LONG POND, Pa. (AP) — Danica Patrick left the first racing rough patch with boyfriend Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on the track.
At home, the relationship is still smooth sailing.
Patrick and Stenhouse escaped for some relaxation on a boat after their first dust-up on the track since the NASCAR rookies announced in January they were dating. NASCAR’s power couple rubbed each other the wrong way during Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 after Stenhouse drove his car into the side of Patrick’s car and effectively ended her race.
There was no escaping the relationship doghouse for Stenhouse — the two shared a ride home.
“You don’t not talk about it because you’re riding home together,” Patrick said Wednesday. “There’s a few silent moments for sure, many moments. I was upset. I wasn’t necessarily strictly just upset at him. He was there three wide as part of the issue.”
Patrick was racing in the middle of the three-wide pack when she was hit by Stenhouse and collided with Brad Keselowski. Patrick’s No. 10 Chevrolet suffered serious damage and she finished 29th, her sixth straight result of 25th or worse in her first full season in Sprint Cup.
“I’ve always given him a lot of room and he’s done the same for me,” Patrick said. “It was just one of those situations where we’re on a restart and we’re all trying to dig for what we can.”
Unlike her dinged-up car, the two were quickly on the mend.
“We’ll be fine. We’re fine,” she said. “We had a lovely day on the boat, on the lake, got a sun tan.”
Sounds like fun. At least, more fun than a weekend at the track, where Patrick is off to a rocky start as a Cup regular. She swept the sport and herself into the national spotlight when she won the pole for the season-opening Daytona 500 and finished a solid eighth. But Patrick finished 39th the following race in Phoenix and has no finished no better than 12th in any race outside of Daytona.
Patrick, 30th in the points standings, is not the only member of Stewart-Haas Racing in a slump. Ryan Newman is 16th and Tony Stewart 20th, one reason why SHR came to test Wednesday at Pocono Raceway. Richard Childress Racing drivers Jeff Burton, Paul Menard and Kevin Harvick, who won at Charlotte Motor Speedway, also tested at Pocono.
Newman finished sixth Sunday, Stewart was seventh and Patrick was pleased with her run before the crash, making it a solid night for the team.
“It doesn’t make you feel like it’s turned around,” Stewart said. “It’s a step in the process. I don’t know you can say just one weekend automatically turns a season around. That’s why we’re here today. We have a lot of work to do. It’s a sign of progress.”
Patrick said testing was useful because the 2½-mile triangle track was the last one she hadn’t raced on since making the shift from IndyCar to NASCAR. The series runs this weekend at Dover International Speedway before heading to Pocono next weekend. There’s a second Cup race Aug. 4.
Patrick has a long way to go before she’s truly comfortable at Pocono — or just about any other track on the circuit, for now. Patrick has a pair of tracks on the horizon that have been kind to her when she hits Daytona and Indianapolis Motor Speedway in July. Patrick scored six top-10 finishes, including third place in 2009, in seven Indianapolis 500s. Yes, it’s a different series, but a comfortable track could lead to a more confident Patrick.
Not that she’s showing any nerves in the garage.
“We haven’t had to do a lot of coaching with her,” Stewart said. “Her input is as good as ours right out of the box. That’s the one thing we noticed the first weekend we took her (testing) last year. Her feedback is so strong.”
It was needed at Pocono. Newman credited a recent test at Dover for the solid outing at Charlotte. Perhaps Charlotte and the Pocono test can help fix all that ails SHR.
“There’s a lot of things to be really excited about,” Stewart said. “I hope four weeks from now, we can come back here and say, ‘Yes, we have the answers.’”