Why Can't Danica Patrick Have It All?

The Atlantic
Why Can't Danica Patrick Have It All?
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Why Can't Danica Patrick Have It All?

Danica Patrick has been driving race cars very fast and competing and beating the boys for years now. And yet, there are still some members of the racing establishment trying to bring her down. The first (and only) female NASCAR came under fire this week for, well, for being a woman. 

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Kyle Petty has a long resume in the racing world. He had a long career in NASCAR, currently works as an analyst on Fox Sports and TNT, and his dad is the seven-time champion Richard Petty. He is as racing establishment as they come. For some reason, Petty decided to give his opinion of Patrick during a Thursday broadcast of Speed TV's NASCAR Race Hub:

"Danica has been the perfect example of somebody who can qualify better than what she runs," Petty said. "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."

The 31-year-old Patrick started racing Indy Car in 2005 and has since made the difficult jump to NASCAR. She has struggled to break through the male-dominated world of NASCAR while posting some respectable finishes during her very short, very difficult racing career. This year, she's participating in her first full season in NASCAR's premier Sprint Cup Series. It's true that she has not found immediate, headline worthy success while competing at her sport's most difficult level with the best drivers in the U.S. No one is debating that fact. 

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For Petty to insinuate that Patrick can't race is preposterous, especially when you consider that Patrick is already on track to accomplish as much or more in her short time racing as Petty did during his entire career. Jalopnik's Travis Okulski highlighted how ridiculous Petty's comments are once you stack their resumes side by side: 

In her first full season of Sprint Cup and after 26 total races, Danica has one pole position, one top 10 finish and three top 20s. She sits 27th in points.

[...]

Kyle, a real racing driver who ran his final full Sprint Cup season in 2006, finished 27th or worse in the standings in nine of his 12 final full seasons in Sprint Cup racing. He also scored 0 poles (that's a big huevo) in his first 243 races run over 10 years. A real racing driver like Kyle knows to let the veterans get poles for the first decade in the sport. Danica, who isn't a real racing driver, got pole in her first start as a full time driver.

Okulski also goes on to explain how Patrick accomplished much more during her career in the lesser levels of NASCAR competition than Petty ever did. For Petty, racing NASCAR wasn't an accomplishment he worked to earn so much as something he was born into. That last name is hard to ignore. Patrick's response to yet another man saying she has no right to be on the race track was a beautiful example of how every woman should respond to a dude telling them they aren't qualified for their job. 

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"I really don't care," Patrick said during a Friday press conference. "There's going to be people who believe in you and people who don't. Plenty of people say bad things about me. I see it on Twitter. Some people want me to die. But at the end of the day, you get over that stuff and trust you're doing a good job for the people who believe in you."

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Patrick has faced this kind of criticism since she started racing professionally in 2005. For her, hearing that she's not a race car driver is an unfortunate regular occurrence in the male-dominated world of racing. The only reason it made headlines this time is because Kyle Petty was the critic, and Kyle Petty is Richard Petty's son. But, as the LA Times' Jim Peltz explains, the haters can crow all they want but it's not going to change much: 

She's right -- and in some ways it's irrelevant whether she ever does or doesn't. Her team and her corporate sponsors are glad to have her. So is NASCAR. Patrick has a lot of fans. She'll go on making millions of dollars a year regardless of whether she cracks the top 10 in points or even becomes the first woman to win a Cup race.

Patrick is here to stay, win, push the sport and make money. You'll have to learn to deal with it. 

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