DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Now that Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. have acknowledged their romantic relationship, inquiring minds want to know how the boyfriend and girlfriend will race against each other in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Both Patrick and Stenhouse are making the jump to full-time competition at NASCAR’s highest level this season promising a rookie-of-the-year battle with the highest visibility since Matt Kenseth beat Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the honor in 2000.
But when push comes to shove, will their relationship affect the way they treat each other on the track? Patrick acknowledged Thursday during media day interviews at Daytona International Speedway that the question is a legitimate one.
“I think racing-wise that’s a question that’s on a lot of people’s minds, fans’ minds,” Patrick said to a throng of print reporters crowded around her interview cubicle. “In fact, I had a friend say, ‘I’m excited to see how you guys end up racing against each other when you’re out there.’ That’s someone (who’s not) even into racing that’s curious to see how that will go.
“As long as we’ve known each other, we’ve been racing against each other. There are times you’re out there on the track that you don’t even see each other, you’re not even next to each other. But every time we have been, it’s about respect, and neither of us puts up a big fight.”
In the NASCAR Nationwide Series, Stenhouse has a decidedly more impressive record, having won the last two championships and eight races in the process. In 58 Nationwide starts, Patrick has one top-five finish; last year she was 10th in the final standings.
“So far it’s been pretty obvious who’s faster than who whenever someone comes up behind the other,” said Patrick, who said the romance blossomed from a friendship and grew from there. “For the most part, it’s been him faster than me, I would say — of course.
“But the few times that it’s happened to me, he doesn’t put up a fight, and I don’t see that being any different. I don’t see us putting up a huge battle. But I’m guessing — I mean as we keep getting better over the years — we’re going to have to race each other harder, because they’re going to be for better spots. But, in general, it’s going to be like it always has been.”
There’s always the possibility, however, that Patrick and Stenhouse may inadvertently wreck each other. And if Stenhouse is the guilty party?
“He’d better have a really good, ‘I’m sorry,” Patrick quipped.
Reporters at Media Day gave Danica Patrick enough respite from questions about her romance with fellow Cup rookie Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to let her talk about her one-race Nationwide Series deal with Turner Scott Motorsports. Patrick will drive the No. 34 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet Camaro in the Feb. 23 DRIVE4COPD 300 at Daytona. As of now, that’s her only firm NNS commitment of the season…
Stenhouse had several of the day’s best one-liners. Responding to Cup champion Brad Keselowski’s contention that a Patrick-Stenhouse breakup would be more interesting than a Patrick-Stenhouse relationship, Stenhouse retorted, “Coming from a guy who never had a girlfriend? I don’t think so.”
In one respect, Stenhouse said, it doesn’t matter whether he or Patrick wins the Cup rookie-of-the-year title this year. “At least we both get to go to the banquet,” he said.