The relationship between Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will no doubt be a big focus as NASCAR moves through the 2013 season.
It's already drawn a lot of media attention, with the couple getting the name of "Stenica."
While the media attention is something NASCAR loves, will their relationship matter on the track?
Both drivers will be racing for not only a chance to make the Chase, but are also competing for the Rookie of the Year award in the Sprint Cup Series.
They both have a job to do as well, and will be trying to bring wins to their individual racing organizations.
And while the two rookie drivers say their relationship won't have an impact on the track, how can they really be so sure?
NASCAR has had other couples compete against each other before, specifically in 1990s with Elton Sawyer and Patty Moise in the Nationwide Series, and during the beginning of the sport in 1949, Frank and Sara Christian raced each other on the Daytona Beach Road Course.
Stenica, though, is something NASCAR hasn’t dealt with yet. Both drivers have a lot to prove during the 2013 year, and both are trying to make an impact in the Sprint Cup Series.
They have become a major focal point of the media, and even though the drivers claim their relationship won’t matter on the track, no one will really know until the season is underway.
Why It Doesn't Matter
If you don't know by now, NASCAR loves media attention. It loves having Danica and Ricky's relationship talked about on as many channels as possible. It brings more attention to the sport, and that’s always a good thing.
Outside the media attention, though, Danica and Ricky's relationship may not matter.
Both drivers already stated how their relationship won't affect them on the track, and for now, NASCAR fans will have to believe them.
Danica was quoted by Brant James of ESPN.com as saying:
I don't see us putting up a huge battle. But I'm guessing as we keep getting better over the year and over the years, you know, we'll end up having to race each other harder because they're going to be for better spots. But in general, it's going to be just like it always has been.
Stenhouse was also quoted by Brand James on the issue:
If somebody crashes her, it's not like I'm going to go crash somebody because of it. I'm out there to do my job.
Both drivers are clearly trying to get across how their relationship won’t matter on the track, and to a degree they are both right.
Both are involved in different racing organizations, and they will have a hard enough time adjusting to not only a full-time Sprint Cup schedule, but the new Gen-6 car as well.
Will Danica and Ricky battle for a first-place finish during a race this season? Probably not, and if they do, hopefully these two drivers will hold true to their word and treat each other like drivers instead of significant others.
Why It Does Matter
Even though Patrick and Stenhouse are trying to convince the media and NASCAR fans that their relationship won't matter on the track, it's still hard to believe them.
Danica was in her fair share of scuffles last season; so, will Stenhouse just sit back and let other drivers intentionally wreck his girlfriend?
He may say that he won't retaliate against another driver who tries to wreck her, but won’t Stenhouse be bothered by how someone purposefully wrecked her?
"Our policy at Roush Fenway Racing has always been to let our drivers address their own personal lives," said Steve Newmark, president of Roush-Fenway Racing over at USAToday.com.
What happens though, when a driver’s personal life is brought into NASCAR and on the track?
Even Sprint Cup Champion Brad Keselowski weighed in on the Stenica relationship on ESPN's Pardon The Interruption.
I think our fan base really enjoys the human interest side. So any relationship between drivers, whether it's good or bad, or dating, is going to be of interest. So it is a huge story without a doubt, but the real story will be if it goes wrong, what happens then.
The reason Danica and Ricky's relationship will matter on the track is how much is still unknown. There's no way of telling if these two will race each other like drivers, or if they will try to help each other during a race.
And what if their relationship does take a turn for the worse, like Keselowski stated? Will they bring their emotions with them on the track?
Hopefully the Patrick-Stenhouse relationship will only play a part in the media aspect of NASCAR. These two drivers tried to make it clear that their relationship will not matter on the track, and for now, NASCAR fans will need to trust them.
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