Updated at: 01/25/2013 6:37 PM
By MARK LONG
(AP) DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Danica Patrick’s now-public personal life was a popular topic at Daytona International Speedway on Friday.
And there were varying opinions on how much attention, if any, Patrick’s admission should get.
Patrick told The Associated Press she and fellow NASCAR driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. are a couple, ending widespread speculation about the nature of their relationship. Patrick and Stenhouse waited until the end of a weeklong media tour to confirm they are dating.
Reaction ranged from well wishes to "oh, well." The news also prompted plenty of jokes in the garage and in the grandstands.
"Who gets the (track) position getting into the corner?" NASCAR driver Clint Bowyer wanted to know. "`You go. No, you go. No, no, you go.’ Who gets that position? There’s a lot of give and take in a relationship."
Patrick and Stenhouse, both racing for Rookie of the Year honors in the Sprint Cup Series, insist their relationship will not affect how they drive or treat each other on the track.
That could be easier said than done.
"I think you’re going to have to wait about two weeks and ask them," NASCAR driver Juan Pablo Montoya said.
Added defending IndyCar champion Ryan Hunter-Reay: "I wish them all the best. It’ll be an interesting side note to watch them compete against one another. If you’re boyfriend/girlfriend, there’s not even a variable out there. If you’re married, there might be some consequence when you come home. Two different boats."
Some drivers scoffed at their admission.
"I thought there were much more important stories to report on than someone dating someone else," NASCAR driver Jamie McMurray said. "That’s about where I stand on that."
Patrick remains one of the most recognizable drivers in auto racing, even if wins have been few and far between. There was a belief that her advertising appeal had waned, but sponsor Go Daddy is featuring Patrick in the website domain provider’s commercials in the upcoming Super Bowl.
And because so much of her persona is attached to things outside of the male-dominated racing circuit, there naturally would be an interest in her dating life.
The 30-year-old Patrick announced in November that she and 47-year-old husband Paul Hospenthal were divorcing after seven years. Speculation immediately shifted toward her relationship with the 25-year-old Stenhouse. While her policy has always been not to talk about her personal life, Patrick said she made an exception this time to end the gossip and so the two could be open about their relationship.
"I think I am just finally excited to tell someone about this," Patrick told AP.
Later in the day, she thanked fans for their support on her Twitter page.
"Thanks everyone for all of your nice messages, and the bump drafting jokes are cracking me up!" Patrick wrote. "Let the fun begin."
Dating competitors is nothing new _ not even in motorsports.
NHRA drivers Erica Enders and Richie Stevens dated for six years before getting engaged last year and married last month, and NASCAR Busch Series drivers Patti Moise and Elton Sawyer were married teammates in the early 1990s.
And then there are equally strong bonds from all those well-known racing families.
The Unser family raced against each other for years. Brothers Bobby and Al raced each other between 1965 and 1981, and Al Sr. raced his son from 1983 to 1993. Senior even edged Junior by a point for the 1985 IndyCar title.
Throw in the Andrettis, the Allisons, the Pettys, the Labontes, the Bodines and the Busches, and it’s hardly uncommon for people who care about one another to compete on the racetrack.
Sure, Patrick and Stenhouse are in a different situation. After all, what happens if they break up?
"Thanks a lot, Ricky," Bowyer said sarcastically. "I’m down here enjoying the sunny weather in Daytona, at my first 24-hour race, and what do I get asked? About Ricky and Danica."
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)