Patrick hugs boyfriend Stenhouse before race

DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. (AP) - Hug it out, Danica.

Danica Patrick and boyfriend Ricky Stenhouse Jr. shared a quick hug on pit road before she took the wheel for the Nationwide Series race at Daytona.

Patrick was mobbed by fans and swarmed by cameramen as she walked toward the No. 34 car. She posed for pictures with her mother and other friends and family before Stenhouse came over and offered some quick well wishes.

One of Patrick’s reps tried to get Stenhouse in a photo with Patrick.

“I want you in it, for posterity,” he said.

“Nah, you don’t want me in it,” Stenhouse said.

Stenhouse walked over, held out his fist and dropped something straight into Patrick’s hand. Gum? A good luck charm? They hugged, he left.

The two are dating and competing against each other for Sprint Cup Series rookie of the year. Stenhouse, a two-time Nationwide Series champion, did not race.

Their relationship started as a friendship as they raced each other the last two seasons in the Nationwide Series. Stenhouse became a mentor of sorts to the 30-year-old Patrick, who left IndyCar after the 2011 season to make the full-time switch to NASCAR.

Patrick hasn’t taken a step at the track without fans of all sexes and ages sprinting toward her hoping for an autograph or a photo.

The Nationwide race was a sneak preview for Patrick ahead of the real deal _ when she starts from the pole in Sunday’s Daytona 500.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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