CHARLOTTE, N.C. — NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Richard Petty says Danica Patrick can only win a Sprint Cup Series race "if everybody else stayed home."
The seven-time champion made the comment during a Sunday appearance at the Canadian Motorsports Expo in Toronto, according to the website wheels.ca.
Petty also said Patrick only gets attention because she’s a woman, but added that publicity is good for NASCAR.
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"If she’d have been a male, nobody would ever know if she’d showed up at a racetrack," Petty said, according to the website. "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."
Petty still maintains partial control of Richard Petty Motorsports, which fields cars for Marcos Ambrose and Aric Almirola in the Sprint Cup Series.
Patrick is headed to Daytona International Speedway this week to begin her second full season at NASCAR’s top level. She became the first woman a year ago to win the top starting spot for the Daytona 500 and she finished eighth.
It was Patrick’s best finish during a rough rookie year in which she averaged a 26th-place finish. Patrick was 27th in the final Sprint Cup standings.
A year ago, Petty’s son, Kyle, called Patrick a "marketing machine" during various media appearances. Kyle Petty is a former driver and current television analyst.
"That’s where I have a problem — where fans have bought into the hype of the marketing, to think she’s a race car driver," Kyle Petty said. "She can go fast, and I’ve seen her go fast. She drives the wheels off it when she goes fast. She’s not a race car driver. There’s a difference. The King (Richard Petty) always had that stupid saying, but it’s true, `Lots of drivers can drive fast, but very few drivers can race.’ Danica has been the perfect example of somebody who can qualify better than what she runs."
Patrick, who recently starred in her celebrity-leading 13th Super Bowl commercial for sponsor GoDaddy, dismissed Kyle Petty’s comments at the time.
"It’s true that there are plenty of people who say bad things about me; I read them," she said at the time. "At the end of the day, you get over that stuff and trust that you are doing a good job."
Patrick was defended by team co-owner Tony Stewart, the three-time champion, who called Kyle Petty’s comments "way out of line and very inappropriate." Stewart also said Patrick’s finishes weren’t indicative of her talent.
"When somebody like Kyle beats you up like that, you take it to heart," he said. "She’s somebody who wants to do things the right way. She works at it. It’s a scenario where somebody has to tell you, `You are doing the right thing and disregard what one person says.’"