By DAN GELSTON, AP Sports Writer
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Danica Patrick has a two-year-old photo of her in the car at Daytona, on the receiving end of two thumbs up from Richard Petty.
"It's a back shot of his butt sticking out," Patrick said, smiling.
It had been the extent of the interaction between the pair — just a playful sign of encouragement from the Hall of Famer to one of NASCAR's most popular drivers after she won the pole at the 2012 Nationwide Series race at Daytona.
On Thursday, Patrick spent most of her appearance at the Daytona 500 media day brushing off criticism from The King that the only way she could win a Sprint Cup race was "if everybody else stayed home."
She refused to fire back at Petty, a seven-time champion, politely stating that he was entitled to his opinion. Patrick handled the comments much in the same way she dismissed Kyle Petty's remarks last year that "she's not a race car driver."
"It has nothing to do with where it comes from," she said. "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 talked at length about almost every topic but racing for the second straight year to kick off Daytona. She spent her 20-minute session last year answering questions about her new relationship with fellow driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
This year, Stenhouse again was a hot topic, with people wanting to know: What are their Valentine's Day plans?
"I did say to him yesterday, 'Hey babe, I feel like I shouldn't be thinking about this because it should be your job, but would you like me to ask someone to make reservations at a restaurant?'" she said.
Odds are, the famous pair won't be asking the Pettys to join them for a bite to eat.
Petty gave NASCAR plenty to chew on last week when he said Patrick only gets attention because she's a woman, but added that publicity is good for NASCAR.
"If she'd have been a male, nobody would ever know if she'd showed up at a racetrack," Petty said. "This is a female deal that's driving her. There's nothing wrong with that, because that's good PR for me. More fans come out, people are more interested in it. She has helped to draw attention to the sport, which helps everybody in the sport."
Stenhouse said he was proud of the way Patrick handled the media glare.
"I would not be happy if it was about me like that," he said. "But I think she's proved she can drive these race cars. She's got a lot to learn. Heck, I've got a lot to learn."
Maybe they'll figure out why the Pettys have been so petty toward Patrick.
"I don't know what their problem is," Stenhouse said. "But, hey, they have opinions and they like to talk."
Dale Earnhardt Jr., long NASCAR's most popular driver, said Petty was a "little rough" on Patrick.
"Danica deals with more criticism than anybody else has ever faced in the sport," Earnhardt said. "She goes by a different set of rules because of her gender, and that's unfortunate. It seems like she's always having to answer to something like that, and that's a pain in her butt.
"And frankly it's just got to get old."
Patrick drew national headlines to NASCAR in her Daytona Cup debut last season when she became the first woman to win the pole and raced up front for much of "The Great American Race." She led five laps and finished eighth.
She never came close to duplicating that Daytona success the rest of the season for Stewart-Haas Racing. Daytona marked Patrick's best finish during a rough rookie year in which she averaged a 26th-place finish. Patrick was 27th in the final Sprint Cup standings.