x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Fast could turn into furious between Nascar drivers Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr

The rookies are in love with each other, which could lead to complications as they are also competitors.

Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr are both eligible for the Rookie of the Year Award in Nascar's top series, Sprint Cup, this year and given how competitive it can get between drivers, jealousy could well set in, writes our columnist.
Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr are both eligible for the Rookie of the Year Award in Nascar's top series, Sprint Cup, this year and given how competitive it can get between drivers, jealousy could well set in, writes our columnist.

Love, as they say, makes the world go 'round.

But when drivers on North America's Nascar circuit go 'round and 'round, there is no love lost. While some belong to the same ownership team and friendships develop, it is mostly every man for himself in between the green and checkered flags.

Or, with Danica Patrick, every woman for herself.

You might know Patrick from the IndyCar Series. Amid much fanfare and after not much fortune, she traded in her sleek, open-topped vehicle for the stockier, enclosed Nascar version.

No gender barriers were broken with the switch, Nascar having long before provided his-and-her facilities. What Patrick did was introduce glamour heretofore unseen in the testosterone-drenched sport. She has long appeared in racy advertisements and fashion shoots.

Patrick's Nascar handlers chose to bring her along gradually, as the modest record indicates. Her career has yet to shift out of second gear, and any news generated has had little to do with last-lap showdowns.

The off-season was sailing along quietly until it was shattered with a startling disclosure. Patrick was both the subject and the source.

She confirmed a romantic relationship with Ricky Stenhouse Jr, who happens to be a fellow driver. That makes Ms Patrick and Mr Stenhouse an anomaly: a couple tasked with setting aside matters of the heart to try to beat each other in competition.

I never thought I would feel sorry for Patrick, who owes much of her wealth and fame to looks and crafty marketing. But she is cruising for a bruising from Nascar Nation, much of whom already resents her for drawing an out-sized portion of publicity in relation to her limited achievements.

Hate on Patrick, if you must, but keep in mind that two are required to tango. Nor is it relevant that Patrick's revelation followed close on the heels of a divorce to her long-time husband. Or that Patrick is five years older than her beau.

Still, when drivers have been known to wreck each other at speeds of over 300kph and to settle disputes with their fists, is it fair to ask whether each should have taken up with a tyre-changer instead of each other to avoid the appearance - or reality - of collusion?

I can see - and hear - it now, when the lovebirds sit down to a candlelight dinner after blowing through 500 heated kilometres at the speedway.

"I thought I was going to win until someone rammed my rear bumper, sending me into the wall on turn three and totalling my car. Honey, that wasn't you, was it?"

"Uh, no, darling. You know how the setting sun affects your eyesight. Must have been Dale Earnhardt Jr. I could have sworn, though, it was you who cut in front of me on pit row, forcing me to flip over while dodging several crew members before I landed upside-down with several minor injuries and out of contention for the points championship. Was it, my precious?"

"Well, uh, of course not, sweetie-pie. What might have looked like the No 6 car in your mirror actually was No 8. Or the 88."

"Earnhardt."

Any couples counsellor can attest that tensions can bubble up with companions in the same profession, especially if their degrees of success differ. Stenhouse is regarded as a rising star, while Patrick crashed out of half of her 10 races on Nascar's premier level last season.

Jealousy is one of many emotions that must be left in the garage. Stenhouse and Patrick, both of whom are eligible for the 2013 Rookie of the Year Award, should receive some sort of trophy if they slog through the season without incident and remain an item at the end of it.

Reaction among Nascar drivers has been muted as practice commences today for the Daytona 500, the season's first and grandest race, on February 21.

From the IndyCar camp, defending champion Ryan Hunter-Reay opined that there is nothing to worry about as long as they do not exchange "I do's" before one can say, "Oh, no you don't" to the other who is trying to pass.

"If you are boyfriend-girlfriend, there's not even a variable out there," Hunter-Reay said. "If you're married, there might be some consequence [to aggressive driving] when you come home."

Then again, maybe there is no need to apologise if one ruins the other's day with an intentional tap on the backside.

Love, as they also say, is never having to say you are sorry.

 

sports@thenational.ae

 

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