...and neither do some of our colleagues. You decide if we're sensationalists.
As editor in chief of Motorsport.com, which is getting beat up pretty badly by some of our colleagues in the media regarding the story we posted that included Kevin Harvick’s comments about Danica Patrick, I’m writing this column as a response to that criticism.
I am not writing an apology.
The story, titled “Harvick says teammate Danica Patrick will never be a top level NASCAR driver,” is based on quotes Harvick gave to a group of reporters in a press conference. Responding to a question from Fox Sports, which is credited in our story, Harvick said, regarding Patrick’s previous experience that was not in stock cars, but in open wheel cars: “You're never going to make up that experience in knowing that if the track slows down, you're going to have to do this or you've been in this position before and you have to move up the race track or down the race track.”
“She will always be behind,” he also said. “She's never going to catch up to what I do or what Jimmie Johnson does. She's never going to overcome those hurdles, because we've all done this for 20-some years.”
No one is disputing Harvick said that, because he did. Kevin Harvick himself has tweeted that the story is sensationalist, and his words were taken out of context.
Sentationalist? Well, I would have chosen a different headline – I would have used a direct quote from Harvick, rather than paraphrase what he said.
Did we screw the pooch?
There are two problems here.
One, there are editors calling their reporters and asking, “Why didn’t you get that quote? Weren’t you there?” Yes, I was, they will likely respond, but I didn’t think what he said was that important.
I’ve made that call a hundred times; I’ve received that call a hundred times.
Two, Harvick, seeing his words in black and white, is unhappy, and is saying so. Partly, perhaps, because some of what he said doesn’t make a lot of sense. Is Kyle Larson “never going to catch up” because, at 22, he doesn’t have 20-something years of stock car racing experience? I think we all know what Harvick meant – that Patrick, had she been on a traditional NASCAR career path and not raced in Europe, and in the Atlantic series, and in IndyCar, likely would have been better equipped to understand what a huge, heavy stock car is doing, and how to respond to changes in the track.
I think what Harvick meant was: Danica’s job is harder because she lacks some of the experience most of the top drivers had.
But even that is a stretch. Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman, A.J. Foyt, and a bunch of other drivers all came up from primarily sprint or midget car racing, and they excelled in NASCAR. So why didn’t the two greatest sprint car drivers in recent history, Steve Kinser and Sammy Swindell, excel in stock cars? No telling. I asked one of those above-named drivers that question about Kinser and the answer was, “I think he is too old.” He didn’t mean he was too old to learn to drive a stock car, he was too old to forget how to drive a sprint car.
I used to fly planes, mostly Cessnas. I wanted to take a helicopter lesson. The pilot told me I was too old, because I would have to forget everything I learned in fixed-wing flying except how to talk on the radio. I took one lesson. He was right. I was 40. Change is hard.
No, I don't think we did.
That said, Harvick never claimed that Patrick couldn’t win, and said he hoped she would be a title contender someday. We should have included that in the original story, sure, but let’s face it: Who out there does think Danica Patrick will eventually be a “top-level NASCAR driver?”
I, for one, would love to see that happen, and I would have loved for Steve Kinser to win more than an IROC race.
But Danica Patrick’s style does not lend itself to balls-out, scraping-the-wall driving. It is something she and I have discussed, because in my own miserable little racing career, I’m the same way. I get up to speed gradually, but by the end, I’m generally as fast as anybody in comparable equipment. She once told me, “I’ll never go out and run a fantastic qualifying lap, and have no idea how I did it. It’s just not my style.”
Patrick gets wrecked a lot more than she wrecks. She’s going faster, she’s learning the tracks. Her average finish this year is 23.3, better than last year, which was better than the year before. Teammate Kurt Busch’s aveage finish is 19.8, Tony Stewart’s number 14 car, which hasn’t missed a race though we all know Tony did, has an average finish of 19.5. So Patrick is finishing less than four spots back of two champions, who have more than a decade in Sprint Cup, in the same equipment?
I don’t think that’s so bad. And probably, neither does Kevin Harvick. Who, after two full years in Sprint Cup, averaged a 22nd-place finish.
Bottom line: Journalism has changed. If you say something, be you a member of the media or a competitor, you have to own it. We found the quote, we’re getting the attention – good and bad – and we have to own that, too.
And, since the buck stops here, I’m sorry Harvick was offended, and I'm sorry if Patrick was offended. But I can’t apologize for running what Kevin Harvick said.