January 11, 2010 in Sports

Kyle Petty: Danica will be under pressure

Associated Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Most of NASCAR is throwing out the welcome mat for Danica Patrick. Former driver-turned-TV analyst Kyle Petty is a bit more cautious about what her arrival means for the sport and the risks she’s taking.

“I’ve said it from the very beginning, she is an incredibly talented driver. Can this be huge for her and for NASCAR? Yes, it can,” Petty said Saturday. “Obviously, open wheel built what the sport it is now off of her because it was a floundering sport. They took her and that marketing machine that she is and they went there.”

Petty spoke at Sound and Speed, one of the events that marks the unofficial start of the racing season and features country music singers and NASCAR drivers mingling with fans. One of the bigger topics for 2010 is the arrival, at least on a part-time basis, of Patrick.

She’ll be driving for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the ARCA and Nationwide series before and after her commitments for the IndyCar Series are completed.

Petty, the son of NASCAR’s all-time wins leader, Richard Petty, said Patrick is stepping into a situation with a car that has won races.

“If she gets in that car and doesn’t win races it’s not the car, it’s not the engines, it’s not the team,” he said. “They only changed one thing. Initially, she’ll have an impact on the sport. If she’s successful, she’ll have a huge long-term impact on the sport.

“But if she’s not successful the only impact she’ll have on the sport is she wasted two or three years on a car that a good driver could have been in and could have been developing.”

He also noted the recent open-wheel drivers that have tried to make the jump to NASCAR and weren’t very successful.

“Juan (Pablo) Montoya is probably, car control-wise, one of the most amazing human beings you’ve seen in a car and he struggled for three years at this level, and she’s not Juan Montoya,” Petty said. “She’s not Dario Franchitti and she’s not Tony Stewart. She’s not really shown over there (in the Indy Racing League) and won races and done stuff over there numbers-wise. She’s just a marketing machine. Let’s look at the facts and be blunt about it.”

Earnhardt doesn’t know how his new employee will fare on the track, but he can’t wait to see.

“I’m going into it with an open mind. It’s going to be an uphill battle for her,” said the veteran Cup driver. “We’re real happy with what we’ve seen and we love her attitude.”

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