Last week, NASCAR Analyst and former driver Kyle Petty made some bold statements regarding current Rookie driver Danica Patrick that took the motorsports and even the entertainment world by storm.
In a segment on SPEED Channel’s weekly show RaceHub, Petty made comments about Patrick’s ability to drive the car. He called her out saying that she is “not a racecar driver” and that she is “just a marketing machine” who has used herself appeal to gain sponsorship. While the latter may be true, Patrick is a marketing genius, saying she isn’t a racecar driver is harsh, rude, and frankly, uncalled for.
Kyle Petty, the son of racing legend Richard Petty, made over 800 starts in when is now known as the Sprint Cup Series. In those 800 plus starts, Petty has eight wins and finished lower than 25th in points in over one-third of his 30 year career. It took him over 100 races to get his first win and about that long to garnish his first Pole award.
Danica Patrick, who has made 27 Sprint Cup starts, sat on the Pole for her first race as a full time Sprint Cup Driver and also has a top-10 finish under her belt. In just her second full season racing stock cars, Patrick has already made some major gains behind the wheel in her transition from the IRL.
Now, I’m not here to just compare Patrick to Petty, let’s take a look at some other statistics for Rookie of the Year Candidates from past seasons.
This season, Danica’s average finishing position is 25.8 and her fellow Rookie Competitor’s is 19. Looking back on past Rookie’s, Patrick’s average is right in the norm of where she should be. (Special thanks to Stephen Conely for the ROTY Info!)
1984: Rusty Wallace Ave/17 starts: 19.6
1987: Dale Jarrett Ave/17 starts: 24.1
1991: Bobby Hamilton Ave/17 starts: 23.3
1993: Bobby Labonte Ave/17 starts: 22.3
1995: Ricky Craven Ave/17 starts: 24.4
1997: Mike Skinner Ave/17 starts: 27.2
2000: Dale Earnhardt Jr Ave/17 starts: 20
2001: Kurt Busch Ave/17 starts: 23.6
2005: Kyle Busch Ave/17 starts: 20.6
2007: Juan Pablo Montoya Ave/17 starts: 22.8 with 1 win
2009: Joey Logano Ave/17 starts: 21.4 with 1 win
Those are just a few of the Rookie’s average finishes after 17 races in the past 30 years and as you can see, Patrick is right on track with where she should be in her progress and considering most of those men grew up racing stock cars, her efforts so far this season seem to be pretty good.
Looking at Stewart-Haas Racing as a whole, their three drivers don’t have the best averages either. Tony Stewart, with one win this season, leads the group with an average finishes of 17.5 and Ryan Newman with an 18. Seeing as these two have years of experience in this series and Stewart is a three-time Champion, part of her struggles could be linked to the organization as a whole. Adding a third team, moving teams and pit crews around all on top of the new Gen-6 cars put SHR as a whole behind the pack.
Kyle Petty may have just been looking for attention when he made those comments about Patrick, but statistics show that she is right on track to being a great competitor in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series circuit. With just 27 starts under her belt, it is far too early to judge Patrick on what she can and cannot do. Give her a full season, maybe two, and if she is still running in the low 20s every weekend, then Petty’s comments would be warranted, but until then, let the woman go out there and do what she does best, compete and race.