Driver says she's happy to talk about boyfriend Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at Media Day Fueled by Sunoco
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Reporters and cameramen started gathering around Danica Patrick’s position at NASCAR’s annual preseason Media Day fueled by Sunoco a full 45 minutes before the Sprint Cup Series’ rookie was scheduled to arrive.
Before she could even step into the spotlight, climb up into the director’s chair and turn the microphone on, it came.
“You been dating anybody lately?’’ a reporter immediately called out.
VIDEO: Danica Patrick interview
But Patrick, who recently confirmed her relationship with fellow NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ Rookie of the Year candidate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. just smiled, sat back and told the reporter, “Ok, let’s do it. Start.’’
And for the next 13 minutes of a 24-minute interview -- the first 15 questions -- Patrick happily and openly addressed inquiries about her love life, fittingly set on Valentine’s Day at Daytona International Speedway.
“Sure seems like that now,’’ Patrick said, conceding her relationship with Stenhouse has been the talk of the sport in recent weeks. “I haven’t gotten too many (questions about it). I’m happy to answer them. I’m happy to talk about it. It’s fine with me.’’
As for Stenhouse, she said with a smile, “It seems like he’s doing pretty well (with all the attention)."
“A little while back he was talking about not wanting people to look at him or stare at him and I was like, ‘You better get used to that, because there’s going to be a lot of people looking at you.’ He said, ‘No they’re not, they’re going to be looking at you.' And I said, ‘No they’re not, they’re going to be looking at you as well.' "
The biggest question seems to be how their relationship might affect their racing on the track -- something Patrick explained should be a non-issue. The two raced alongside one another in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, where Stenhouse has collected the last two championships.
In fact, their romance resulted from a strong friendship they developed while spending time alongside one another there, explained Patrick, who in January formally filed for divorce from her husband of seven years, Paul Hospenthal.
“I had a friend say, ‘I’m excited to see how you guys end up racing against each other when you’re out there,’ and that’s someone who’s not even into racing who’s curious to see how that will go,’’ said Patrick, who drives the No. 10 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing.
“As long as we’ve known each other we’ve been racing against each other. There are times out there on the track when you don’t even see each other, you’re not even near each other. But every time we have been (racing each other), it’s about respect and neither of us put up a big fight.
“So far it’s been pretty obvious who’s faster than who whenever someone comes up behind the other. For the most part it’s been him faster than me, but the few times 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 as we keep getting better over the year and over the years, you know, we’ll end having to race each other harder because they’re going to be for better spots. But in general, it’s going to be just like it always has been.’’
Patrick -- who said she will be cooking a Valentine’s Day dinner for Stenhouse -- also acknowledged that other drivers have had some fun with the situation.
Joey Logano said of the relationship, “Ray Charles saw that coming.” Five-time champ Jimmie Johnson said he hadn’t really given the subject much thought and that he can’t ever remember competing in a series where two competitors were dating.
“I was ready for a lot of questions today, but not that one,’’ Johnson joked. “People have had plenty of jokes about how humorous it could it be on the track but we will all be watching with great curiosity for sure."
“Anything’s possible,’’ Johnson said when asked about the possibility of the two crashing with one another.
“That would be one heck of a show. I’m sure ratings will go up for sure. Danica’s shown she can get quite upset at times, so there could be something going on."
“I haven’t thought about it all until just now. In some respects it’s just a relationship. It doesn’t hurt anything. It will keep people looking and watching curious as to what that dynamic on track is for sure.
“If it does (impact the way they race), it will impact their lifestyle, their job. We are paid to go on the race track and race. So if they’re handling things differently on the track because of their personal relationship, it’s going to impact their jobs and their owners aren’t going to be happy," he added.
Patrick joked that should Stenhouse wreck her, "He better have a really good, ‘I’m sorry.’" Then as the crowd started laughing, she nodded over to her public relations representatives, “I’ve got a feeling PR is sweating their butts off over there.’"
Patrick acknowledged the concerns even dropping a Romeo and Juliet reference regarding the longtime Ford driver Stenhouse and her driving a Chevrolet. “Sure, I think initially it was a little bit of a mental hurdle of like, we compete against each other,’’ Patrick said. “I said it’s like the Capulets and the Montagues with, like Chevy and Ford, and I’m like, this isn’t going to work.
“But you can’t tell your heart who to like or to not like, so in the end it ended up being something I didn’t think was a big deal at all.’’
After all the questions -- Patrick said she felt like she was on an episode of “The Bachelorette” -- she concluded her session with a reminder of what she’s really at Daytona International Speedway for.
Early Thursday, Turner Scott Motorsports announced it would be fielding a car for her in the Feb. 23 Nationwide Series season-opener. She’ll be making her second Daytona 500 start for Stewart-Haas the next day.
“It’s been a nice transition (from Nationwide to Sprint Cup) and it doesn’t scare me anymore,’’ Patrick said. “More than anything else, I’ve found something that I really really enjoy doing. I’ve said it before to people, but driving stock cars is really fun to me and the racing is really fun to me.
“While I get nervous, it’s something I really care a lot about and want to do really well, I just feel I have more excitement than I do nerves
“In IndyCar I was always nervous and always felt there was a lot of pressure. I felt like every lap was on the edge and racing was getting really dicey at the end and people were all over the place. I just felt nervous going into those. Now I just feel excited.’’