Richard Petty's recent comments about Danica Patrick dominated much of the conversation during Thursday's Daytona 500 Media Day.
Aric Almirola, who drives the No. 43 RPM Ford, believes his boss’ candor is often misconstrued. But even as a driver who honed his skills in a stock car, Almirola understands the challenge of getting a foothold in the sport. The 29-year-old Tampa native worked his way through NASCAR’s feeder series for six years before earning a full-time ride at the Cup level.
"I think that RP’s opinionated," Almirola said. "Sometimes he says stuff, and I think it gets taken out of context just because of the way he says stuff. 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.
"He’s such a patriarch and an icon in the sport," Earnhardt said. "He has tons of wisdom and insight, a guy that everyone respects. He’s done a lot for the sport and still does today. At the same time, Danica deals with more criticism than anybody else has ever faced in the sport. She goes by a different set of rules because of her gender, and that’s unfortunate.
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"It seems like she’s always having to answer to something like that, and that’s a pain in her butt. Frankly, it just has to get old. It doesn’t bother her. She doesn’t show that it bothers her. She’s really strong-willed when it comes to those types of things because I guess she’s dealt with it from Day 1. … It’s probably nothing new to her."
What is new to Patrick is stock car racing. For 15 years prior to signing on with NASCAR, open-wheel racing was the only discipline she knew. In her first full Cup season, she earned the pole for the Daytona 500 — which offers her a berth in Saturday’s Sprint Unlimited — posted one top 10 (eighth in the 500) and finished 27th in the point standings.
Ready to start her second season in the No. 10 Stewart Haas Racing Chevy this week, Patrick will be the first to admit she has a long way to go.
"Stock cars are not my background," Patrick said. "I still feel like I’m figuring stock cars out and will for a long time. I will never stop learning."