She’s now ‘Ricky’s girl­friend’

Ricky Sten­house Jr. shakes free of the ‘Dan­ica Pa­trick boyfriend’ la­bel

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - GE­ORGE DIAZ

Ricky Sten­house Jr. is flour­ish­ing and fin­ish­ing fast these days. Dan­ica Pa­trick is floun­der­ing, stuck in back-pack­ers pur­ga­tory.

Theirs is a love story, NASCAR style, about two driv­ers who met on the job and de­cided to mix the pro­fes­sional and per­sonal side of things.

“I have a boyfriend; his name is Richard,” Pa­trick said dur­ing an in­ter­view with the As­so­ci­ated Press in Fe­bru­ary 2013 when they went pub­lic with the ro­mance.

The per­sonal side of things has gone splen­didly. The pro­fes­sional side is a bit bumpy.

Sten­house made a last-lap pass in over­time Sun­day at Tal­ladega to put the squeeze on Kyle Busch and win for the first time in 158 career Cup starts.

Pa­trick was in­volved in the usual Tal­ladega mumbo-jumbo with 19 laps to go, a mas­sive Big One that took out 18 cars. Pa­trick slammed hard into an in­side wall, though the in­ci­dent was no fault of her own.

Still, it was lit­er­ally another crush­ing blow dur­ing a sea­son of hard knocks. Pa­trick dropped two spots in the Mon­ster En­ergy NASCAR Cup stand­ings from 29th to 31st. She hasn’t been any­where near the front in 10 races, a re­sume that in­cludes the dreaded “DNF” (did not fin­ish) four times.

Over­all, Pa­trick has not won in 164 Cup starts over six years and is falling way short of the stan­dard she set for her Ste­wart-Haas Rac­ing team at the start of the sea­son — to shoot for top 15 fin­ishes.

“It’s im­por­tant to be re­al­is­tic, so to tell you to go out and win races and seg­ments is not some­thing I nec­es­sar­ily think is go­ing to hap­pen right away, but we’ll as­sess,” Pa­trick said in Fe­bru­ary. “We’ll as­sess how strong we are as a team.”

Mean­while, Sten­house is 12th in the stand­ings, play­off ready, and look­ing solid. And whether the la­bel is fair or not, the “Dan­ica’s boyfriend” per­cep­tion is no more.

“It doesn’t mat­ter to me,” he said Sun­day. “We’ve got a great re­la­tion­ship, just like any­body else does, and both of our main fo­cus is to go out and run well and win races and do what we have to do to do that.

“She un­der­stands that I’m go­ing to go to the shop a lot, and to have that sup­port and her know­ing where I’m com­ing from is great to have. I don’t mind be­ing known as her boyfriend. She doesn’t mind be­ing known as my girl­friend. Ei­ther way, it goes ei­ther way, and we couldn’t be in a bet­ter place right now.”

They have man­aged to mix work and plea­sure. They have equal cus­tody of two dogs. Come week­ends, they spend their time to­gether in a mo­torhome, dogs in tow.

If Ricky’s girl­friend can get up to speed, this could be the start of some­thing big.

CHRIS GRAYTHEN, GETTY IMAGES

Ricky Sten­house Jr. kisses his girl­friend, Dan­ica Pa­trick, in Vic­tory Lane af­ter win­ning the Mon­ster En­ergy NASCAR Cup Se­ries GE­ICO 500 at Tal­ladega Su­per­speed­way on May 7.

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