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All eyes at Daytona are on Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

- jutter@charlotteobserver.com
Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013

It was the Daytona 500 Media Day that wasn’t.

Instead it became a poorly scripted racing version of “The Bachelorette.”

One was hard-pressed to hear the rest of the NASCAR drivers Thursday at the Daytona 500 Club actually talk about the 2013 Daytona 500 – or racing in general – because few members of the 300 or so media in attendance cared to ask.

All eyes – and nearly all questions – were on the budding romance between Sprint Cup Series drivers Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

And it wasn’t just the two Cup rookies who faced intense scrutiny.

It became clear early in the day that the rest of the drivers were growing weary of being asked about the couple as well.

Five-time series champion Jimmie Johnson was the first out of the box Thursday, and five of the first six questions posed to him related to the relationship between Stenhouse and Patrick, the latter of whom filed for divorce last month.

“I mean in some respects it’s just a relationship – clearly there is more to it. I mean, I have no clue. It doesn’t hurt anything,” Johnson said.

“It will keep people looking and watching, curious as to what that dynamic is on the track I’m sure.”

Joey Logano was asked if anyone in NASCAR could have envisioned Patrick and Stenhouse together. His quick-witted response: “Ray Charles could have seen that coming.”

The largest crowd of media gathered for Patrick. Before she had even settled in her chair, a reporter from ESPN quipped, “You been dating anybody lately?”

It was all downhill from there.

Patrick, for her part, didn’t seem perturbed with the line of questioning, which ranged from whether she was surprised by the attention the relationship was receiving, if there was a first date, her plans for Valentine’s Day or whether her sponsors were concerned.

Most questions focused on how the couple’s relationship might affect their racing on the track. Patrick was adamant it would not.

“As long as we’ve known each other we’ve been racing against each other,” she said. “There are times out there on the track when you don’t even see each other; you’re not even near each other.”

“But every time we have been (racing each other), it’s about respect, and neither of us put up a big fight.”

Patrick did offer a warning should Stenhouse wreck her. “He better have a really good ‘I’m sorry,’” she said.

Stenhouse was just as forthcoming in Thursday’s afternoon session, although he seemed a little taken aback by the media turnout.

At one point a NASCAR official announced driver Kasey Kahne was available, and Stenhouse jokingly reminded the group to see if anyone wanted to leave.

“I think that people question whether (the media) should report on it or not,” Stenhouse said. “Obviously it is a big story. It isn’t my most important story. I am here to race but it is something that you are going to have to deal with and just move on.

“I think once the season gets going and we can talk about how great this (new) car is going to be and how great the racing is going to be, hopefully it can take a back seat and we can focus on our racing.”

There were few takers on that topic.

Before Stenhouse was finished, he also was asked whether he and Patrick used any nicknames, whether they would use one motorcoach or two and what attracted them to each other.

The latter drew this response from Stenhouse: “Is that a question, really?”

Sure was. And there were many, many more.

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