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The story behind the Richard Petty-Danica Patrick NASCAR story

Channeling Christopher Russo: The question must be asked: can Danica Patrick win a race in NASCAR Sprint Cup?

  • Russo

Whenever Toronto sports radio gets boring on the afternoon drive, I tune in Sirius XM Radio for a dose of Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo.

I like his style.

Just before this year’s Super Bowl, he was incensed that TV heavyweights Bob Costas and Chris Berman had both interviewed New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichik  and hadn’t asked him about “Spygate.”

“Spygate” happened in 2007. The Patriots were caught videotaping defensive signals employed by coaches on opposing teams. The NFL threw the book at the team and Belichik and the Patriots haven’t won a Super Bowl since.  “Mad Dog” Russo thinks there’s a connection.

“The question must be asked,” he said, again and again one afternoon after suggesting the Patriots had probably warned the two sportscasters against bringing up “Spygate.”

“If they had made that a condition with me, I would not have done the interview,” said Russo, adding that in every case of controversy, “the question must be asked.”

So last Sunday afternoon, NASCAR legend Richard Petty flew into Toronto to meet and greet thousands of fans at the eighth annual Canadian Motorsports Expo. But before he did, organizers arranged for him to spend 10 minutes with local reporters and I was included.

Erik Tomas of Raceline Radio kicked things off with a question about Petty’s very first NASCAR Grand National race in 1958 at the old CNE Speedway and the conversation went on from there. The “King” of stock car racing was charming and insightful, discussing everything from the new Chase for the Championship rules to Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s lack of racing success.

After 15 minutes or so, the organizers began looking at their watches. We were behind a curtain and on the other side sat about two dozen people who had paid for the privilege of meeting Petty and getting his autograph and they were becoming restless.

Tomas got the windup signal and he looked at me and said, “One more – Norris?” and I said, channeling Christopher Russo: “The question must be asked: can Danica Patrick win a race in NASCAR Sprint Cup?”

And Richard Petty said, “Only if everybody else stayed home.”

Tomas, a good friend and colleague, started to laugh. “You knew what the answer would be, Norris, even before you asked it,” and I replied, “Yeah, but I had to hear it.”

I went home and played back the recording to make sure the quotes were accurate and Sunday night I posted the story at the Star’s wheels.ca site and at thestar.blogs.com/autoracing.

Monday, it was all over the United States. Never mind the newspapers like USA Today and Internet sites like ESPN and SportingNews.com, the story even made the television NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams.

I don’t agree with Richard Petty, by the way. I think it’s quite possible Patrick will win a race in Sprint Cup, maybe even this season. She won a race in IndyCar, nearly won the pole for the Indianapolis 500 and finished in the top ten in that iconic race six times, which ain’t bad at all.

Who knows why he said what he did, considering that he then went on to praise her for bringing so much attention to Sprint Cup racing?  Was he trying to throw her off her game, seeing as she won the Daytona 500 pole a year ago and qualifying for that race is being held this weekend? Was he trying to get NASCAR and the Daytona 500 back on the front pages? Or is he, like too many men these days, still stuck in the Sixties?

It really doesn’t matter. It is what it is.

But as Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo suggested, when it comes to Danica Patrick, racing in NASCAR and winning, the question must be asked.

I would still be kicking myself if I hadn’t asked it.

Russo

Danica Patrick

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