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Is Kyle Right?

July 1, 2013 - Al Stephenson
Kyle Petty made some waves this weekend when he suggested that Danica Patrick is not a race car driver. If you saw the prerace program Saturday night - before the race was postponed until Sunday - Petty said he made the comments a couple of years ago. Though they just made the news now, Petty did not back down from the remarks. He stands by what he said then, and nothing since then has changed his mind.

For those of you that may not know what Kyle Petty had to say about the GoDaddy girl, here's a clip.

"Danica has been the perfect example of somebody who can qualify better than what she runs. She can go fast, but she can't race." Petty admitted that Patrick is a "marketing machine" but not a race car driver. He did suggest that she has come a long way, but she will never be a race car driver. It is, he said, too late for that to happen.

Not everyone agrees with Petty's stance. One driver who came to her defense was Dale Earnhardt, Jr. - another marketing machine, who has not had as much success as many thought he would - saying that she has plenty of talent and it may yet manifest itself. She might make a believer out of Kyle Petty someday, Jr. suggested.

So, is Kyle Petty right? Is Danica Patrick simply racing in Nascar because she brings sponsor dollars or does she have the ability to race with the sport's best drivers? As usual, I have thoughts about the subject.

Determining the worthiness of an athlete is a tough job. I have never been a fan of the thought that you have to win a title to validate an athletic career. For proof, I offer Ernie Banks. Playing for the woeful Cubs meant never having a chance to win a World Series, but that does not diminish the athletic ability of Mr. Cub one iota for this baseball fan.

Some athletes are better than others and that includes race car drivers. For the record one could argue that Petty's comment that Patrick is not a race car driver makes no sense at all. She buckles up like all the other "guys" and takes to the track weekly. She runs until the checkered flag and thus you can argue that she is indeed a race car driver.

I think Petty meant to say that she is not a very good driver. He is suggesting what a lot of my Nascar friends have been saying all along. She has the ride because of her sponsorship not her driving ability. That is likely true. To suggest that she is not a very good driver though, may be a little premature.

A race car driver has three factors that will help determine whether one considers them "successful." First is ability. If you are running in Sprint Cup today, you have some ability. Second is equipment. Put any of the 43 drivers that race on Sundays in a good car and they are likely going to be successful At the other end of the spectrum, you can put the greatest driver in a bad car and they likely won't be successful. The third factor is racing luck. They say the breaks even out, but I'm not totally sure of that.

In addition Danica has one more factor that most other drivers do not. She is new and the game plan is get seat time. She has been instructed to log laps, backing off from tight situations to insure running most of the race. That will not fly for long however. Eventually she will have to produce. Can she? Kyle Petty says no. I say quite possibly.

I was at Martinsville in April and in the last half of the race Danica passed some ten drivers on her way to a nice finish. Martinsville is a tough track and she acquitted herself nicely. Will that translate into more success down the road?

The view from my seat suggests two things. First, Kyle Petty is right on about her being a marketing machine. She has used her gender, her good looks and her driving ability to land a ride in Nascar and make a fortune. Second, time will tell if she has enough ability to become a truly successful driver.

Personally, I am pulling for her.


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