-- DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Danica Patrick has a new crew chief for 2016 and what she calls a "fun vibe" around her race team.
I asked her boyfriend, driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr., if that has made her more relaxed away from the racetrack.
"She's always fairly relaxed," Stenhouse said. "She does yoga for that. I sit on the couch."
Patrick does, in fact, do yoga. She invited a few of us in the media to do a class with her Wednesday at a Daytona Beach studio, and let's just say some of us are hoping the video evidence is minimal.
As we went through a litany of poses, stretches, handstands and breathing exercises, we rookies strained and groaned and quietly laughed at each other's lack of balance. And we all gained an appreciation for how fit and flexible Patrick is.
And that was the point. Patrick is more out front this year in promoting her lifestyle of smart eating and regular exercise because healthier living is the message of her new primary sponsor, Nature's Bakery.
It's an easy sell for Patrick because it's what she does naturally and she believes it.
"I think the best thing you can do is lead by example," said Patrick, 33, who will make her fifth start in the Daytona 500 on Sunday. "When I follow someone on Twitter or Instagram, or see something on TV about people getting healthy -- whether it's about food or working out or anything -- it inspires me and makes me feel lazy that moment. Like, I need to do that."
Patrick started doing yoga when she was 19 and training to be a race car driver in England. "I'm pretty sure Madonna was responsible for the inspiration, back when it became really cool," she explained.
She gave it up for several years and resisted picking it up again, believing it wasn't a match for the intense workouts she got from CrossFit. But on a "girls trip" last spring to Arizona, where there are some good yoga studios in Scottsdale, she relented.
"I was like, I need this back in my life again," Patrick said. "It's relaxing. It's calming to me, and the challenge to me is really the breath. It's hard for me to use one breath to get to one pose and exhale getting back out of it, but that is my practice, and that's what I have to work a lot on."
Patrick says her rediscovered love for yoga inspired her to create a "wo-man cave" in her house. It includes her yoga mats, props and a table Stenhouse made for her at Christmas that she uses for her arts and crafts.
"I have a sewing machine, and I made dream catchers this year," Patrick said. "It's a super girly room. It's been great to get [yoga] back in my practice, but I started a long time ago."
Other NASCAR drivers have vigorous fitness routines, but 23-year-old Kyle Larson is the only one Patrick could think of who's known to do yoga. Stenhouse tried it and was good "because he's super athletic and coordinated," Patrick said. But the 28-year-old Roush Fenway Racing driver couldn't get past "the whole Zen chat they have during the classes," she said.
"It's not for him," she said. "But he came into my wo-man cave a couple of months ago and did about five minutes of stretching before he said, 'OK, I'm done; I'm bored.' So, baby steps."
Patrick says that the Zen state aims to help her decompress away from the race car but that in the car she benefits mainly from yoga's breathing techniques.
"I think breathing is probably the one thing I really do use from yoga in the race car," Patrick said. "When things get tense, it's in through the nose and out through the mouth. It's longer breaths, and that inevitably calms your heart rate and calms you down."
All NASCAR drivers promote a product, whether it's a home improvement warehouse or an insurance company. A sport steeped in a history of tobacco, beer and fast food sponsorships hasn't had many healthy-living companies come in, but times are changing.
Nature's Bakery's niche is "on-the-go snacks and foods that complement health-conscious living and everyday active lifestyles," according to the company. Dave Marson, who launched the brand in 2010 with his son, Sam, says Patrick is the right driver to help get his product into more stores.
"I'm not sure there would have been any other driver other than Jimmie Johnson or Carl Edwards who kind of fit the lifestyle that we promote," Marson said. "Danica is a great fit. Our shopper is women 25 to 45 who are buying it for their families, so she represents that category well. She lives that healthy active lifestyle."
Patrick has a new crew chief in Billy Scott and an optimistic outlook entering the season. Yoga is part of the mix, and those of us who made it through Wednesday's class can relay one thing: It's harder than it looks.