TNT NASCAR analyst (and the son of the legendary Richard Petty) Kyle Petty said that Danica Patrick is "not a race car driver" during an appearance on SPEED's Racehub. Yahoo!'s From the Marbles has the exact quotes.
"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," Petty said. "She can go fast, and I’ve seen her go fast. She drives the wheels off it when she goes fast."
Petty, who is also an analyst on TNT's Sprint Cup coverage continued after he was asked if she's learned to race.
"She’s not a race car driver.There’s a difference. The King (Richard Petty, Kyle's father) 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. 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."
"Because I think it’s too late to learn."
First off, I'll give Petty a little bit of credit for saying what a lot of people are thinking but are too timid to say. But I'm not really sure there's much substance to his comments. Yes, Patrick has a marketing machine behind her. Considering that she's a rookie, has her season really been a disaster? She won the pole for the Daytona 500 (which buys in to the "she can drive fast" line from Petty), which was the only race where she finished in the top ten. But she did finish tenth overall in the Nationwide Series last year, and 2013 is just her first full-time year on the Sprint Cup circuit.
If there was no marketing whatsoever behind Patrick, would there even be any discussion about her? Probably not, and I think that's what Petty's major gripe is: the casual fan sees the marketing that Go Daddy and other companies have thrust behind Patrick, and thinks of her as an elite driver like Jimmie Johnson or Brad Keselowski. And for that, I understand his point. It must be frustrating for a driver like Kevin Harvick or Matt Kenseth to be having a great year and fly under the radar from major media outlets. It's almost like Tebow-mania, where the backup quarterback gets all the attention and the real stars of the team get ignored.
On the other hand, I think it's a little early to write off Patrick's potential career. There's always the possibility that she'll move on to other ventures without ever taking the step into the next tier of her sport (hello, Anna Kournikova), but there's also a chance that she can learn and grow as a driver over the rest of this season and into next year. I understand the sentiment behind Petty's statements, but perhaps a little more explanation of what he means would have prevented his comments from getting as much play as they are.