This past Sunday’s late-race clash between lovebirds Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at Chicagoland Speedway raised more than a few eyebrows – with good reason.
After it, all it’s not every day that two romantically involved people who share living quarters bump into one another on a racetrack at blazing speeds.
Immediately after the wreck, which triggered the race’s final caution with 10 laps to go, Patrick was queried about what happened over her in-car radio.
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Clearly perturbed, she responded: "You tell me! I heard 14 (her team owner, Tony Stewart) inside and then the 17 (Stenhouse) hit me."
Afterward, both Patrick and Stenhouse refused to point fingers at each other.
"I heard my spotter (Brandon Benesch) say that the 14 (Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Tony Stewart) was below me on track and I didn’t know the 17 (Stenhouse) was there on the high side of the track," Patrick said in a post-race team release.
"My spotter took the blame on that one. I just didn’t know Ricky was up there and I obviously don’t want to hit his car or anyone else with 10 laps to go. I talked with Ricky afterward and we’re fine."
Stenhouse, meanwhile, didn’t even address the incident with his girlfriend, in post-race comments distributed by his team.
"We definitely didn’t get the finish we deserved," he said. "Our Ford Ecoboost Ford was really good on the long runs early in the race but something felt like it broke and we got really tight all of the sudden. I am really proud of my guys and all of their hard work keeping us on the lead lap. We are making gains on our program."
If you take Patrick and Stenhouse at their word (neither has mentioned their Chicagoland wreck on Twitter) all is still well with NASCAR’s premier power couple.
Perhaps that’s because they’re getting used to this by now.
Since Patrick and Stenhouse became Sprint Cup rookies in 2013 – which, ironically, happened not long after they began dating – the two have tangled multiple times on the track.
Following an incident in the 2013 Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte, the two sweethearts later acknowledged that it took them some time to completely move beyond it.
A couple months later, at New Hampshire, Patrick apologized for triggering a wreck that collected her main squeeze.
Then, earlier this year, the couple collided in a multi-car wreck during the Sprint Unlimited exhibition race at Daytona, where Patrick was on her way to driving by unscathed before being clipped by Ricky and suffering heavy damage to her green GoDaddy car.
So Sunday’s situation in Chi-Town marks the fourth time in roughly 16 months the two have had encounters on the track.
While all appears to be OK on the home front for now, can the peaches and cream possibly continue if they continue taking each other out of races with semi-regularity?
Don’t count on it. Then again, Patrick and Stenhouse – at least so far – seem to know how to separate their romance from their racing.