NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year rivals announce relationship
Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who will compete against each other full time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this season, are dating off track, according to an Associated Press report.
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"We are dating, and I know there's been a bit of a runaround this week at the media days and poor Ricky got grilled (with questions)," Patrick told the AP. "It was out of respect to NASCAR, to all the manufacturers, the new cars, the teams, the sponsors, just to allow all the news of the day to be about racing and not let anything interfere with that."
Patrick also acknowledged the relationship on Friday via Twitter, retweeting the AP story and telling fans, "Thanks everyone for all of your nice messages."
Earlier this month, Patrick filed for divorce from husband Paul Hospenthal after seven years of marriage. She announced the split via Facebook on Nov. 20.
In Friday's report, Stenhouse tells the AP, "Yes, we are dating." At Thursday's Roush Fenway Racing stop on the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Charlotte Motor Speedway, Stenhouse said of Patrick, "We’ve got a great relationship. Obviously that started when she first came into the sport. We were both going to rookie meetings. It’s been cool to work with her in the Nationwide Series. I felt she could come to me for advice with the experience that I've had."
Stenhouse won his second consecutive NASCAR Nationwide Series championship last year while Patrick finished 10th in the series, becoming the first woman to finish among the overall top 10 in a NASCAR national series.
In 2013, the two drivers will compete for Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors in the Sprint Cup Series. On Thursday, Stenhouse acknowledged and welcomed the friendly competition.
"Obviously, our friendship is great," Stenhouse said. "Who knows what it'll be like when it's coming down to the wire? It's going to be a lot of fun. We're ready to go out there and win it, and that's our plan."
At Stewart Haas Racing on Monday, Patrick said of Stenhouse and their rookie rivalry, "Both of us are running for rookie of the year, and I'm sure we both want that."
Last year, Patrick and Stenhouse raced against each other twice in NASCAR's top series. Stenhouse finished 20th to Patrick's 38th-place result in the season-opening Daytona 500. Last September at Dover, Stenhouse finished 12th while Patrick was 28th.
Stenhouse has five career Sprint Cup starts with a best finish of 11th at Charlotte in his debut in May of 2011. Patrick's best series finish in 10 starts is 17th at Phoenix last November.