Although Stenhouse himself confirmed to the AP
on Friday that "Yes, we are dating," the 25-year-old has otherwise refrained from commenting. When he'd been pressed for details by reporters the previous day at the Roush Fenway media session after rumours had spiked following press sightings of the two of them (together with a group of friends) attending a Professional Bull Riders event last weekend, he'd kept it as light and vague as possible.
"We've got a great relationship," Stenhouse had said on Thursday. "Obviously that started when she first came into the sport. We were both going to rookie meetings. It's been cool to work with her in the Nationwide Series. I felt she could come to me for advice with the experience that I've had." In turn, Patrick was able to use her media savvy to persuade the Mississippi-born Stenhouse to finally get a decent haircut and drop the rather embarrassing mullet he'd been sporting up till then.
But now the two are officially an 'item', does it throw up any larger issues for them competing against each other in this year's Sprint Cup battle where both are running their maiden full-season campaigns in the championship, and will be fighting head to head for the rookie of the year title? Moreover, they won't even be team mates on track: Patrick is racing for Stewart-Haas while Stenhouse is moving into Matt Kenseth's old seat in the #17 for Roush Fenway. So what happens when they have to choose between each other and their official team mates? Will either one of them pull their punches where the other is concerned? Will it blunt their competitive edge and prove a distraction?
"I don't think their competitive decisions are going to be challenged very much by their off-track relationship," said fellow driver Landon Cassill, who has raced both Patrick and Stenhouse in the last year He pointed out that it was no different from having other family members (like the Dillon, Busch and Wallace brothers) competing in the same race for different teams.
"There won't be many laps go by that he won't be thinking, 'Where's Danica?'", Rusty Wallace told ESPN SportsCenter
about his own experiences racing family in NASCAR. "Found myself looking at them all the time. I definitely had emotions racing against my brothers."
"Ricky might choose Danica over me in a drafting situation, but that's fine," Cassill told USA Today
, adding that the Wild West sensibility of doing 'anything to win' was actually one of the most appealing aspects of the sport. "If drafting at Daytona
with your girlfriend is what it takes to win, there will not be an asterisk next to the trophy," he pointed out.
For her part, Patrick said that once they hit the track it would be business as usual, pointing out that they'd raced against each other for two years with no problems and that they had always got along.
"We've always had a lot of respect for each other on the track, there's never been an issue out there," she insisted. "I always say I'll race people how they race me until they do something to make me change my mind. I don't anticipate that changing at all, or us having any issues on the track."
As far as Roush Fenway is concerned, all this is none of the team's business as long as the drivers get on and do their job: "Our policy at Roush Fenway Racing has always been to let our drivers address their own personal lives," said RFR president Steve Newmark. "We recognise that they have lives beyond the track, and we wish them the best in any of their personal relationships, but don't feel that it is our role as a race team to discuss those relationships."
You could almost hear the team sprinting as fast and as far away from the story as they could get, and the same sense of hasty decorum was evident from the official NASCAR
reaction to the news as well.