DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Danica Patrick has a photo from last year's Daytona 500 of Richard Petty standing in front of her pole-sitting No. 10 Chevrolet and giving her two thumbs up.
That's virtually about the extent of her interaction with the seven-time champion and how it will remain as Patrick brushed off Petty's suggestion that she could win "only if everyone else stayed home" in the Sprint Cup Series.
"People have said things in the past, they're going to say things in the future," Patrick said Thursday morning during Daytona 500 Media Day at Daytona International Speedway. "I still say the same thing: Everyone's entitled to their own opinion. People will judge what he said, whether they judge it well or not, and I'm just not going to (judge).
"The people that matter the most to me are my team, my sponsors and those little 3-year-old kids that run up to you and want a great big hug and say they want to grow up to be like you. That's the stuff I really focus on."
Patrick isn't planning to seek out Petty ("I don't know why I would,") which is the same strategy she employed last year when Petty's son, Kyle, referred to her as "a marketing machine" and not a race car driver. Patrick said Kyle Petty eventually sought her out for a "lengthy" conversation, and she was pleased that the furor spawned "so many positive articles.
"More than anything, I love the conversation it creates," she said. "Across the board, it makes sports interesting. It makes life interesting when people have different perspectives. That's fine with me. … It really just doesn't matter. It's interesting conversation. I'm fortunate I'm in it."
It's the second year in a row that Patrick was the focus entering the daylong media sessions for NASCAR's season-opening crown jewel, which is Feb. 23.
Last year, she answered questions for the first time about her relationship with fellow driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Her eyes lit up Thursday when asked about what the couple was doing for Valentine's Day ("I'm a girl, don't ask me," she said, adding there probably would be a dinner date Friday).
"See how much happier I am when I talk about Ricky?" she asked with a laugh. "I wish I was still doing it. We both look back and are like, 'Remember what last year was like?' I just remember it being fun."
After missing the event last year, Patrick and Stenhouse will compete in the Sprint Unlimited, an exhibition race Saturday night for last year's pole winners.
Patrick, who hasn't won in 106 starts across the Nationwide and Sprint Cup circuits, is optimistic about her chances of a breakthrough at Daytona. Last year, she became the first woman to capture a pole in NASCAR's premier series and finished a career-best eighth in the Daytona 500.
"My team builds great speedway cars and I feel very comfortable," she said. "I feel like it could definitely happen."