Danica Patrick “had a feeling” all day that Ricky Stenhouse Jr. would be able to win his first NASCAR Cup Series race.
Thanks to an 18-car crash that eliminated her from the Geico 500, she was able to watch her feeling become a reality while she packed to leave the track.
Patrick, who has been dating Stenhouse since before the 2013 season, was in her bus in the Talladega Superspeedway infield when Stenhouse took the checkered flag after a last-lap pass of Kyle Busch.
The Stewart-Haas Racing driver had exited the Geico 500 when her No. 10 Ford was part of the large wreck 20 laps from the finish.
“I mean obviously he qualified on the pole, but at the beginning of the race when he was leading I was thinking he was either gonna stay in the lead or something bad might happen,” Patrick said in victory lane. “But I got the feeling that it was just one of those days where he was gonna make it happen. It’s a very good day.”
Stenhouse grabbed his first Cup win in his 158th start.
When he pulled his No. 17 Ford into Victory Lane, the first people Stenhouse saw were Patrick and team owner Jack Roush.
“Pulling into Victory Lane and seeing Jack and Danica standing there together, they’re the same height (laughter), it was super special,” Stenhouse said. “She supports me through anything I need to do, whether it’s spending more time at the shop, whether it’s we need to fly somewhere a little bit later because I need to spend a little bit more time with the guys at the shop, or I want to go to dirt races or anything like that. She’s been so supportive and knows how hard that I’ve worked, and to have her there was really awesome.
“I thought that I would get pictures with her and I and she’d still be in her driving suit, so it worked out that she wasn’t, but it was really special. I was definitely glad that she was there right when I pulled in.”
Patrick said she’s often thought about how post-race festivities would play out if either one of them won a race.
“I honestly think it couldn’t have gone any more perfect than I just had to put my shoes on,” Patrick said. “It really worked out very well. But more than anything, I got to see it. I got to watch the last 19 laps. See how good of a job he did live.”
Patrick’s winning feeling began when Stenhouse claimed the pole Saturday. It was just his second pole and his first since Atlanta in his 2013 rookie campaign.
“We all say qualifying doesn’t really man anything, but what I say is that it is a sign of the speed of car,” Patrick said. “I think that was pretty evident. He was able to pull up on Kyle (Busch) pretty easily without any help. He manipulated the air perfectly and it was meant to be today.”
Over the last few years, Stenhouse has often been identified simply as Patrick’s “boyfriend” in headlines or stories about her (like this one).
But the 29-year-old driver said it “doesn’t matter” to him how he’s labelled in his relationship with his fellow competitor.
“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,” Stenhouse said. “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.”