It will be impossible to miss Peyton Manning at Sunday’s Daytona 500. His fellow future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers probably hopes the same will not be said about him.
Good luck with that.
Manning, who retired from the NFL after the Denver Broncos won the Super Bowl in 2016, will be the honorary pace car driver for the race. And Rodgers? Well, he’s playing spectator Sunday and, as much as he has tried to keep a low profile, Fox cameras are likely to find him repeatedly, judging by the attention he has drawn the last few days at Daytona International Speedway. That’s because he’ll be watching his new girlfriend, Danica Patrick, drive in her final NASCAR race and he has had no comment yet on the budding romance. Instead, he has chosen to let her bask in the spotlight on the first of the last two races of her career (she’ll retire after the Indianapolis 500 in May).
It’s been an odd offseason for Rodgers, who played in just seven games this past season and whose year ended prematurely Dec. 19 following a brief return from a broken collarbone. While he waits to likely become the NFL’s highest-paid quarterback when the league’s market for quarterbacks sets itself, he has been playing golf (the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am), making the media rounds at the Super Bowl (but not talking about Patrick), attending the NFL Honors (sans Patrick) and turning up in tabloid headlines.
Last week, though, he arrived in Daytona and began the delicate task of offering support while not overshadowing Patrick as she transitions from driver to her next stop as a winemaker, clothing purveyor, and health and wellness guru.
On Thursday, he watched her drive in qualifying, dodging reporters by sitting atop her pit box in the semi-darkness.
As he clambered down a ladder, he had no comment for reporters. On Saturday, it was left to Patrick to go public with an Instagram photo of her new boyfriend on the beach with members of her family.
And before the race on Sunday, Rodgers (seen below with his back to the camera) was hanging in a crowd around Patrick’s No. 7 Chevrolet car.
Patrick has been the one to confirm that she and Rodgers were dating, the one to talk about how their relationship came to be after she broke up in December with NASCAR driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who will be competing at Daytona. Rodgers’s own high-profile romance ended last year when he and actress Olivia Munn broke up around April. Along the way, Green Bay Packers fans accused her of having a negative effect on his on-field performance, an issue Rodgers addressed in an interview over the summer.
“When you are living out a relationship in the public eye, it’s definitely . . . it’s difficult,” Rodgers told ESPN. “It has some extra constraints, because you have other opinions about your relationship, how it affects your work and, you know, just some inappropriate connections.”
So how will all this work out between the two? Patrick told USA Today that “everything is easy” with Rodgers. “We both just have similar hobbies and interests,” she said, “the kind of life that we live and wanting to travel and various different things, liking dogs.”
Life was not so easy on the track Sunday, as a multi-car crash with 87 laps remaining bumped Patrick out of the running. The crash knocked Patrick, Chase Elliott (who was in second when it occurred) and Brad Keselowski out of the race due to the damage to their cars.
“I guess it was just not meant to be,” Patrick told NBCSports after she was out of the race. “We raced it, it was competitive, that’s all you can do. That’s the gamble about Daytona. It can go so well and it can go so awful. I still have one more [race]. It’s not a stock car, but I still have one more.”
Read more from The Post: