Danica talks dating driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

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Patrick was ready for all the ribbing, and even joked about what would happen if Stenhouse wrecked her on the track.

“He better have a really good, `I’m sorry,’” Patrick said with a wink.

The duo is moving forward with their relationship, with Patrick saying she planned to cook for Stenhouse on Valentine’s Day and she packed an entire suitcase full of gifts for her boyfriend (he got her “fancy playing cards” he said). She also told reporters how after so many months of hanging out with Stenhouse, she had to push him to ask her out on an official date _ an account Stenhouse confirmed before sheepishly admitting he couldn’t remember what restaurant they went to for the date.

Defending Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski cautioned that things could get sticky with the happy couple.

“It’s difficult because there’s that part of you that thinks, `Ah, this is a little hokie. Can we just focus on the on-track part?’” he said. “But you have to understand that as a race car driver, you make life decisions that put you in a position of danger all the time, 24-7, and that inherently makes you a unique person and the decisions you make in your mental process to get there unique. And whatever outside influences you have are going to affect how you perform.

“So it makes it a story because there’s no way for it not to affect their performance. It ties back in. I think it’s not really much of a story that their dating as it is as much of a story if they were to break up. That would be incredible to watch, to be quite honest with you. There’s so many different ways that could go. I mean, imagine if they were to break up and then wreck each other for like the next six races because they were mad?”

Stenhouse dismissed Keselowski’s take, “coming from a guy who has never had a girlfriend?”

Johnson had a recommendation: Patrick and Stenhouse need to keep their relationship from spilling onto the track.

“If it does, it’s going to impact their lifestyle and their job,” Johnson said. “We’re paid to go on the racetrack and race. So if they’re handling things differently on the track because of their personal relationship, it’s going to affect their jobs; their owners aren’t going to be happy or their sponsors.”

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Follow Jenna Fryer online: https://twitter.com/JennaFryer and http://racing.ap.org

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