So far, so good for Danica, Ricky
Danica Patrick had nearly completed a segment for a prerace interview in the motor coach lot at Darlington Raceway when a golf cart slowed behind the videographer and producer, country music blaring.
Focus broken, Patrick halted. Recording ceased.
She waved to boyfriend and fellow Sprint Cup rookie Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who was grinning in mischievous pleasure beneath a cowboy hat. She started anew as he stomped the accelerator and disappeared among the trucks and motor coaches.
Just another sublime moment in a sublime relationship that the participants have made seem strangely normal -- before and after they were involved in an accident together two weeks ago at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Differing lifestyles, levels of fame, and sometimes race cars, have collided, but so far, so good.
The rookie drivers sat down with espnW to discuss their relationship and life on and off the track. The liver mush might be the key.
espnW: How have you guys avoided what could have been an obvious distraction in both of your rookie seasons, with constant questions about your relationship?
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.: Things have been good. It really hasn't been that big of a deal for me. I joke around with her all the time that when we walk into the garage together, she gets swarmed and I get a straight shot to the trailer. She is running blocker on the entrance to the garages. Obviously, we get questions about it, but it's nothing that we're not used to. It's just interviews. When it comes down to it, it's no different than you asking me a racing question.
Danica Patrick: We both are just comfortable. We're used to both being in the public eye, so … I like talking about him and I think he likes talking about me, and it makes us smile. And for the most part, we do most everything together, so you can't tell a story without saying what the other person is thinking. And also, just doing interviews around racing, we have racing conversations, so sometimes it's, "Well, Ricky and I were just talking about this the other day.''
espnW: Do you guys talk shop?
RS: A little bit. Obviously, we don't sit and talk setups or things like that because we're on two different teams, but we'll talk about what the track did throughout practice, things like that. Past that, that's about it. We start talking about anything but racing after that.
espnW: Are there benefits having someone who can relate to your workday, talk through a problem or understand a frustration?
RS: We don't do much of that. But it is nice after practice, you have the rest of the day to sit and think about how your car is driving and what the track did, and we can sit and talk about it later. She can give me ideas what she felt the track did and I can kind of think out loud what I thought the track did, and then I'd think back to how our car would go and maybe it was the track that was making us too tight. Things like that are helpful.
espnW: It's been interesting to watch how Danica has not only assimilated into but embraced Southern life. It's like you're her cultural liaison now.
RS: It's funny. She didn't listen to country music hardly at all. And now, and I mess with her all the time, she talks about, like, Pearl Jam and stuff. I really don't like that music and I'm like, "I don't know why you even talk about it," because when she's riding down the road, if she has to choose to put the radio on, she puts country on. I was like, "See, the good stuff is here." She just wasn't introduced to the good stuff.
espnW: Liver mush, what's the deal there?
RS: You don't know what liver mush is? It's delicious. I don't even … I don't really even know what's in it. I have no idea.
I always tell people it's like a not-as-greasy sausage. So, my dad grew up in Huntersville [N.C.] and my grandma still lives here, and we grew up in Mississippi, and I remember from when I was a little kid my grandma used to always send it to us because around here is the only place you can get it, I think. I used to have it all the time for breakfast, and then when I moved out of the house to Indiana, after graduation, I didn't really get it very much. So then I got back over here to North Carolina and then our truck driver on the 6 when I ran Nationwide started cooking, and I kind of had totally forgot about it. And I was, "Dang, I missed this."
So I got [Danica] to start cooking it for me. She doesn't like the name of it. It's … I don't know why they put the name on it, but it's delicious. I had some this morning.
She eats egg whites in the morning, so she eats it with her egg whites.
DP: "Liver mush." It sounds repulsive. I don't know where it's from, but he loves liver mush. You just cut really thin slices of it and fry it in a pan. I tried a bite … Actually, pretty good. It's actually kind of smoky, like sausage but a little bit less fatty, more crumbly.
They should just call it lower-fat sausage. That would be better. Lite sausage. That would make me eat it easier.
The fitness-conscious Patrick has learned to meld her dietary routine with Southern fare and its availability amid the increased scheduling demands of a NASCAR career. That includes comfort food calorie factories such as Cracker Barrel, Denny's and Waffle House, which seemingly would have little to offer someone who eats tiny sandwiches between practices and tweets healthy side-dish recipes in her spare time.
espnW: Seriously, Cracker Barrel?
DP: It's great. I just order scrambled egg whites and I get their oatmeal with apple butter on the side, and I put the apple butter on the oatmeal to sweeten that up.
espnW: And they don't put gravy on it?
DP: No, it's delicious. Cracker Barrel is probably, outside my own kitchen, probably the most common breakfast I have.
espnW: That's a new thing?
DP: It's a NASCAR thing, because you're going to so many different places, you're testing so much more often, predominantly in the South and places you can drive to a lot of the time from Charlotte. Cracker Barrel is most common, or Denny's.
espnW: Are you an accomplished Southern cook yet?
DP: I feel like what Ricky eats is different now, because I cook the same sort of things and I eat the same thing for breakfast, although every now and again I throw in some bacon. I generally cook the same. He still says I need to get to work on trying some fried food. I'll try it. That's fine, but I'm not going to make a habit of it.
espnW: Still a wine connoisseur, or maybe a Shiner Bock?
DP: If I'm going to drink it, it's going to be nice, but I drink a lot less often now, I'd say, just in general.
espnW: So you're a golfer now?
DP: No, but I will be.
espnW: Didn't you beat Ricky at some golf game during Texas weekend?
DP: We played TopGolf. It wasn't about driving the ball very far, which is why I was able to win, but it was about hitting a ball into a net, so more of my balls rolled into the net than his. I'm going to get my first set of clubs here.
espnW: Are you the type who learns by immersing yourself in it or going slow, or some combination?
DP: I asked [Ricky], I said, "How long does it take to be able to hit the ball good each time, whatever?" I was like, "A few … lessons?" And he was laughing. He said, "I've been playing since high school." What he's saying is "years and years," so we played TopGolf and I won.
His friend Landon, he plays golf competitively. He's there sometimes for some tips, so he was in Texas doing that. Landon and I were joking around. I said, "Once I get clubs, are you afraid for how good I'm going to be?'' He was laughing and I said, "Don't worry, it'll probably take me at least three months to be really good.''
I was completely joking. I know it's going to take a long, long time. I struggled to even hit the ball. I feel like I can make contact better now.