HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Apparently, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. already has learned the most important lesson for a successful relationship: don’t bring up a potentially contentious subject.
Perhaps that’s why Stenhouse and girlfriend Danica Patrick seldom mention their battle for Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Entering Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Stenhouse held an insurmountable lead over Patrick in the rookie standings, and with good reason. Stenhouse came to full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup racing after back-to-back NASCAR Nationwide Series championships. Patrick is still struggling with the transition from IndyCars to stock cars.
Certainly, there were highlights for the most recognizable female driver on the planet, from the Daytona 500 pole to a strong 12th-place run at Martinsville in April. But there weren’t enough highlights to keep her competitive with Stenhouse over the course of the season.
“No, I think there was a certain level of sensitivity to it,” Patrick said Saturday when asked if there had been any good-natured ribbing from her boyfriend. “It was for sure a longshot for me. I mean, it was going to need to be a really good rookie season.
“There were some really good things that happened. Daytona was a great way to start. Then it went to Martinsville; that was a great run. We just didn’t really get a lot better� He just came off two Nationwide championships. That was going to be tough to compete with, no matter who you are.”
What Patrick and Stenhouse did discuss was the business at hand, as both progressed through their rookie seasons, Patrick in the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet, Stenhouse in the No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford.
“We talked a lot more about the cars,” Patrick said. “We talked a lot more about the team. We talked more about purely what happened that day. He spent a lot of time trying to cheer me up after I was so disappointed after qualifying or after a race sometimes.”
That sort of empathy was crucial.
“I get frustrated, and I know what I can do and want to do,” Patrick said. “When it doesn’t happen, I do get upset. He was good moral support.”