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Rookie battle not topic in Patrick/Stenhouse romance

The SportsXchange

By Reid Spencer

NASCAR Wire Service

Distributed by The Sports Xchange

HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Apparently, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. already has learned the most important lesson for a successful relationship: Do not 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 were not 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."

MAN WITH A PLAN

Polesitter Matt Kenseth paced Saturday's first NASCAR Sprint Cup practice session at Homestead.

Jimmie Johnson, the driver Kenseth is chasing in the championship battle, was 15th. Johnson must finish 23rd or better in Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400 to lock up the title, if Kenseth wins the race.

But Johnson did not appear particularly perturbed at trailing Kenseth's fastest lap by nearly half a second (.479 seconds, to be precise).

"Oh, we were just working on comfort," Johnson said matter-of-factly. "And, you know, it's different conditions now than what we'll have during race time. So we're being smart about our changes. We were here and tested, and we tested at the end of the night when the race will finish.

"So I was just out there running around on old tires, trying to get a little comfort in the car, and we're making it more comfortable for the hotter conditions, and we'll see how that transfers to our later practice session. And then we'll make some smart decisions tonight going into (Sunday's) race."

Though there were 13 cars between Kenseth and Johnson in terms of top speed, the drivers were much closer when it came to 10-lap averages. Kenseth was fourth fastest in that category. Johnson was sixth.

True to his word, Johnson got the No. 48 Chevrolet dialed in during Saturday's second practice session. Yes, Kenseth again was quickest during the final practice session at 171.980 mph, but Johnson was right behind him in second place at 171.647 mph.

NEW YOUNG GUN

Never heard of Tyler Reddick? You will.

The Corning, Calif., racing prodigy, is the new driver of Brad Keselowski's No. 19 Ford in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

On Saturday morning, Keselowski announced Reddick, who turns 18 on Jan. 11, will compete in at least 15 NCWTS races next year and run the full series schedule for BKR in 2015. The BBR Music group, which has supported Reddick throughout his career, will serve as primary sponsor for four races in 2014 and as an associate sponsor for the balance of Reddick's events.

Country music superstar Jason Aldean is the best-known performer on the BBR label.

Reddick, nicknamed the "California Kid," won his NASCAR K&N Pro Series East debut at Rockingham (N.C.) Speedway in November 2012. He finished 19th in his only other K&N start, at Bristol in March.

"Tyler caught my eye at the Rockingham race," Keselowski said. "I continued to follow his progress, and he definitely made a positive impression on me and our competition staff at BKR. We look forward to helping develop Tyler into a championship-caliber driver and ultimately seeing him progress within NASCAR."
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