Kenzie Ruston

Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Friday 5: How soon until the next female driver arrives in Cup?

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Danica Patrick’s departure after the Daytona 500 (provided she secures a ride for that race) will leave NASCAR without a female driver in its top series.

It could be years before the next female driver arrives in Cup.

Only two of the 114 drivers who attempted to qualify for an Xfinity race last year were female — Angela Ruch ran four races and Jennifer Jo Cob ran one. Cobb was the only female driver among 103 who attempted to qualify for a Camping World Truck Series race last season.

The last four NASCAR Next classes — which spotlights talented young competitors — featured four female drivers among the 44 racers selected. Those female drivers chosen: Kenzie Ruston (2014-15 class), Nicole Behar (2015-16), Julia Landauer (2016-17) and Hailie Deegan (2017-18).

The 16-year-old Deegan will run the K&N West Pro Series schedule for Bill MacAnally Racing, which has won the past three K&N West titles.

Landauer finished seventh in the points last year in the K&N West Series (after placing fourth in 2016) and Behar was eighth in her second full-time season in that series.

In ARCA, Natalie Decker will run the full season with Venturini Motorsports. She stands to become the fifth female in modern-day ARCA history to compete for a driver’s title, joining Shawna Robinson (2000), Christi Passmore (2003-04), Milka Duno (2013) and Sarah Cornett-Ching (2015).

Former champion crew chief Ray Evernham understands the challenges female drivers face. His wife, Erin, competed in 10 Xfinity races from 2005-06 and 29 Camping World Truck races between 2005-08.

“I think that we’ve got to keep providing opportunities for girls to get that experience,’’ said Evernham, who will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Jan. 19.

“Now with the technology of the cars, the way they’re doing the setups, things like that, it will make it a little bit easier for newer people to come in. But we’ve just got to continue to provide an opportunity or a path for ladies to get experience.

Just as important will be how well they’ll handle the scrutiny.

“I know it stinks that so many people are so critical of lady drivers, much more critical than they are of a male driver of the same performance,’’ Evernham said. “Each time one of those girls weathers that storm, gets a little bit further down the road, gets some credibility, it gets a lady closer to Victory Lane in NASCAR.’’

NASCAR lists 16 women who have competed in at least one Cup race from Louise Smith, Sara Christian and Ethel Mobley in 1949 to Patrick. Patrick’s 190 career Cup starts are more than the other 15 women combined. Janet Guthrie was next with 33 starts between 1976-80 and followed by Smith with 11 starts from 1949-52 and Robinson, who had eight starts from 2001-02.

Patrick and Robinson are the only females to run a Cup race since 1990.

NASCAR lists 22 females having competed in the Xfinity Series. Patty Moise started 133 races, more than any other driver.  Patrick and Robinson are next with 61 starts each, followed by Johanna Long (42 starts) and Jennifer Jo Cobb (29 starts).

2. “The Great American Race”

The phrase has long been used as the nickname for the Daytona 500, but where did it originate?

Australia.

True story.

Let Ken Squier, who will be among the five men inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Jan. 19, explain how he came up with the phrase for the race.

“Well, (Bill) France Sr. had me (in Daytona) from the ’60s.  Daytona always stood out separately, individually, for one thing, the time of year, because most race tracks in America were closed. 

“It was the gathering of the tribes in Daytona Beach, which went all the way back to the turn of the century, when Henry Ford, the Chevrolet brothers, all of that tribe went down there.  They raced down that hard‑packed beach. That never stopped.  One way or another, they continued to go down there in the month of February and toast a few of their friends from the past and turn some wheels.

“That spirit of Daytona is more prevalent than any other when you talk about tracks and parts of the country. In my mind, it needed something that set it aside. Indianapolis was always the greatest spectacle in sports. Indeed, it was.

“But what was Daytona? Well, it was All‑American stock cars in those days, and pretty much the neighbors sounded like your neighbors, particularly if you came from a small town. What would come to mind? I fooled around with that for a long time.

“I was in Australia doing a show. They had a great race over there. It was a long one, it was a dinger, and it was a national holiday. On the way home, I thought, God, that’s what Daytona is. It’s ‘The Great American Race.’

“I got chewed up pretty good about that. Hadn’t I ever heard of Indy? I sure as the dickens had. This was coming from a different place. Sure enough in 1959, when those three cars came across wheel‑to‑wheel at the end of 500 miles, that was The Great American Race.’’

3. Revamped pit stops

Martin Truex Jr. was asked this week about his thoughts on the changes to pit road with five people going over the wall to service the car instead of six this season.

Truex had an interesting take on what pit crew position might grow in importance with the change.

“I think there’s a lot of question marks from all teams, and I know there’s a lot of talk throughout teams and in the industry of how much different it is,’’ he said during a break in the Goodyear tire test at Texas Motor Speedway. “Everybody is going to think they have a handle on it and then somebody is going to do it different on pit road and whip everybody’s butt in Daytona, so then you’re going to have to re-learn everything and try and figure it out.

“From what I understand, it’s been really difficult. A lot of the weight falls on the jackman as far as making the stops go fast and when all that pressure gets put on one position it makes that one position really important and really different than it’s been in the past.’’

4. Las Vegas test

NASCAR has an organizational test at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1. That means that one team per organization is permitted at the test.

Among those scheduled to test are William Byron (Hendrick Motorsports), Kyle Larson (Chip Ganassi Racing), Brad Keselowski (Team Penske), Kurt Busch (Stewart-Haas Racing) and Erik Jones (Joe Gibbs Racing).

5. January racing

While the return of NASCAR can’t come soon enough for many, did you know the last time the Cup Series raced in January was 1981? Bobby Allison won at Riverside, California. That was the season-opening race and the Daytona 500 followed. Riverside opened the Cup season from 1970-81.

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Johanna Long, Hunter Robbins announce engagement

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NASCAR believes in engaging with its fans through social media and the like, but that whole engagement trend is going in other directions, as well.

First it was Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Amy Reimann.

Then it was Camping World Truck Series driver Daniel Hemric and K&N Pro Series East driver Kenzie Ruston.

Now, NASCAR driver Johanna Long and fellow race car driver Hunter Robbins are the latest couple to become engaged.

Johanna excitedly revealed the big news on Twitter and Instagram on Sunday.

No wedding date has been announced, as yet.

Congratulations to Johanna and Hunter.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

From wedding proposal to racing together, it has been a hectic two weeks for this couple

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Less than two weeks after Daniel Hemric proposed to Kenzie Ruston, they will compete against each other on the track.

Hemric, who regularly runs in the Camping World Truck Series, will drive in Friday’s K&N Pro Series East race at Watkins Glen International. Ruston, a regular in the series, also is entered.

They’ve raced against each other before – about 20 times in Super Late Models and two previous times this season in the K&N Series – but that’s nothing compared to what Hemric experienced on the trip to St. Lucia to propose to Ruston, his girlfriend of six years.

Hemric packed the engagement ring in his suitcase. As they waited on luggage after landing, her bag arrived and his didn’t. More bags came. His was not among those.

Finally, it arrived. The last bag.

“I’ve never been so relieved,’’ Hemric said.

Then came the proposal July 25 on the beach.

“I started getting down on one knee and I’ve never had a more nerve-racking experience in my life,’’ he said.

“Her reaction was priceless and it meant the world to me how excited she was and how shocked she still was whether she knew (about the proposal) or not.’’

Ruston admits she had a clue. She knew Hemric had gotten a stone from the ring of Ruston’s grandmother to put in Ruston’s ring.

source: Getty Images

“I knew it was coming, and I still cried,’’ Ruston said. “It was very sweet and very personal.’’

As they return to racing, neither sees competing against each other as a big deal. After all, they met while racing Legends Cars in different divisions.

“In more ways than others, we actually help each other,’’ Ruston said. “We both understand racing. We do spend a lot of time apart, but I feel like racing is what brought us together. Racing is a big part of our lives.’’

Said Hemric: “I can’t imagine finding anyone better. I know she’s the one for me and I’m excited to spend the rest of my life with.’’

 

Wedding bells to ring for NASCAR drivers

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NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Daniel Hemric and Kenzie Ruston, who competes in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East Series, are engaged. Both announced the news Tuesday on Twitter.

Hemric, 24, finished fifth last week at Eldora and is seventh in the points standings in his rookie season. Ruston, 23, is 14th in the K&N points standings in her second full season in that series.

Catch K&N Pro Series East’ Visit Hampton 175 tonight on NBCSN

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Coming up this afternoon and again later this evening is a replay of the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East’ Visit Hampton 175, which took place Saturday at Langley Speedway in Hampton, Va.

The race will air at 5:30 pm ET and again at 11 pm ET, both on NBCSN.

William Byron, a 17-year-old from Charlotte who is in the 2015 NASCAR Next class, dominated to earn his third win in six starts on the K&N PSE schedule this season.

Byron, who won earlier this season at Greeneville-Pickens and Iowa, led all but one lap in the event, the longest on the K&N PSE tour.

Byron’s HScott Motorsports teammate Rico Abreu, who won the Chili Bowl in Tulsa earlier this year, won the pole for the 175 with a speed of 89.323 mph. Abreu finished ninth in the event.

Another of Byron’s and Abreu’s teammates, Dalton Sargeant, led the other remaining lap and finished third.

Of the top 5 finishers, three are members of this year’s NASCAR Next class: Byron, race runner-up Kyle Benjamin and Sargeant.

In addition, Gray Gaulding, who was a member of the 2013 and 2014 NASCAR Next classes, finished fourth.

Remember, tune in at 5:30 pm ET or 11 pm ET to catch what was an exciting race.

Here’s how the race played out:

NASCAR K&N PRO SERIES EAST

Visit Hampton VA 175 Results

Fin. Pos. (Car #) Driver; Laps Compl.
1.  (9)  William Byron; 175
2.  (27) Kyle Benjamin; 175
3.  (51) Dalton Sargeant; 175
4.  (12) Gray Gaulding; 175
5.  (42) Jay Beasley; 175
6.  (34) Scott Heckert; 175
7.  (91) Justin Carroll; 175
8.  (15) Nick Drake; 175
9.  (98) Rico Abreu; 175
10. (22) Austin Hill; 175
11. (04) Ronnie Bassett Jr.; 174
12. (4)  Kenzie Ruston; 174
13. (44) Dillon Bassett; 174
14. (6)  Devon Amos; 174
15. (2)  Collin Cabre; 174
16. (08) Tyler Hughes; 173
17. (3)  Kaz Grala; 173
18. (23) J.P. Morgan; 172
19. (31) David Garbo Jr.; 172
20. (5)  J.J. Haley; 171
21. (18) Sam Hunt; 170
22. (45) Christian Celaya; 168
23. (19) Chuck Buchanan Jr.; 152
24. (94) Dylan Hoffman; 61
Pole: Abreu – 89.323 mph.

 

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