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Friday, January 25, 2013
Danica-Stenhouse romance revealed

By David Newton

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- So, the Danica Patrick-Ricky Stenhouse Jr. romance finally is out in the open.

DanicaHouse, as some call it.

GoRicky.com is catchy, too.

The relationship between the 30-year-old Nationwide Series most popular driver (Patrick) and the 25-year-old two-time defending Nationwide Series champion (Stenhouse) was verified Friday in an Associated Press story.

It has been on the radar for reporters covering the sport since this past season, well before Patrick filed for divorce on Jan. 3 and before she told the world on Facebook in November that she was ending her marriage of seven years.

Many of you have asked on Twitter why it wasn't reported before now. It's simple: This isn't the type of story you want to go with sources on, no matter how many drivers tell you it's true, because it deals with somebody's personal life.

Neither Patrick nor Stenhouse would confirm it until the pair likely realized that the inquiries weren't going away and that the situation could become a distraction to their first season in the Sprint Cup Series.

That they were photographed publicly at this past weekend's Professional Bull Riders event in Winston-Salem might have been a factor, too.

Is there news value in the story? Not much other than both are going for rookie of the year and Patrick is in the middle of a divorce in a marriage that, according to court documents, was "irretrievably broken and [has] no reasonable prospect of reconciliation.''

Otherwise, it's just another drama in a sport that has prospered around drama.

Whether it will hurt or help the image of either driver remains to be seen. Public opinion is fickle, to say the least.

By the way, although this might be the biggest driver-driver romance in the history of male-dominated NASCAR, it isn't the first. Elton Sawyer and Patty Moise were married in 1990 while competing together in what was known as the Busch Grand National Series.

Moise actually sold her team in 1990 and joined Sawyer as a teammate with Dilliard Racing in 1991.

In a 1995 article in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, they talked about how their relationship didn't affect the way they raced each other.

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"I used to race against my dad, and it's no different than racing against my husband," said Moise, then 34. "When I'm on the track, I concentrate so hard that I don't even think about it."

Sawyer agreed.

"We raced together for years before we were married, and it's never been a problem for us," he told the newspaper. "In fact, it's a positive. Because we understand the ups and downs of the business, and we're there for each other.

"But we're very competitive on the racetrack, once we get in the cars."

Sawyer said Moise was "the best thing that ever happened to me.''

"In any marriage, your spouse needs to be your best friend, and we are,'' he said. "I don't claim to be any type of marriage counselor, but it wouldn't work for me if we weren't best friends.

"We have fun being together and we work well together."

Patrick and Stenhouse have indicated the same when it comes to getting behind the wheel, that their relationship won't affect the way they race each other.

Maybe Stenhouse, who wears cowboy boots and a cowboy hat, and not country-loving Patrick crew chief Tony Gibson is the reason the former IndyCar darling now likes country music. Maybe he is why she now goes to events such as the PBR, which Stenhouse called her first rodeo.

Patrick's sponsor, GoDaddy.com, doesn't seem to mind the relationship. The public relations department sent me a note Thursday saying it doesn't comment on the personal lives of its employees.

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First thing Friday morning, the GoDaddy.com machine that loves being on the edge was publicizing Patrick's upcoming Super Bowl commercials.

Interesting timing, to say the least, but that's another story.

This definitely will spice up the Cup rookie of the year competition that media outlets already are pumping as the first real competition for that honor in years.

Stenhouse drives for Ford's Roush Fenway Racing. Patrick drives for Chevy's Stewart-Haas Racing.

Not since 2006, when Denny Hamlin won the award, have we had two high-profile drivers from top-tier teams battling it out.

Will the romance change the outcome? Likely not. Stenhouse, with eight Nationwide wins and two titles, has shown to be a far better driver. He should win the rookie battle going away against the driver who has no Nationwide wins and only one top-5 in 58 career starts.

"People always say you will wreck your mom to win a race,'' Stenhouse said Thursday after being noncommittal on whether he and Patrick were dating. "If you go out, you want every spot on the racetrack. I want to win rookie of the year just as bad as she does. My team wants to win. My sponsors want to win.

"So I'm going to go out and race everybody with the same respect. Just because you are racing somebody for a championship or rookie of the year, you're not going to go crash them on purpose. But I'm definitely going to race hard."

Stenhouse's biggest battle with Patrick will be the one of public opinion. On the surface, he appears to have the most to lose because he's the lesser of the two names on the public opinion meter.

If Stenhouse struggles on the track, some people will blame the relationship. It Patrick struggles … well, we've seen her struggle before and the endorsements keep coming.

DanicaHouse.

GoRicky.com.

There are sure to be one-liners about this one. Patrick tweeted this at 10 a.m. ET on Friday: "Thanks everyone for all your nice messages, and the bump drafting jokes are cracking me up! Let the fun begin.''

Yes, the romance finally is out in the open.