Maybe I'm looking at this entirely the wrong way, but with the controversy that has arisen since Danica Patrick confirmed she's dating fellow Sprint Cup driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr., I have just one thing to say in response:
Or, better yet, why should we care?
I don't mean that in any form of derision. I'm actually glad that Danica has found happiness with someone, particularly in light of her filing for divorce earlier this month. She's already moved on from her first marriage, and far be it for any of us to criticize, point fingers or simply dis her and RSJ for having a relationship.
Ditto for Ricky, who has been so focused on his career the last few years, particularly winning the last two Nationwide Series Championships. He's earned the right to have some happiness in his personal life. So why would any of us begrudge him or her of that happiness?
Admittedly, the couple have generated numerous headlines, which can be expected to an extent given their public personalities and popularity, especially Danica as a spokesperson for her primary sponsor, GoDaddy.com. And I'm sure we'll likely see even more in the future, particularly when tabloid TV shows and supermarket rags get into the act.
But what I didn't expect when "Stenica" (the unofficial nickname for the new couple) went public about their relationship, was all the conspiracy theories that have come out of the woodwork. Some fans—and particularly media members—have tsked-tsked and fretted that because they're dating, Patrick and Stenhouse may not race each other as hard or might give each other a bit more room than they normally would; they might even give each other breaks on the racetrack or intentionally help one another when they would not do that with any other competitor.
So, in light of all that, let me pose a hypothetical question to you: What happens if by some fluke, Danica pushes Ricky–or as she likes to call him, "Richard"—to victory in next month's Daytona 500, or vice versa? Would that be bad for NASCAR, or would it potentially doom their budding relationship?
I mean, stranger things have happened. Who could have predicted rookie Trevor Bayne would win the Great American Race two years ago? Anything is possible at Daytona, and a Patrick-Stenhouse or Stenhouse-Patrick one-two finish could potentially happen.
Not likely, but still, you never know.
What also gets me about the whole hullabaloo that has arisen since Patrick and Stenhouse went public with their relationship is how some in the media—and some fans—have given the couple very little credit.
Do critics really think the two drivers didn't give a lot of thought to the possible ramifications of a potential public relationship and weigh the pros and cons before they got together? Of course they did. While there surely was physical attraction, both drivers also realized they're in a very high-profile business, and they must answer to lots of people in their respective lives, including team owners, teammates, their crew, car manufacturers and sponsors.
While most of those would likely not butt in or deprive the pair from trying to build a future together, there is a certain segment in the NASCAR world that considers what they're doing to be unprofessional. If you don't believe me, read some other writers' takes on Stenica or listen to talk radio, particularly SiriusXM NASCAR radio—the couple has been the topic of discussion virtually nonstop since Friday.
For liking each other? Come on, people, get real.
While this is the first time in recent history that a female and male driver—and competitors, at that—have dated in NASCAR, it's not the first time. Patty Moise and Elton Sawyer did so in the former Busch Series back in the 1980s and eventually got married. Their relationship status had zero impact upon their competitive level on the racetrack.
In NHRA drag racing, there have been a number of male-female competitors turned lovers, if not spouses. Shirley Muldowney had a long relationship with Connie Kalitta before it came to an end. Tommy Johnson Jr. and Melanie Troxel competed (albeit in different classes, he in Top Fuel, she in Funny Car) while married to each other (they have since divorced). Competing crew chiefs Tim Richards and Kim LaHaie also fell in love and eventually married.
We've seen a number of male-female relationships blossom in other sports, including tennis and golf, so what Patrick and Stenhouse are doing isn't exactly anything new in the overall sports world.
They're obviously smitten with each other and have a lot in common, starting with their love of racing and going fast. While they're still in the getting-to-know-one-another-better phase, they shouldn't have to answer to anyone, particularly the media, fans, fellow drivers or others who want to stick their nose where it doesn't belong—in someone else's business.
While they're famous race car drivers, deep down inside, they're just like you and me, regular human beings looking for friendship, companionship and love.
Instead of questioning their motives on the racetrack, critics and those questioning their relationship should let them be to live and love and enjoy their time together.
Put yourself in their shoes—wouldn't you want the same?
Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski.
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