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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - It's somehow appropriate, if more than a little ridiculous, that on Valentine's Day, the trending topic at NASCAR's 2013 Media Day is the flowering romance between Sprint Cup competitors Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Heard about it yet?
Yes, NASCAR will be running a completely new car this season. Yes, drivers will be running for different teams. Yes, there's a new champion. Yes, there's optimism that comes from being just days away from the season's beginning. But, just like in high school, the biggest topic of the day is the homecoming queen and her date.
Not that this is necessarily a bad thing. Patrick draws attention wherever she goes, and she's already becoming a master at using that attention to her own ends. She talked for 30 minutes, far longer than any other driver, and fielded virtually every imaginable question about her relationship with style and humor.
"We've been friends for a long time. I've always gotten along with him," she said. "It was just talking a little more often, and then spending more time together, and it just goes on from there ... There was a point when I said to him, are you going to ask me on a date?"
Say what you will about Patrick, she understands the game. She said she and Stenhouse laughed about the "bump-drafting" jokes, and surely sent a few pulses aflutter when she talked about the logistics of the relationship: "Well, like ... which bus do you sleep in?"
Yeah, Dale Earnhardt never had to deal with that question, did he?
And the questions weren't confined to Patrick. No, almost every driver fielded a "have you ever seen anything like this?" inquiry. ("Sry in advance to all the drivers today about the questions," Stenhouse tweeted early Thursday morning.) As would be expected, the drivers handled the questions with reasonable grace, and to their credit none of them visibly rolled their eyes when it was their turn to take on The Stenica Question.
"Them being together isn't that big a story," Brad Keselowski said. "But if they were to break up, that'd be really interesting." (He added that he wished the best for the happy couple.)
"If it started to affect their on-track performance, I think their sponsors and their team owners would have something to say about that," said Jimmie Johnson.
"Call E! Entertainment News," Casey Mears said, shaking his head. "I mean, this is racing. Let's talk about racing."
Perhaps this is an indictment of the sports media; seeing legendary NASCAR reporters asking questions about a driver's dating history and the moment that sparks flew is unsettling, to say the least. And perhaps it's an indictment of our celebrity-driven culture and what readers want; there's a reason the media doesn't publish articles about other drivers' romantic dalliances.
Line of the day so far, though, went to Joey Logano. When asked if he was surprised about the budding relationship between his competitors, he said, no, "Ray Charles could have seen that one coming."
-Follow Jay Busbee on Twitter at @jaybusbee.-
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