Richard Petty ready to come out of retirement to race Danica Patrick

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Richard Petty is ready to put his foot where his mouth is.

Not put his foot in his mouth, mind you, but on a gas pedal, that is.

In an appearance Friday morning on the Fox News Channel, Petty said he’s ready to come out of retirement to race Danica Patrick, who turns 32 next month.

“I’m 76 years old, OK?” Petty said. “It’s been 25 years since I’ve been in a race car. But I’ll take that challenge.”

The winner of a record 200 Cup races and seven championships, Petty was responding to a challenge from Patrick’s team owner, Tony Stewart, in a national radio broadcast Wednesday.

Stewart said he’ll put together two identically prepared cars for Patrick and Petty to race each other to settle the argument whether Patrick can or can’t win in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

Petty’s response took the Fox show hosts by surprise, prompting them to ask, “Really? You’re going to do it, Richard?”

Petty replied, “Oh yeah. When is this going to happen?”

After Nationwide Series qualifying on Friday, when asked by MotorSportsTalk about Petty’s assertion that he’s ready to race, Patrick didn’t exactly say yes – but she didn’t say no, either.

“Alright. Tony said he’s getting the cars ready, right?” she said. “At the end of the day, the most important thing is that my team owner, Tony Stewart, believes in me.”

Petty ignited a firestorm two weeks ago at the Canadian Motorsports Expo in Toronto when he told a reporter from Wheels.ca that the only way Patrick would win a Cup race was “if everybody else stayed home.”

That battle has flared up several times since with several he said, she said exchanges from Petty and Patrick. Stewart reignited the pot in an interview Wednesday on Performance Racing Network.

When asked whether Patrick should take the checkered flag to Petty to autograph if she wins a Cup race this year, Stewart quipped, “If I were her, I’d take it over and cram it up his (expletive).”

Stewart then followed that up with issuing a challenge to Petty to race Patrick mano-y-mano … err, make that mano-y-mujer (man vs. woman).

“I think that (a race) would settle it once and for all — maybe get him to shut up a little bit, too,” Stewart said of Petty. “I will supply the cars. If he wants to race her, I’ll make sure they have exactly the same setup in the car and give him the chance. He can drive one of my 14 cars, I don’t care.”

Even with the age difference and the fact Petty hasn’t competed in a race since 1992, Patrick won’t cut her potential opponent some slack. She quickly shot down the idea of a “race” with The King on a computer simulator instead.

“Oh, no,” she said.

While the whole Petty-Patrick-Stewart jousting makes for good sound bites and media coverage, we can probably take all of it with a grain of salt, nothing more than tongue-in-cheek posturing.

Then again, if a savvy promoter like Eddie Gossage or Humpy Wheeler could convince everyone to make a race – either ontrack or online – a reality, and perhaps raise a boatload of money for charity in the process, it could become one of the biggest stories in NASCAR in years.

Think of a four-wheel, high-horsepower version of the “Battle of the Sexes II” tennis match between Bobby Riggs (then 55) and Billie Jean King (then 29) back in 1973.

Oh wait, didn’t Riggs have to eat crow after King beat him three times in straight sets?

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Teammates James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens earn top-fives at Barber

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For the first time this season, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammates James Hinchcilffe and Robert Wickens earned top-five finishes in the same race at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala.

Hinchcliffe finished third in the Grand Prix of Alabama; Wickens was one spot behind in fourth.

Wickens had one previous podium at Phoenix with his second-place finish. Hinchcliffe’s best result was a fourth in the season-opener in St Petersburg, Fla., so this marked his first podium of the year.

Both drivers needed a little help from the rain.

As precipitation began to fall in the closing stages of the race, Hinchliffe asked his team on a couple of occasions if it was wet enough to pit for rain tires. He was told twice to stay out and was then called into to the pits at the optimal time.

“Solid weekend for us after coming here before – not a great test,” Hinchcliffe said. “Two cars in the top 10 qualifying; two cars, top five in the race. Pretty proud of these boys, everybody on the Arrow car.”

The rain helped Wickens’ race strategy come together.

“I was having to save a lot of fuel in that second stint,” Wickens said. “So once (Scott) Dixon starting getting close to me I was thinking ‘Oh God, I’m going to actually have to give this one up.’ And then the rain came, so the fuel mileage happened naturally. So, yeah, it saved us a bit.”

And while both were pleased with their top-five finishes, drivers are rarely satisfied unless they are standing on the top step of the podium.

Wickens’ top-five finish was hard-fought. After winning the pole at St Petersburg and starting sixth at Phoenix, he failed to advance to the Fast 6 in back-to-back races at Long Beach and Barber – qualifying 10th both times.

“I was a little gutted that we came out in a big bunch of traffic,” Wickens continued. “It made the race fun, but a little frustrating as well because of people off sequence and whatnot. We lost a lot of track position there. Both of us could have been fighting for higher steps on the podium, but we need to do a little better job in qualifying. “