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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