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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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Nicole Behar, Ty Majeski earn top-five finishes in ARCA debuts

Nicole Behar
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It was a big weekend two drivers who are former and current members of the NASCAR Next program.

Nicole Behar, a member of the 2015-16 class, and Ty Majeski, a member of the 2016 -17 class, made their debuts in the ARCA Racing Series on Sunday in the Montgomery Ward Father’s Day 200 at Madison International Speedway.

Behar made her one-off start with Venturini Motorsports, which had three of the last four races at the Wisconsin track.

A native of Washington, Behar started third and that’s where she found herself at the end of the 200-lap event. The result was a historic one, as it tied Behar for the best ARCA short track finish for a female driver, matching the result of Patty Simko-Schacht at Toledo Speedway in 1987.

The 18-year-old also had the best result of Venturini Motorsports’ three teams.

“My spotter (Frankie Kimmel) was great today,” Behar said in a team release. “He kept me calm and gave me great information all day long. Reminding me every single lap of the importance of my entry, he really helped me settle in and gain when I needed to gain. I tried to do the best I could to save the car and save my tires today. I was just trying to get as much as I could today. I tried to do the best I could on a tough track with just one racing line today.”

Behar also holds a tie for the best finish by a female driver in the K&N Pro Series West, where she competed last year.

Majeski, a Roush Fenway Racing development driver competing for the Roulo Brothers, came home fourth after qualifying seventh. The Wisconsin-native had been fastest in both of Saturday’s practice sessions and had a caution with 21 laps left derail a charge to the front.

“We had a good solid run. We kept the fenders on for the most part all day,” Majeski told Speed51.com. “The biggest thing I learned today was how to race a big, heavy car. Manage brakes, which is something we don’t have to do a lot on the Late Model, and we had to do that today. I felt like I did a pretty good job at that. I had every bit of race car I needed for the end.”

Roulo Brothers Racing has not yet announced when Majeski will be back in the No. 17 car.

 

NASCAR Next alumni Nicole Behar making ARCA debut

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Nicole Behar, who was a member of the 2015-16 NASCAR Next class, will make her ARCA Series debut this weekend at Madison International Speedway.

The 18-year-old driver from Spokane, Washington, will make the start in the Montgomery Ward Fathers Day 200 for  Venturini Motorsports.

Behar is making her ARCA debut after one full season in the K&N Pro Series West, where she drove for a family owned team. Behar is tied for the best result ever by a female driver after finishing second at Irwindale Event Center.

She’s made one start this season in the CARS Super Late Model Tour while also competing in the NorthWest Super Late Model Series.

“ARCA is the next logical step for sure,” Behar said in a press release. “Venturini Motorsports is a great team that has the knowledge and experience to help me get where I want to be. Hopefully, we can come out this weekend with a good finish. It’s only one race so far.”

Madison might be the best place for Behar to debut with Venturini Motorsports. The team has won three of the first four races at the half-mile track, winning with Alex Bowman, Justin Boston and Kyle Benjamin.

“It’d be great to win, but if we could come out with a top-10 that’d be great,” Behar said. “Everyone wants to win but we all know it’s not that simple.”

This weekend will also be the first time Behar will experience live pit stops in a race.

“I’m hoping to get some pit stop practice in before the race,” Behar said. “My dad’s dragging our K&N car in a Toterhome to Madison so I can hopefully practice with a heavy stock car on that track.”

MORE: Nicole Behar’s NASCAR Next Q&A

NASCAR Next Revisited: Recapping the 2015-16 class

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On Tuesday, NASCAR revealed the membership of the 2016-17 class for its annual NASCAR Next program, which highlights the rising young talent in stock car racing.

This meant an end to the reign of the previous class, which was announced last May with 12 members. That class included the eventual K&N Pro Series East champion, four winners in the K&N East and two in the K&N West.

The class also featured four drivers who are competing in the Camping World Truck Series and have won a total of four races in the last two seasons.

Before the door is completely shut on last year’s membership, here’s a look at how each driver fared in 2015 and what they’re up to 12 months after being introduced together at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina.

 

NASCAR K&N Pro Series East NAPA 150 Columbus
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Rico Abreu – The oldest driver from last year’s class, Abreu is one of four that currently competes in the Camping World Truck Series, driving for ThorSport Racing. While the 4-foot-4 driver hasn’t finished better than 10th (Martinsville) in seven starts, his year has already a notable moment. Abreu started 2016 by winning his second Chili Bowl Nationals in a row and giving us one of the more memorable victory celebrations in recent memory. Abreu, 24, also left his this mark on the K&N East series, winning a race at Columbus Motor Speedway. MORE: Q&A

 

Iowa Speedway - Day 1
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Nicole Behar – The only female driver in last year’s class, Behar earned two top-five finishes in the K&N West series just prior to the reveal of the class last May. A second-place result tied the mark for highest finish in the series by a female driver. Behar, who was featured in Sports Illustrated’s “Faces in the Crowd” last year, finished 2015 10th in the point standings while earning 10 top-10 finishes. The 18-year-old is splitting time this year between the CARS Tour Series for Super Late Models and the Pro All Star Series South (PASS) and will make her ARCA debut on June 19 at Madison International Speedway for Venturini Motorsports. MORE: Q&A

 

NEWTON, IOWA - MAY 16: Kyle Benjamin, driver of the #27 Eibach Ford stands in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR K&N Pro Series Casey's General Store 150 at Iowa Speedway on May 16, 2015 in Newton, Iowa. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)

Kyle Benjamin – Until Todd Gilliland came along, Benjamin was the youngest driver to ever win an ARCA race. Three years later, Benjamin is in his second season in the K&N East, driving for Ranier Racing with MDM. He will also compete in select ARCA races for the team. Last season, the 18-year-old from Easley, South Carolina, won the K&N East race at Bristol Motor Speedway and finished ninth in the standings.

 

 

James Bickford – A relative of former Sprint Cup driver Jeff Gordon, Bickford spent the last two seasons in the K&N West series, where he earned two wins driving for Bob Bruncati. Both came at State Line Speedway in Post Falls, Idaho. Bickford currently doesn’t have a ride for 2016, but he keeps busy with his own vending machine company. MORE: Q&A

William Byron
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William Byron – You’ve probably seen his name pop up in recent weeks. Byron, 18, is almost two weeks removed from his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win at Kansas Speedway. The victory came in just his fifth series start. The rookie earned his first pole last weekend at Dover International Speedway. He signed with Kyle Busch Motorsports this season after winning the K&N East title in 2015, amassing four wins in the process. The scary thing is Byron has only been racing for just over three years. MORE: Q&A

 

Cole Custer
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Cole Custer – After two seasons of part-time racing in the Truck series, the 18-year-old Custer is finally racing full-time in the No. 00 for JR Motorsports. The California-native took home one win last season at Gateway Motorsports Park. Through five races in 2016, Custer has one top five (Dover) and two top-10 finishes (Dover, Kansas). Custer is scheduled to compete in five Xfinity Series races for JR Motorsports. MORE: Q&A

 

Ruben Garcia Jr. – The defending winner of the NASCAR Mexico Series, Garcia now competes in the K&N East series for Rev Racing. Garcia earned his first top-10 finish last month at Virginia International Raceway. The native of Mexico City won four races in four seasons in the Mexico Series, claiming three during his championship campaign. MORE: Q&A

RICHMOND, VA - SEPTEMBER 10: Austin Hill, driver of the #22 A&D Welding/Don Rich Ford Co. Ford, celebrates after winning the K&N Pro Series East UNOH 100 at Richmond International Raceway on September 10, 2015 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)
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Austin Hill – While he’s not the oldest member of last year’s class, Hill definitely has the most responsibility. At 22, Hill is the only NASCAR Next driver from last year that can put “parent” on their resume after he and his wife welcomed their daughter, Lynnlee Ann Hill, last November. That was after a season in K& N East where Hill won two races, bringing his career total to five. In 2016, Hill has competed in two Truck series races, including making his debut at his home track of Atlanta Motor Speedway with a 12th-place finish. MORE: Q&A

Jesse Little – The son of former Sprint Cup driver Chad Little, Jesse Little only had a part-time ride in the K&N West series in 2015, running in six races and winning one at Iowa Speedway. The 19-year-old driver has two K&N wins in four seasons. He is pursuing a degree in finance at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. After competing in four Truck series races last year, Jesse Little will attempt to qualify for the May 20 race at Charlotte Motor Speedway for Rette Jones Racing. He will also compete in six to eight K&N East races for the team. MORE: Q&A

Dylan Lupton – Lupton spent his 2015 season splitting time between the Xfinity Series and other racing circuits, running in eight Xfinity race with a best finish of ninth at Mid-Ohio. He finished fourth in his lone K&N East race at Watkins Glen. In 2016, he’s competed in two Xfinity races while failing to qualify for a third. He earned a DNF in his one ARCA start at Daytona International Speedway after running out of gas four laps from the race’s conclusion. Lupton is set to graduate from UNC-Charlotte.

HAMPTON, GA - FEBRUARY 27: John H Nemechek, driver of the #8 farbe technik Chevrolet, and his father Joe Nemechek pose for photos in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Great Clips 200 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on February 27, 2016 in Hampton, Georgia. (Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images)
(Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images)

John Hunter Nemechek – The son of former Sprint Cup driver Joe Nemechek, the 18-year-old is in his first full-time season on the Truck circuit. Even without a full-time sponsor, John Hunter Nemechek and Nemco Motorsports are keeping the top-tier teams on notice. The No. 8 truck has won twice in the last two seasons and has 10 top-five finishes in John Hunter Nemechek’s last 23 starts. He is currently seventh in the Truck point standings and all but qualified for the season-ending Chase. MORE: Q&A

 

Dalton Sargeant – The 18-year-old from Boca Raton, Florida, dabbled in a little bit of everything in 2015. He competed in the Truck series (four races), K&N West (four races, one win), while also running in the Snowball Derby and the All-American 400. His only full-time ride was in the K&N East series, where he six top-five finishes and ended the year fourth in points. In 2016, he has competed in two ARCA races, two CARS Super Late Model Tour races and is competing in the Champion Racing Association. MORE: Q&A

NASCAR Next’s Nicole Behar to drive for David Gilliland Racing in 2016

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NASCAR Next driver Nicole Behar will take the next step in her racing career development, competing in 2016 for David Gilliland Racing.

One of 12 members of the 2016 NASCAR Next class, Behar will split much of her time between racing on the CARS Tour Series for Super Late Models and the Pro All Star Series South (PASS). She’ll also do some select K&N Pro Series West races.

A fifth generation racer from Otis Orchards, Washington, Behar will drive the No. 97 DGR Toyota Camry with sponsorship from Custom Welding & Fabrication.

The new ride is part of a driver development program that Gilliland began in 2015, which according to a media release is “for aspiring racers to make the transition from Karts, Legends Cars and Quarter Midgets to bigger NASCAR-style race cars.”

Although only 17, Behar has been racing for nearly a decade. In 2015, she was named the Most Popular Driver in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West, where she finished 10th in the standings with two top-fives and nine top-10s.

That included setting K&N West history with the highest finish by a female driver, taking second place in a race at Irwindale, California.

“I am very excited to team up with Toyota and David Gilliland Racing for the 2016 season, providing me not only the opportunity to run the CARS Tour and PASS Series, but a great experience beneficial to my racing career,” Behar said in a media release. “I believe that DGR has the equipment, resources and knowledge capable to run up front.

“Along with the full Super Late Model schedule I will be running select NASCAR K&N Pro Series races as well as some races on the west coast. We are focusing on getting me as much seat time as possible working with multiple racing series.”

Behar’s first race for DGR will be a PASS race on March 5 at Dillon (South Carolina) Motor Speedway.

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