Danica Patrick returns to Daytona this week, maybe with more of an edge than a Ginsu knife.
"I don't think she's ever going to be a race-car driver," Kyle Petty said.
So it's out there again, a little louder this time, the doubting of Danica in the good 'ol boys network.
"Thanks, Kyle," she said. "Thanks for motivating me."
Everybody was pretty much playing nice and waiting patiently as she made the tricky switch from Indy cars to stock cars.
Patrick rode into NASCAR on a tidal wave of hype she helped create, but couldn't possibly justify on the track.
She hasn't done much to curb the criticism or maybe the chauvinism, giving ammo to Petty's harsh review.
She has posted just one top-10 finish in 17 starts. There have been far more finishes toward the back, home of lapped cars and laugh-tracks, including Sunday's 23rd place finish at Kentucky.
Most rookies struggle and are normally cut some slack as they negotiate the learning curve. But then they don't wheel into NASCAR on $1,200 designer stilettos towing sponsors galore and sitting pretty in great equipment (Stewart-Haas Racing) without hitting any walls, figuratively and literally.
All the pub that Patrick receives creates jealousy and grates on some drivers, even though she attracts more eyeballs to the circuit. Denny Hamlin knows Danicamania is good for business, but says the attention is too much. "For the accomplishments she's had, yes," Hamlin said. "But what's she's done for the sport . . . people are willing to forgive that."
An analyst for TNT and Fox, Petty is sort of the Johnny Miller of race commentators. He has never been afraid as a former driver to tweak or torch his brethren. And Kyle has never had both feet on the Danica bandwagon.
Oddly, Petty can relate to Patrick's plight. As the son of the famed Richard "The King" Petty, he enjoyed a privileged path into the sport, endured criticism and, admittedly, never left much of a mark. Kyle can thank his daddy; Danica can thank Go Daddy.
Petty contends that Patrick is more of a "marketing machine."
"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 on the Speed channel's "Race Hub" program last Thursday. "She can go fast, and I've seen her go fast. She drives the wheels off it when she goes fast."
But . . .
"She's not a race-car driver," he said. "There's a difference. The King always had that stupid saying, but it's true, 'Lots of drivers can drive fast, but very few drivers can race.'"
Kyle Petty's point: He doesn't believe Danica has in her DNA that innate gift to be great, a feel behind the wheel. Despite his bloodlines and advantages, Kyle himself lacked the knack. "I was a journeyman driver," he said.
In other words, the NFL would be full of Olympic sprinters if all the job required was speed.
"I think she's come a long way, but she's still not a race-car driver," Petty said. "And I don't think she's ever going to be a race-car driver. Because I think it's too late to learn."
That's the real race now for Patrick, 31, gaining experience as fast as she can.
"The [learning] curve is different for everybody," Patrick said. "At times, on some levels, I think I am ahead of it, and at times I feel like I am behind it. . . I don't know at what time it flattens out and you are where you are, but it's not yet.''
Danica returns to race the Coke Zero 400 on Saturday at Daytona, where the season started to look so promising in February. She became the first woman to win a NASCAR pole and finished eighth in the 500.
She looked very much like a race-car driver.