Opinion: Wrong Story in Spotlight

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Pistone: Too much attention to an inconsequential story has gotten the NASCAR season off to a less than stellar start. (Photo: Getty Images)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - Maybe it was the hint of spring in the air. Or perhaps folks were caught up in the euphoria of Valentine’s Day. Whatever the reason this year’s Daytona 500 Media Day was like none before and hopefully there will never be another like it.

One after another nearly every driver that took part in the annual media get together was peppered with questions about the budding relationship between Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Some answered, others declined while more just shook their head.

Since Patrick divulged what had been rumored for months, the story of the two drivers dating has run wild across the sport. While she is certainly entitled to her decision to make the most private part of her life public, media coverage about the coupling has turned the NASCAR season into a super-sized episode of “The Bachelorette.”

The topic has actually sparked a bit of a controversy inside the media center with two polar opposite sides of the debate; those who think the news overshadows everything else in the sport and others that could not care less.

I’m squarely in the latter camp.

Close relationships of every kind have been part of NASCAR throughout its history including fathers and sons, brothers, cousins and even a husband and wife back in the days of Patty Moise and Elton Sawyer competing against each other in the Nationwide Series. So the fact there are a couple currently dating is not really breaking any new ground.

Will there be competition ramifications between Patrick and Stenhouse because of their relationship? Maybe, but why not wait to see if that actually happens instead of theorizing wild scenarios. With all due respect, Stenhouse should outperform Patrick on track by a fairly wide margin so I don’t see the two racing for position very often.

Learning more about athletes and their personal lives certainly has value. NASCAR drivers receive their fair share of criticism for being “vanilla” or nothing more than corporate shills reciting endless streams of sponsor mentions.

The fact is a large majority of drivers are interesting, entertaining and personable. Giving fans a glimpse of their personalities builds a connection that has helped build the sport over the years.

But there are boundaries. Relationships, marriages, divorces and other family matters should be outside the lines. And until recently, before society in whole took a left turn on TMZ Boulevard, those matters were treated with respect.

Not any more. Everything is up for grabs and on the public record. The more gossipy, the better. Especially when there is a “celebrity” like Patrick involved.

The feedback I’ve received from most NASCAR fans is they’re truly not interested. The majority of folks who have taken the time to respond on Twitter and Facebook or call into “The Morning Drive” program, which I co-host on SIRIUS/XM NASCAR Radio, have no interest in the soap opera style of reporting.

It’s clear fans that follow the sport on a regular basis care more about what happens on the track or in the garage than behind closed motorhome doors.

Those that defend the Patrick-Stenhouse Diaries insist a more general audience is interested and the attention will lead to NASCAR receiving wider notice and publicity.

If they mean an ESPN “SportsCenter” host singing “Ricky and Danica, sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g” like anchor John Buccigross did Wednesday night on the only NASCAR story covered on the show, then I guess they’re right.

Ridicule and embarrassment. The perfect way to start a new NASCAR season.

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.

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