by Ryan Isley
As if being a rookie in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wasn’t tough enough, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Danica Patrick just added an unnecessary level of difficulty.
Just when it seemed like the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year race couldn’t get any more interesting, news came out that Danica and Stenhouse, Jr. – the top two rookies in 2013 – are now dating.
This cannot be what NASCAR wanted to see happen. This isn’t like a driver dating someone who works in another capacity within a team or a crew chief dating a female member of the family of a driver. This is two drivers who are racing in the same series on the same track dating each other. And that could cause problems.
While Brad Keselowski brought up concerns that Patrick and Stenhouse, Jr. might get an advantage in the new Gen-6 car because rookies get extra practice time and the two would be able to work together on drafting in preparation for the Daytona 500, that concern is near the bottom of my list. After all, the two of them could have helped each other in this capacity even if they were just friends, the same way any two drivers could.
There are issues that are more worrisome than that when it comes to two competitors in the same NASCAR series being involved in a romantic relationship.
For one, these two will probably at some point in the season be racing each other for a position on the track. How will they react to each other if there is some contact or rough racing to get that spot? I think we all know Stenhouse, Jr. would be able to handle it as part of racing, but we have already seen Danica’s temper when other drivers race her hard. Will she treat Stenhouse, Jr. the same as she has treated drivers such as Sam Hornish, Jr. or will she allow it because it is her boyfriend?
Another issue is that NASCAR will be watching every move that these two make on the track now, trying to decide if they are doing anything differently because of their relationship. Competing in the Sprint Cup Series is difficult enough – especially for rookies – so why would you bring that extra scrutiny on yourself?
It won’t just be NASCAR that is keeping a close eye in the new couple, however.
When a driver jumps from the Nationwide Series to the Sprint Cup Series, they need to gain the respect of the other drivers in the series. Some drivers probably don’t believe that Danica deserves to be in the Sprint Cup Series full-time and will treat her as such. They will want to test her temper to see if she has learned anything after a full season in Nationwide and 10 races in Sprint Cup in 2012.
As for Stenhouse, Jr., drivers will want the two-time defending Nationwide Series champion to prove himself at the next level. They know that he can handle a racecar and has shown that he can be successful in the lower series. What they will want to see is how he reacts when he gets on the track with some of the best drivers in the world.
While Stenhouse, Jr. is busy trying to prove himself to the Sprint Cup Series veterans, he will also have to be careful in how he handles situations that involve Danica. If – or should I say when – she causes a wreck, Stenhouse, Jr. cannot come to her defense when other drivers have something to say. If it is perceived that Stenhouse, Jr. is treating Danica differently, other drivers will instantly lose any respect for them that they currently have. And that also will work the same way if Stenhouse, Jr. causes a wreck – Danica won’t be able to run her mouth trying to defend him.
Then what happens if this relationship doesn’t work out? How nasty will it become between the two on the track if they happen to break up during the season? If you think that NASCAR will be watching them closely now, wait until that happens.
With all of the issues that could come up, there just doesn’t seem to be enough positives in this story to outweigh the negative possibilities. It would have been better if the two drivers would have just concentrated on their rookie seasons instead of a relationship.
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