There’s no denying that Danica Patrick generated a lot of controversy during her stint as a full-time NASCAR driver. Even though she made history during her racing career, becoming the first woman to win an IndyCar race and earning the highest finishes for a woman in the Indy 500 and Daytona 500, she wasn’t always able to consistently cultivate a loyal and diehard fanbase. A lot of times the hate was undeserved, with many NASCAR fans being unwilling to accept a female driver racing in the Cup Series. But, other times, Danica didn’t do herself any favors with the way that she acted on the racetrack. One of these times happened the weekend of the 2017 Pocono 400 at Pocono Raceway.
While making her way from pit road to her team’s garage after her qualifying run (she ultimately got the 24th spot in the Axalta-sponsored race), Danica was booed by several fans for not stopping to sign autographs. Instead of continuing to walk on by them, the driver of the No. 10 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing decided to confront the fired-up fans.
“Since I’m old, instead of taking the booing, what I want to tell you, I’m doing the very best I can,” Patrick said. “If you’re a real fan, you know that I’m not just like…my job is to not sign autographs, right? My job is to drive the car and tell the crew chief what is going on. I don’t appreciate the boos. It hurts my feelings.”
“I’m a f***ing person, you know. I’m a person too. I have feelings too. When you boo me, it hurts my feelings. Please just be supportive fans. I’ll do everything I can. When I came from over here, my car was over there. I can only do so much. I have to get in the car. So please understand that. I have feelings, too.”
Following the incident at Pocono, a few of NASCAR’s biggest names weighed in with their own analysis. During a segment on NASCAR America, Kyle Petty sort of came to Danica’s defense, but also basically told her to suck it up.
“I’m a little biased, I grew up in a house with (Richard Petty) who signed autographs for anybody that would knock on the door,” Petty said. “Get thicker skin. If they boo you, turn the other cheek, man. I’m sorry. They boo people all the time. That’s part of sports. I don’t care what sports you play. You can’t take the accolades if you can’t take the other side of that coin.”Advertisement
“I am going to say this. I have seen my father get double throw down PO’d at fans, OK? Because of the way they treat him or the way they acted or the way they pushed in. I saw it. Did the fans see it? Never. He hid it, he was personable, he signed the autographs and he went on. That’s our job.”
On an episode of the Dale Jr. Download, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was a little more understanding about Danica’s meltdown, given the tough season she had been having.
“She’s had a tough year,” Junior said. “She’s under tons of pressure. She’s under a lot of pressure. I can completely relate to where she is mentally.”
While Danica went on to place 16th at Pocono (tying her best finish at the Long Pond, Pennsylvania track, which she beat over a month later with a 15th-place finish at the Overton’s 400), her racing before that point had been pretty abysmal as she had already been credited with five DNFs. Things never really picked up for her, and eventually Patrick decided that 2017 was the year to call it quits. On November 17, she announced that she’d be retiring from NASCAR after the 2018 Daytona 500.
Danica Patrick may not have always been treated fairly by the fans and even the NASCAR media, but it’s hard to defend her actions that day in Pocono.