she's a tough competitor and works really hard in what she does. She has run some really good races. If she finished in last place every week, you might say Kyle has an argument, but she has run well at several races. I think that she has got a good opportunity and a rightful position in the sport to keep competing. She just might surprise even Kyle Petty."
Kevin Harvick, who will be Patrick's teammate next year at Stewart-Haas Racing, said he knew Petty's comment would cause a stir.
"That is a loaded gun right there," Harvick said. "I think [Cup racing] is hard to do. There is really no good training ground for it anymore in the Nationwide and Truck Series because of the lack of horsepower. It is really hard to understand what you need to drive these cars and to be able to drive them fast.
"It is just not something that is going to happen overnight. I don't know that I would go as far as calling her not a racer, because she has raced her whole life and I think she's on a continuous learning curve. She's obviously dedicated at what she does to try and get better and knows she has a lot of hurdles to overcome in a short amount of time."
Harvick added that Patrick is lucky to have financial support that other drivers don't have.
"She's fortunate to have a sponsor [GoDaddy.com] that is willing to back her and take those learning experiences with her," he said. "Hopefully, as the weeks progress, she gets better and better. I couldn't imagine just coming in here with just two and a half years of stock car experience.
"It's hard, and it's not going to get easier. That's why over the years you've seen less and less new drivers come into the sport, because the cars have become harder to drive. There's just nowhere to figure out how to drive them other than being on the racetrack the Sunday or Saturday that we race."
Patrick is a national celebrity outside of racing, which Harvick thinks hurts her by bringing too much attention her way.
"It's almost unfair being really popular," he said. "In her case, she obviously has a lot of attention and things that come with it. Just being around her the little bit that I have, she seems to have become kind of immune to it.
"I think she's realistic with her goals and understands that she has a lot to learn and tries to take everything in. It is easier just to turn it all off and not read it or listen to it. At some point, whether it is her, or myself, or Dale Jr. or Tony Stewart, you are going to be criticized. And you are not going to like it if you read."
Patrick said she is used to the criticism.
"The most important thing is to keep my team happy," she said. "As long as we move in the right direction and keep Go Daddy happy, that's what matters. When I walk through the garage and a little girl says she wants to grow up and be like you, you must be doing something right."
14hK. Lee Davis