Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Getty Images)
Big news from the social segment of the world of NASCAR: Danica Patrick is dating fellow 2013 rookie of the year candidate Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Patrick, recently divorced and one of the most famous faces in racing, and Stenhouse, the two-time reigning Nationwide Series champion, are both making their full-time Sprint Cup series debut this season. Patrick races for Stewart-Haas Racing, while Stenhouse runs for Roush-Fenway Racing.
Stenhouse had served as something of a mentor to Patrick during her 2012 season. Speculation had swirled about the couple throughout this past week's NASCAR Media Tour in Charlotte. On Friday, Patrick confirmed to the AP that, indeed, the rumors were true.
''I have a boyfriend, his name is Richard," Patrick said. ''I think I am just finally excited to tell someone about this."
The reason for keeping the story quiet until now, Patrick said, was to keep the focus on racing during the Media Tour. '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 about the rumors),'' 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 the news of the day to be about racing and not let anything interfere with that. So, it's Friday now, so that's why we waited until the end of the week to be up front about each other."
Stenhouse independently confirmed the relationship to the AP, echoing Patrick's statement that the couple did not wish to distract from the week. Both drivers said that simply getting the news out in public will hopefully cut down on some of the speculation that surrounds every high-profile driver.
Sanctimony about the non-newsworthiness of the Patrick-Stenhouse revelations ran high among some segments of the NASCAR media, fresh off the weeklong, virtually news-free trinkets-and-free-meals "media tour." But the truth is that this is the most newsworthy celebrity-dating news in some time. These two are on-track competitors, which — to our recollection — is the first time that two major on-field competitors in any sport are in a romantic relationship.
Could make for some interesting moments should one of the two happen to wreck the other, yes? Also, bear in mind that drivers can, in many situations, have a significant impact on the outcome of the race to benefit other drivers. Both Patrick and Stenhouse can look forward to an entire year of intense scrutiny, both on and off the track.
-Follow Jay Busbee on Twitter at @jaybusbee.-
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