- Danica Patrick has found love on the track, revealing that she is dating fellow driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
- "The bump drafting jokes are cracking me up!" Patrick tweeted on Friday. "Let the fun begin."
- Stenhouse is the replacement for Matt Kenseth in the No. 17 Roush Racing Ford.
CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — Danica Patrick, one of the most high-profile drivers in recent auto racing history, has found love on the track, revealing that she is dating fellow driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Not that fans needed any extra reasons to talk about Patrick, one of the most visible and most controversial drivers.
But this will be particularly provocative, given that she and Stenhouse are both rookies in the Sprint Cup Series, the most popular form of American motorsport, this year.
"I have a boyfriend. His name is Richard," Patrick told the Associated Press Friday, confirming rumors that were rampant during last week's NASCAR Media Tour in Charlotte.
She later tweeted: "Thanks everyone for all of your nice messages, and the bump drafting jokes are cracking me up! Let the fun begin."
NASCAR, seeking to boost fan interest and television ratings that have slipped in recent years, embraced the news.
"Whether it's Danica Patrick or Dale [Earnhardt] Jr., or Ricky Stenhouse, we know that stars bring attention to this sport and so do our cars," spokesman David Higdon told The New York Times. "We'll do what we can to make sure our fans follow along."
The soap opera will even have a manufacturer angle, with Stenhouse racing Fords in place of two-time Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth in the Roush Racing stable and Patrick in Chevrolets fielded by three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart's Stewart-Haas Racing.
The 30-year-old Patrick (Stenhouse is 25) burst upon the auto racing scene in 2005, when she became the first woman driver to lead the Indianapolis 500. She finished 4th in that race and catapulted into prominence among American racing figures.
In seven years racing full-time on the Izod IndyCar Series circuit, though, she struggled to finally score a victory — another first for her gender — in 2008 at Motegi, Japan and adulation gradually became more and more tinged with criticism and comparisons to tennis celebrity Anna Kournikova, whose on-court success never measured up to her sex-appeal-driven popularity.
Patrick left IndyCar racing to move full-time to NASCAR last season, running a full schedule on the second-tier Nationwide Series — where Stenhouse is two-time champion — and making a limited number of starts in the Cup Series. Before that, while continuing to compete in IndyCar, she made several starts in the Nationwide Series and in other lower-echelon stock car divisions such as the ARCA Series.
She has three top-10 finishes and one pole position in Nationwide competition. Her best finish in 10 races last year was 17th at Phoenix.
Earlier this month, Patrick filed for divorce from her husband Paul Hospenthal, according to media reports.
Edmunds says: Many racing purists will be highly offended by the sideshow. It would be nice if the two could race at the front of the pack and give some competitive validity to their romance, but realistic odds are against that.