10:01 PM EST, February 16, 2012
DAYTONA BEACH — She is the perky princess of auto racing, a hot-bod casting herself in an extreme makeover involving stock cars and a whole new vocabulary, surrounded by a polarizing fan base still conflicted about her driving ability.
He is the sometimes-petulant prince of NASCAR, a guy who likes his fast-food fix, the occasional joust with the media, and has no worries about his driving ability. Check out the crown on his head.
Danica Patrick and Tony Stewart are NASCAR's new power couple, a perfect fit for a cyber-obsessive world. They've got it all: Looks, talent, charm and renegade appeal.
Patrick will making her official transition from open wheel to stock cars, driving full-time in NASCAR's Nationwide Series, and 10 select races for the Stewart-Hass race team on the Sprint Cup circuit. Stewart — a three-time Cup champion — is her mentor and confidant, sharing a wisdom etched over a span of 13 seasons and 133,675 Sprint Cup laps.
Don't be surprised if the Internet blows up.
Patrick was surrounded by one of the largest group of reporters in the history of NASCAR Media Day on Thursday morning, reflective of her star-power. That's how they will roll all season, as Stewart and Patrick lead the rumble of cars on the NASCAR Nationwide and Cup schedule.
The media appeal is obvious: Does Danica have the competitive mojo to run with the big boys in NASCAR? Does Tony has the competitive juice to repeat as NASCAR Sprint Cup champion?
They will have no issues dealing the media crush. Witness their first formal meet-and-greet of the season during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Tour in Charlotte last month, when they stepped on the stage accompanied by the booming pulse of the The Heavy's "How Do You Like Me Now?" (Think Kia commercial).
"I think we both enjoy the banter that comes in a setting like this," Patrick said Thursday.
They banter with each other, too. She laughs at his refusal to drink wine. Beer only for Tony, please. She is a wine connoisseur.
She works out to keep in shape for all those Go Daddy commercials. Tony doesn't do the gym.
She is 29 and married. He is a 40-year-old proverbial bachelor, committed only to a handful of pets.
"A dog, two cats," Stewart said, "and they don't care if I go race seven days a week as long as they get fed, they are happy. That's my deal. That's where my lifestyle is a little different. I look for every race that I can run during the off-season., It sounds like I would wear myself out doing it but that's my workout plan. I don't go to the gym. I go to the racetrack and race."
"I think we have the same sense of humor," Patrick said. "He's a little more. We were at the race shop and he decided he was going to take brake cleaner and a propane tank and light people on fire. He has a lot of fun with the things that he does. He's a little more aggressive with his fun."
Excuse the NASCAR pooh-bahs for jumping out of their fire suits in unbridled joy. The sport was able to recast itself somewhat last season, with a thrilling Chase that came down to the last race of the season, but it needs Tony and Danica's marketing juice to help connect with a broader audience.
Together, they can bridge those demographics. Stewart represents NASCAR's old-school. Patrick is still a newbie, still somewhat frustrated by the odd chatter she hears over her car radio. Now that she's figured out the difference between "loose" and "tight," it becomes a question of whether she can drive the thing.
"What's surprised me is how much I truly enjoy driving these cars," she said. "I know it sounds super-cheesy, I'm sure. You all probably think I am lying. But I never thought I would enjoy driving these cars as much as I do."
True dat, Danica.
May NASCAR hoist a glass of wine to welcome you. And a beer chaser for Tony.
firstname.lastname@example.org Read George Diaz's blog at OrlandoSentinel.com/enfuego
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