Daytona Beach, Fla. – On the eve of the start of Speedweeks, 50 NASCAR Sprint Cup, Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series drivers met with the media to discuss their plans for the upcoming season. During the day-long session, the drivers came in uniform to be photographed and interviewed by television, radio and the print media. The event is well organized and gives every participant an opportunity to be seen and heard.
Even though racing was the overall theme, the budding romance between Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. took center stage and was not only addressed by the two of them but their fellow competitors as well.
Everything has been good; everything is great.
For the 2013 season, Patrick will pilot the GoDaddy Chevrolet fielded by Stewart-Haas Racing and Stenhouse will be behind the wheel of the Best Buy Ford from the Roush Fenway Racing camp.
Patrick openly discussed their relationship and didn’t shy away from the grilling from the reporters. She indicated the two of them met during rookie meetings a while back and one thing led to another, to their current dating situation. Being Valentine’s Day, she indicated he would receive a present or two today, and that she would likely cook dinner for him tonight.
“We have developed chemistry between us, and he’s funny and so much fun to be around,” she said all smiles. They are both music buffs, but have different interests. In her past, she indicated a disinterest in classical and country music but that seems to have changed. “Ricky likes old country music, and I like more modern country music,” she said, although her interest is newer than his.
Stenhouse, the quieter of the two, was equally talkative about the relationship and smiled just as broadly when discussing it. “Everything has been good; everything is great,” he said. Regarding a first date, he said they didn’t really have one, although he asked her out to dinner, at her urging, once. “For Valentine’s Day, I got her some fancy playing cards, as she likes to play cards. She’s been beating me a lot, so I have to get better.”
Stenhouse said they won’t race each other any differently, as he respects everyone on the race track. “It is not going to make me race any different,” he said. “I am respectful of my teammates, and I will be respectful to her, too. I am out there to do my job and put on best performance possible for my team and my fans. She can handle her situation and I can handle mine.”
The Ford driver isn’t accustomed to the media attention that encircles Patrick, so he’s relying upon her for guidelines. And he’s comfortable staying out of the spotlight, saying, “The headlines don’t say anything about me, so I am happy with it. If I win a race, they might say, ‘Danica’s boyfriend won the race,’ so I don’t know how that will work out. I know it is a big story and people have been waiting to ask about it.
“We are happy, so that is good. Anytime you are happy off the race track it tends to show up on the race track. We are both happy and we are focused on racing and having fun.”
She said they really don’t discuss racing that often, but she knows on the track she will have to outsmart him as he will not lift for her or anyone else.
“Anytime you step into a new series it gets a little different and you have a lot more to learn,” Stenhouse commented. “She does have more experience with the Cup car, so I tell her she has the upper hand in the rookie battle, but I told her I will win it.”
Neither car owner Tony Stewart nor the team’s sponsors have had concerns with their involvement. And the same reaction has come from Roush Fenway team. “Jack (Roush) doesn’t have any concerns nor do my teammates or sponsors,” Stenhouse said.
Patrick is looking forward to her rookie season in Sprint Cup. “Honestly, in my heart, I don’t feel like a rookie, but someone with experience that needs to train differently. I am seasoned in NASCAR, and I feel comfortable right now.”
While the romance has gained nationwide attention, Patrick said she knows there is a certain curiosity and doesn’t mind discussing it but will draw the line at some point in time. “It’s my life and I am enjoying it, as I have always done everything I want into my comfort zone. Actually, I feel like a participant on the Bachelorette show,” she indicated.
While the drivers as a whole didn’t expressed much concern or interest in the Patrick-Stenhouse relationship, Sprint Cup champ Brad Keselowski said a bigger story will be if they break up. “That would be incredible to watch,” he said. “Imagine if they break up and wreck each other in the next six races because they are so mad. That would be a compelling story.”
With great relief, all the drivers can’t wait to get down to the serious side of business and to put all the rumors, romances and other twists and turns aside. And readers, too, may well be tired of seeing more news about Patrick, but she commands attention whether in Super Bowl commercials or otherwise.
Patrick will have a double-dose of action this weekend, as she announced today that GoDaddy will sponsor a Chevrolet for her in Saturday’s Nationwide Series race at Daytona. After Daytona it is expected the Danica headlines will diminish but only time will tell.