DAYTONA BEACH _ Tony Gibson isn’t happy with Kyle Petty, who recently dismissed Danica Patrick as a “marketing machine” and said she’s “not a race car driver.”
“I don’t think it was fair at all,” Gibson, Danica’s crew chief, said as we chatted in the run-up to Saturday’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway. “It’s not fair to Danica. It’s not fair to our sport.
“If [NASCAR founder] Bill France were still alive he’d be pretty disappointed. One thing that Kyle forgets is that we need Danica Patrick in our sport. We need something different in our sport to build up the fan base. Sometimes people have to stop before they talk. We need Danica Patrick in this sport to draw in a bigger fan base, and that’s important to the sport.”
Patrick has struggled since finishing eighth in the Daytona 500 after capturing the pole here in February. She is 27th in points in her first full-time season in the Sprint Cup series. She ran an abbreviated schedule of 10 races last season for Stewart-Hass Racing.
“In a market where everybody that crawls into a race car on a Sunday afternoon in Cup racing is male; she’s the female,” Petty said. “I don’t have a problem with her being a marketing machine -- more power to her.
“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. There’s a difference.”
The hype from Daytona has dissipated into the struggles of today. But Gibson notes that’s not surprising.
“We knew going into it there were going to be challenging times, more challenging than not,” he said. “We knew what we were in for. You can get shot down to earth pretty quick.”George Diaz can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @georgediaz