Danica Patrick brushes off Richard Petty criticism

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Danica Patrick dismissed Richard Petty’s comments that she would never win a NASCAR race, saying “it could definitely happen.”

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Earlier in the week NASCAR royalty made a declaration that Danica Patrick would never win a Sprint Cup race, stating her only chance was if she competed on an empty track.

On Thursday Patrick responded, quickly dismissing Richard Petty's remarks.

"The people that matter the most to me are my team, my sponsors and those little 3-year-old kids that run up to you and want a great big hug and say they want to grow up to be like you."-Danica Patrick

"Everybody is entitled to their own opinion,'' Patrick said during NASCAR Media Day at Daytona International Speedway. "I still believe that. That's what makes sports great is that everybody has their own opinion.

"More than anything, I love the conversation it creates. It makes sports interesting. It makes life interesting when people have different perspectives. That's fine with me."

While appearing at the Canadian Motorsports Expo in Toronto, Petty was asked whether Patrick would ever win a race in NASCAR's top division. The sport's all-time winner with 200 victories said that she could win only "if everybody else stayed home," and in doing so set off a firestorm.

Patrick readily acknowledges that her first full Sprint Cup season was a struggle, especially early in the year as she adjusted to heavier cars and stiffer competition than she had encountered in her previous endeavors. But Patrick believes she improved with each passing week, and showed promise towards the end of the year.

The only female to claim a pole at the highest level of NASCAR, Patrick feels winning a race is a realistic possibility. Her best shot she says is either at Daytona or Talladega, the restrictor-plate tracks where she has been most competitive, including an eighth-place finish a year ago in the Daytona 500. In that race, Patrick was running third on the final lap before inexperience caused her to shuffle down the running order. She has also been in contention in previous stops at Daytona and Talladega.

"My team builds great [super]speedway cars and I feel very comfortable," Patrick said. "I feel like it could definitely happen."

And Patrick isn't an outlier in thinking she can win, as 2012 Cup champion Brad Keselowski supported her assessment.

"...It's a long ways to go out there and say someone will never win a race," Keselowski said. "I wouldn't want to have my name behind that comment, so I think I would probably give that a little more time and see how that one plays out because there are races where I think she could win."

However, when asked if Patrick was capable of winning at a track other than Daytona or Talladega, Keselowski dismissed her chances.

"I haven't seen any indications that would make me think any differently on that," he said.

Petty isn't the first to question Patrick's place in NASCAR and whether she's deserving of a ride with a topflight team. Last summer his son, Kyle Petty, referred to Patrick as a "marketing machine" and "not a racecar driver.'' The younger Petty eventually reached out to Patrick to clarify his remarks.

As for how she would classify her relationship with the elder Petty, Patrick said she doesn't know the Hall of Famer very well. Their only interaction of note came when the two were photographed together following Patrick's pole-winning run at Daytona.

What the negativity will not do is inspire Patrick to try harder, as she says her focus and determination is already 100 percent. Her goal is simply to continue to improve, with the only feedback holding weight coming from her team.

"The people that matter the most to me are my team, my sponsors and those little 3-year-old kids that run up to you and want a great big hug and say they want to grow up to be like you," Patrick said. "That's the stuff I really focus on."

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