Danica unbothered by criticism

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Danica Patrick was delighted last season when the pervasive storyline of Daytona 500 media day was her just-revealed relationship with fellow Sprint Cup rookie Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

She fielded probing questions about nettlesome topics with aplomb. There was talk of Valentine's Day dinners and gifts. It went well.

Ultimately, she said she enjoyed discussing her new boyfriend and has long since accepted that managing scuttlebutt is a crucial part of her job. She handled it masterfully again on Thursday.

In her first media appearance since NASCAR legend Richard Petty was quoted as saying that Patrick could only win a NASCAR race "if everybody else stayed home," Patrick seemed unbothered and perhaps a bit amused by it all.

"I like that people have opinions. That is fine with me," said Patrick, who finished 27th in points last season. "I think that it creates such conversation. As I said, the last time that somebody said something that was not so positive for me, it spawned so many positive articles.

"So, you know, there's a positive side to it, too. But more than anything, I love the conversation that it creates in sport. Across the board it makes sports interesting. It makes life interesting when people have different perspectives, and that's fine with me."

Patrick said she has not spoken with the 76-year-old Petty, who holds the NASCAR record with 200 wins and shares the championships mark of seven with the late Dale Earnhardt. She said Petty's son, Kyle, a television analyst, sought her for a lengthy conversation last year when he contended on air that Patrick was "not a race car driver," generating another media whirlwind.

People have said things in the past, and they're going to say things in the future. I still say the same thing: That everyone's entitled to their own opinion.
Danica Patrick

Patrick's lone interaction with the elder Petty was at Daytona last season when he flashed a thumbs-up after she won the pole for the Daytona 500. She has a picture to prove it.

So whether Petty's comments were generational or observational, she doesn't care.

"People have said things in the past, and they're going to say things in the future," she said. "I still say the same thing: That everyone's entitled to their own opinion. People are going to judge what he said, whether they judge it well or not, and I'm just not going to."

Petty's critique will certainly not be inspirational, she said.

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

"And maybe subconsciously there's some motivation, but I can't tell. I'm giving it my all every single time I'm getting in the car, whether I'm making a simple qualifying run or I'm in the race."

Brad Keselowski, the 2012 series champion who has been critical of Patrick in the past, intimated that Petty's comments were harsh, but asserted, as Patrick did, his right to them and the value of them.

"He makes some pretty strong points when you read his whole transcript, but it's a long ways to go out there and say someone will never win a race," Keselowski said. "I wouldn't want to have my name behind that comment, so I think I would probably give that a little more time and see how that one plays out because there are races where I think she could win."

But that's the topic for Friday, when practice begins for the non-points Sprint Unlimited. Patrick earned entry into the event with her Daytona 500 pole. With the Petty controversy thoroughly mined on Thursday, Patrick was moving on, or, rather, backward.

"No, let's talk about Ricky," she said, smiling, when asked about the difference between the settings a year apart. "That was much more fun. I smiled so much more."

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