Danica Patrick: Tony Stewart has his own version of “tough love”

DOVER, DE - MAY 31:  (L-R) Danica Patrick, driver of the #10 GoDaddy Chevrolet, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., driver of the #17 Best Buy Ford, walk on the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks at Dover International Speedway on May 31, 2013 in Dover, Delaware.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

DOVER, DE – MAY 31: (L-R) Danica Patrick, driver of the #10 GoDaddy Chevrolet, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., driver of the #17 Best Buy Ford, walk on the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series FedEx 400 benefiting Autism Speaks at Dover International Speedway on May 31, 2013 in Dover, Delaware. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

DOVER, Del. — If Tony Stewart is tough on rookie drivers, it’s only because he wants to help them, Danica Patrick says.

Stewart had Patrick’s boyfriend, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., in his sights on Sunday, complaining that Stenhouse was blocking unnecessarily during the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte. Stenhouse and Patrick also were involved in a three-wide wreck with Brad Keselowski.

After the race, Stewart told Claire B. Lang of SiriusXM NASCAR Radio and Dustin Long of MRN, “Ricky Stenhouse — I’d choke him right now, if I could get to him.”

Patrick, who drives for Stewart-Haas Racing, said that’s merely Stewart’s way of showing he likes and respects the rookie driver.

“If Tony’s hard on rookies, I just thank the good Lord above that I’m on his team,” said Patrick, who is competing against Stenhouse for the Sprint Cup rookie of the year title. “What I would say about Tony is that he wants to help teach the rookies, and the rookies that he respects and feels like should get that time of day. If he doesn’t think they were good, he wouldn’t try to help them, because they won’t be around for long, in his opinion.

“So, if there’s anyone out there that he says something about, it’s only because he knows they’re going to be around, and he wants them to learn how to play the game the way he’s learned how to play the game — and he’s been here a long time and has been very successful. So it’s actually a good thing that he wants to help and that he would speak up.”

According to Patrick, Stenhouse and Stewart talked on Sunday night.

“We talked about it a little bit, too,” Patrick said. “He (Stewart) loves him like a son, he said. So you would never hurt your son. You would only try to help your son. I think that’s the moral of the story.”

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