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Danica Patrick reacts to Richard Petty comment

February 13, 2014, Holly Cain,

Prefers to focus elsewhere, has had limited contact with Petty

RELATED: Can Danica win in 2014?

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Danica Patrick smiled and tilted her head anticipating the question during her media interview session Thursday at Daytona International Speedway.

It was the third one asked.

What did she think about NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty's comments in response to a question at the Canadian Motorsports Expo this past weekend that she would only win a Sprint Cup Series race, "if everybody else stayed home?"

"You know, people have said things in the past and they will say things in the future, I still say the same thing and that's that everybody is entitled to their own opinion," Patrick said.

"People are going to judge what he said and I'm just not going to."

Patrick smiled often and calmly answered the ensuing questions. Frankly, none of this is particularly new to her. As a highly marketed woman in a male-dominated race field, there have always been those that doubted her ability or questioned her motives to compete.

But it genuinely doesn't seem to affect her. Even when the latest critique comes from NASCAR's all-time winningest driver.

"Really it's more about my belief that everyone can have their own opinion and it has nothing to do with where it comes from," Patrick said.

"I really feel that I like people who have opinions. That is fine with me. It creates such great conversation. The last time someone said something that wasn't so positive for me, it spawned so many positive articles. So for me, there is a positive side to it, too.

"More than anything, I love the conversation it creates in sport; it makes life interesting when people have different perspectives."

Patrick said beyond the occasional casual conversation or happenstance when they are together at events, she really doesn't have a relationship with Petty.
Someone gave her a photograph of Petty standing in front of her pole-winning GoDaddy Chevy giving her two thumbs up before the start of last year's Daytona 500.

"That's about it," Patrick said.

Asked if she would seek him out to discuss the matter, Patrick politely asked, "Why?”

As for assessing her own chances to win, Patrick agreed that at this point -- one full Cup season into her stock car career -- the speedway races in Daytona and Talladega may be her best chance to score that first victory.

She led five laps in last year's Daytona 500 and ran in the top 10 before finishing eighth.

"I would agree, I think for two reasons," Patrick said. "My team builds great speedway cars, and I feel much more comfortable here because this is more familiar to me than the rest of the racing, because you're taking out the elements of learning how the car works. … That isn't a concern on the speedways; it's just about navigating the cars around you, drafting and your mindset throughout the whole thing, your discipline.

"I definitely feel like it could happen. Shoot, I'm gonna go out try to win the Unlimited so I can be in it forever."

"And," she reminded the group, "you can't try any harder in the car. I think that's something every driver would tell you. When someone questions our effort level, you can't try any harder. You're doing everything you can.

"Maybe subconsciously there's some motivation (when she hears the negative comments), but I can't tell. I'm giving it my all every single time whether I'm making a qualifying run or in the race."

Even as Patrick was answering questions about the subject, six-time and reigning Cup champion Jimmie Johnson was defending her on "CBS This Morning."

"Danica's a great competitor, and at this stage, she's still learning and developing as a driver," Johnson said. "Only time will tell what degree she'll rise to within a stock car. These vehicles are much different than what she started off racing in open wheel. So she definitely has a long road ahead of herself, but she's committed to our cars and I think very good for the sport of NASCAR."

Patrick has always acknowledged the bright spotlight and polarizing views of fans are all part of the package when it comes to being a professional athlete. So while this controversy has spawned headlines and debate, Patrick remains composed and supremely focused. She has a Daytona 500 to win.

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

"That's what I care about, what I focus on."

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