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For the second consecutive year, Michael Waltrip Racing and Peak Performance teamed up to find what they hope to be the next best driver. In last year’s contest, Patrick Staropoli, a man that is attempting to finish medical school after graduating from Harvard University, won it all and earned a chance at racing for Bill McAnally Racing in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West.

This year’s story is a little different.

Christian PaHud, 21, took home the crown in the competition. PaHud, a rather unknown Late Model racer from Ohio is set to race for McAnally with sponsorship from Peak in a K&N Pro Series West race on Oct. 11 at All American Speedway as a teammate to MWR co-owner Michael Waltrip. Edging out 17 other drivers in the competition, he used his experience on and off the track to show he deserves a chance just like Staropoli.

Since he was a child, the Dayton-native has always been racing. With a family history of competition for wins in a race car, it was only natural for PaHud to get into the seat of one. Throughout the three-day competition, all 18 contestants work on a short track, a road course, a speedway, car control, a dirt track, endurance racing along with marketability.

In an exclusive interview with Speedway Digest, PaHud walks us through his journey in the contest, what the future is like for him, how he got to this point and more.

  • What was running through your mind when they told you that you had won the contest?

At first, there wasn’t really much going through my mind. There wasn’t much really to think until I look at my parent’s faces and saw the reaction on their faces. It was just kind of a blank mind. Everything we worked for and have done over the past few years has finally come together. It is working out for the best and hopefully I can use this opportunity to prove that I deserve to be here and I can do what I can do.

  • What did it mean for them to see you win the whole thing?

It meant the world to them. We put so much into it. We have taken food off of the table just to get race track at times just so we have that shot to do better on a weekend. It just means so much to me that they have followed me and backed me to this point. They give me a drive to show what I can do and show I have what it takes and show what we have done when we come together.

  • What did you learn while working with Michael Waltrip, Clint Bowyer, Brian Vickers, Jeff Burton and Danica Patrick?

All the contestants and everybody talked about how much fun it was for everybody around to have Clint and everybody else around to help out as much as possible, as much as they could. Learning from them was definitely an experience; learning from Danica during the whole press releases and commercial shoots and Clint helping me out on my line. Everything on and off the track; it was just really cool to have that experience to be able to move on to do other racing stuff knowing that they were there to help you and give you what they could

  • How did you first find out about the contest?

My cousin gave me a call when he heard about it on the internet. I actually watched it last year and saw they were doing it again this year, and I thought, whether we made it or not, it would be a good opportunity to put my name out there. Making it into the show was accomplishment alone, let alone winning it.

  • Going into it, did you think you were going to win it?

At first, it was mainly an exposure thing. There were some great names in the competition, and the more I thought of it and the closer it came time to do it – I thought: why just go into it with the thought of that it’s good exposure? Let’s go out and win this. It worked out for the better. Somehow, we ended up winning it.

  • If you didn’t win the contest, what were you going to do?

This wasn’t really a make or break opportunity for me. We were doing all of the stuff on our own and racing as a family. I wasn’t going to end my racing career just because I didn’t win, but it helps me in my racing career either way. It shows millions (of people) that I have what it takes. Even if nothing comes of it past this one race, I’ll still go back to racing as a family and do my own thing.

  • Has all of this attention been over whelming for you?

Not necessarily. I’m one of those people that doesn’t like to sit still for very long and I don’t like to hang around and do nothing. Now I actually have a reason to get up and do stuff. I like doing press conferences, radio interviews and phone calls. That kind of keeps me calm and relaxed; getting me ready for the next race to come. It is helping the time pass before my first K&N race, so that way it won’t seem like it takes forever to get here.

  • Do you feel like without this chance, you might not have received a chance to race in a NASCAR sanctioned division?

It is kind of debatable. You don’t know what may come and what might not come. At the point in my life that I’m at now, it probably wouldn’t have come in the near future. It definitely helps me to run a NASCAR sanctioned event and get the chance to race in the K&N Series to show what I can do.

  • How does your background in racing help prepare you for the next step in your career?

I have raced a little bit of everything. I raced go-karts for 11 years and Legends cars and Late Models. Going from one car to another is hard to do. I guess you can say that going back and forth from car to car is a big step either way. It will help me when it gets time to get into a K&N car. I’ve gone from car to car so much that I’ll be able to pick it up and take over to do what I need to do to get the most out of the car as possible.

  • What do you feel like you need to prove when you go out on track?

I really don’t think I have to prove a lot. I don’t know if there are things that really need to be proved. Patrick already showed that this competition really isn’t a joke. This is a racing competition; it’s not just a TV show. He kind of made a little impression on me to do well. Again, I don’t feel that I have to prove that I can do it. Everything will work out sooner or later.

  • You see what this contest has done for Patrick Staropoli with the win earlier this year. What can you learn from what he has done on the track?

We have talked quite a bit about what is going to happen in the future and what is going to happen out in California before the race. It is good knowing that I can call him when I need to and talk to him about what is going to happen.

  • What’s your ultimate goal for the foreseeable future?

It would be nice to go out and win this race and then maybe make a few more K&N starts here and there if we can. If not, I’d be perfectly fine coming back home and racing with my family. 

Roush Fenway Racing driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was awarded the Sunoco Rookie of the Year award for the 2013 season.

In his first full season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Stenhouse posted three top-10 finishes in the final 11 races of the season and finished third at Talladega Superspeedway in October. He also captured the Coors Light Pole Award at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

His finished out the season 19th in points with an average finish of 18.9.

His girlfriend, Stewart-Haas Racing's Danica Patrick, was also in contention for the award.

Patrick started off strong at the Daytona 500 in February. She became the first woman to win the pole and finished eighth, but fell short the remainder of the season. 

But Stenhouse had two consecutive Nationwide Series titles before his first season in Cup. Patrick had one full Nationwide season and two part-time seasons.

Patrick, who ended the season 27th in the standings, said winning the award was a "long shot."

"That was going to be tough to compete with no matter who you are," Patrick said. "I struggled to compete for wins. It was going to be a huge accomplishment if I did it."

Well, she has boyfriend, and his name is Richard. That’s right; Danica Patrick announced yesterday in an exclusive interview with Jenna Fryer, that she and fellow Sprint Cup Rookie Ricky Stenhouse Jr. are now an item.

 

"I think I am just finally excited to tell someone about this," Patrick giggled. "We are dating, and I know there's been a bit of a runaround this week at the media days and poor Ricky got grilled," she said. "It was out of respect to NASCAR, to all the manufacturers, the new cars, the teams, the sponsors, just to allow the news of the day to be about racing and not let anything interfere with that. So, it's Friday now, so that's why we waited until the end of the week to be up front about each other."

 

Stenhouse, the two-time reigning Nationwide Series Champ, and Patrick, have been friends both on and off the track since she made the move to NASCAR in 2010. Stenhouse was sort of a mentor to Patrick as she made the transition from open-wheel racing and the two of them could often be found laughing and poking fun before the Nationwide races in 2012.

 

When asked about the relationship during the Media Tour, Stenhouse replied simply with “We have a great relationship,” then turned the focus back on racing. When Friday’s news hit, he had a different comment.

 

"Yes we are dating," he said. "I don't normally say too much about my private life, always been focused on the track. I didn't want to confirm at media day so that we could keep the focus on the season, the Gen-6, my sponsors and team. That's what it's all about for me."

 

Now you may be thinking, isn’t Patrick still married? Technically, yes. After announcing the split from her husband of 7 years, 47 year old Paul Hospenthal, in November, 30 year old Patrick filed for divorce in early January saying the marriage was “irretrievably broken.”  In the state of Arizona, where the two lived, it takes at least 60 days for a divorce to be finalized.

 

Immediately after Patrick announced her impending divorce, rumors started flying about her and 25 year old Stenhouse, with the bulk of them coming in the last few days. Both of them are known for keeping their private lives under lock and key, but they decided to make an exception and end speculation.

 

"I think that moving forward into the year, it's a matter of do you say anything at all, or do you just carry on?" she said. "As opposed to speculation and people making up their own stories or talking amongst themselves or us feeling uncomfortable walking into each other's (motorhomes) moving forward, or around our teams or anything, it's just easier to be up front and get it out of the way then to have any kind of awkward speculation."

 

With both of them moving to the Sprint Cup Series full time, many fans and drivers are probably wondering, will they race each other differently? Both Patrick and Stenhouse say no.

"Obviously, we've been racing together for a couple years now, him and I have always gotten along, Patrick said. “We've always had a lot of respect for each other on the track, there's never been an issue out there. I always say I'll race people how they race me until they do something to make me change my mind. I don't anticipate that changing at all, or us having any issues on the track."

 

Stenhouse agreed with her statement.

 

"It won't affect how I race on the track. I want to go out and win, I race everyone hard," he said.

 

Although Stewart-Haas Racing wouldn’t comment on the relationship, Roush Fenway President Steve Newmark said Friday that it is not a concern.

 

“Our drivers want to win,” he said. “They want to win races and championships and we have no worries about how hard any of them will race any other competitor on that track to reach those goals. Anyone that thinks that may be an issue for any of our drivers on the track doesn’t know our drivers very well.”

 

Scrolling through Twitter yesterday, this new power couple already has multiple celebrity couple names including “Danihouse” and “Stenica” as well has multiple jabs and jokes regarding their relationship.  

 

Patrick took to her personal Twitter page yesterday to address the comments saying, “Thanks everyone for all of your nice messages, and the bump drafting jokes are cracking me up! Let the fun begin.”

 

Patrick and Stenhouse are both battling for the coveted Rookie of the Year title this season.  This relationship just made the battle considerably more interesting.  Will this relationship change the outcome on the track? I guess for Rookies Danica Patrick and Richard Lynn Stenhouse, we will have to wait and see. 

2013 will be the first true battle for Rookie of the Year in a long time. With two high profile drivers moving from the Nationwide Series to the Sprint Cup Series full time, the battle for Rookie of the Year status might be just as exciting as the battle for the Championship trophy.

Two-time Nationwide Series Champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr is one of the two drivers battling it out for the coveted Rookie of the Year honor. Stenhouse, driving for Roush Fenway Racing, will be in the number 17 Ford, taking over the ride from Matt Kenseth. Stenhouse only ran six Sprint Cup events in 2012 with his best finish being 12th at Dover International Speedway.

The 25 year old from Olive Branch, MS spent the last 13 weeks on the top of the Nationwide Series leaderboard in 2012 accumulating 6 wins, 19 top-five and 25 top-ten finishes. Stenhouse is definitely not afraid to get in there and race with the big boys. Look for him to be a contender at many of the tracks on the schedule. Stenhouse is a talented driver and it wouldn’t surprise me one bit to see him win in his rookie season.

The other rookie this year is none other than Danica Patrick. After seven full seasons in the IndyCar Series and two partial schedules in NASCAR, Patrick decided to switch to a full NASCAR Nationwide Series schedule in 2012. With a best finish of 8th last season, her results were less than expected. Granted, in the opening race, where she sat on pole, her teammate wrecked her. Also, in Montreal, after leading 20 laps, she hit a shoe that had been thrown onto the track.

30 year old Patrick may be one of the most famous faces in racing, but she definitely has talent. Driving the number 10 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing this season, Patrick ran 10 Sprint Cup races in 2012 with her best finish being 17th in Phoenix. With Tony Gibson and his crew by her side as they enter 2013, look for Patrick to come out of the gate strong, especially on fast tracks and road courses. I don’t see her winning races this season, but I do see her consistently finishing in the Top-20 and maybe even a Top-10 or two. Patrick may be the lone female on the track, but she races like one of the boys.

Between Ricky Stenhouse Jr and Danica Patrick, this Rookie of the Year battle is going to be fun to watch. Stenhouse and Patrick are good friends away from the track which makes this battle just a little more interesting. So will the two-time Nationwide Series Champion come out on top once again or will the GoDaddy Girl come in and take the win? We will just have to wait and see. 

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