And then there were 21. And then there wasn’t. Earlier this week, Rick Ware Racing announced plans for Jennifer Jo Cobb to drive a car in the NASCAR Cup series at Alabama’s Talladega Speedway. She was to be the 21st female driver in the history of NASCAR’s top series and the first since Danica Patrick ran the 2018 Daytona 500.
However, NASCAR put an end to that plan, announcing that it would be denying Cobb permission to run in the race, due to a little-known rule on the books which is designed to prevent unqualified drivers from attempting to race in Cup events.
Talladega is one of two superspeedways on the NASCAR schedule, along with Daytona, and the races there are among the most popular of the season with Canadian sports bettors. A regular driver in NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series, Cobb is well known to Canadian race fans from the time when the series raced in the country at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Bowmanville, Ontario.
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The regulation that is preventing Cobb from taking her place in the driver’s seat of the No. 15 Arrowhead Brass Chevrolet is covered in Section 220.127.116.11.b of the Cup Rule Book. It states that all drivers must outline their previous racing experience to the NASCAR Resume Committee. That committee is deemed with the task of determining whether the driver will be approved for competition.
The section goes on to note that any previously approved driver who has not competed for at least one year must resubmit the driver information and record application. It was Cobb’s responsibility to do so and according to NASCAR officials, she did not.
“We’ve been informed by the sanctioning body that Jennifer is not approved to compete in the NASCAR Cup Series event at Talladega Superspeedway this coming weekend,” car owner Rick Wise released via statement. “This is an unfortunate situation, but as a team we support NASCAR’s decision to uphold the sanctioning (body’s) rules and regulations.”
Cobb has never previously raced in the Cup series. She does have minimal experience racing in the Xfinity Series, making her most recent start in 2018 and has run 217 races in the truck series. She previously finished 11th in a truck series race at Talladega in 2018.
Certainly, some people are going to view this as an anti-woman ruling from NASCAR, and it definitely doesn’t help that the organization appears to have waived the same rule earlier this year to accommodate former Cup Series driver Derrick Cope.
Cope, 62, raced in the Daytona 500, a race he won in 1990. While it was his 428th Cup start, it was Cope’s first since 2018. He crashed on Lap 3 and was done for the day.
Cobb was seeking to add her name to a very short list of female drivers who have at least attempted to qualify for a Cup Series race over the course of NASCAR history.
Sara Christian actually ran in the first NASCAR race at Charlotte Speedway in 1949. She qualified her Ford in 13th position on the grid. Christian made seven career Cup starts.
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That same year, Ethel Mobley and Louise Smith also ran NASCAR races. Smith made 11 starts in the series from 1949-52.
Of the 21 women who attempted to qualify for a Cup Series event, 16 have piloted a car during a race in NASCAR’s top series. The most popular was Patrick, who made 191 career starts. Patrick recorded seven top-10 finishes and won the pole for the 2013 Daytona 500.
Janet Guthrie, who made open-wheel racing history in 1977 as the first woman to qualify for the Indianapolis 500, also became the first woman to qualify for the Daytona 500 in the same year. She was named top rookie in the Daytona 500 after finishing 12th.
Guthrie ran in 33 NASCAR Cup Series races from 1976-80. Guthrie is the only woman to ever lead laps in a NASCAR Cup Series race. Guthrie led a 1977 race at Ontario Speedway for five laps. She and Patrick share the record for the best finish by a woman in a NASCAR Cup Series race. She was sixth at Bristol in 1977. Patrick finished sixth at Atlanta in 2014.
Shawna Robinson (8, 2001-02) and Patty Moise (7, 1987-89) also made multiple NASCAR Cup Series starts.