Sarah Cornett-Ching

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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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Dale Earnhardt Jr. has shown drivers it’s OK to admit being hurt

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. wasn’t looking to become an influential voice when he began opening up about his concussion.

But Earnhardt’s forwardness has resulted in other drivers following his ways. Something both Ryan Ellis and Sarah Cornett-Ching admit they wouldn’t have previously done.

“I don’t think I would have gotten checked out honestly,” Ellis told NBC Sports. “It’s not because I didn’t think I had (a concussion) or anything, it just kind of has that negative connotation when you take a hit. Like, ‘Oh that guy can’t take a hit.’ You don’t want to feel like a wuss out there.”

Ellis blew a right front tire in the Oct. 2 Xfinity Series race at Dover International Speedway and his car slammed the wall. He was checked and released from the infield care center but returned when he started to get a headache, felt dizzy, and become nauseous in the garage. Ellis then headed to a local hospital.

“When one of the leaders of the sport (Earnhardt) goes out there and takes the extra steps to get back and make sure he’s right when he comes back, that really gives you the feeling of comfort that you can go and get that checked out,” Ellis said. “No one is going to look at you differently the next week.”

Cornett-Ching had similar thoughts. She hit the outside and inside walls during the Sept. 23 ARCA race at Kentucky Speedway and suffered a headache. Cornett-Ching said it wasn’t until the next day “when everything started falling apart for me.” She said her brain couldn’t keep up with her surroundings and that night she became nauseous and had ringing in her ears.

Cornett-Ching spent the next few days laying in the dark before NASCAR called to check on her. They recommended she see Dr. Jerry Petty, one of the top neurologists in the Charlotte area.

“The decision to open up about what I was going through was influenced by Dale Jr. because initially, I thought it would make me feel weak,” Cornett-Ching told NBC Sports. “I didn’t really want people to know I had a concussion because if there was an opportunity to run a car or do something and advance my career, I didn’t want it to be hindered by the fact that I have a concussion right now.”

That Earnhardt has been a trendsetter in this area is something he didn’t anticipate nor takes the credit. Although he suspected a few individuals might be affected by watching his injury unfold, Earnhardt is glad to see drivers getting the necessary treatment.

“You’ve only got one brain,” Earnhardt told NBC Sports. “When that’s not working right you get scared into wanting to get fixed. When you get hurt, and you can’t see the way you want to see, or you can’t think straight, or your balance is off, that right there is enough to drive you to make the right decisions. So I can’t take much credit for it.

“I think that these folks when they hear somebody talking about it, and they hear about the symptoms, and then they experience it themselves, they realize this is serious, this is scaring me, this is what he did, and I know this path to take to get right. So, I’m glad they’re making good decisions.”

Earnhardt hopes more drivers continue to follow suit. As he’s learned, there are many educated doctors ready to help, in addition to exercises set to specific injuries. And it’s important, Earnhardt agrees, that drivers know it’s OK to come out and say they are hurt and need the help.

“That’s the smartest thing to do and especially when you’re dealing with your head,” Earnhardt said. “Trying to kind of soldier through it on your own is an easy choice to try to make but a lot of times you can get yourself in trouble if you happen to have another incident shortly after that. When you start to layer concussions and get two or three back-to-back is when you really get into the danger zone.”

Ellis had the chance to speak with Earnhardt last week at Charlotte Motor Speedway during an event for Earnhardt’s foundation. They discussed their symptoms and experiences.

“We had the same feelings of fogginess and stuff like that after the initial hit,” Ellis said. “He did help quite a bit. It’s really cool to have the leader of our sport there to kind of lean on.”

The most important thing Earnhardt told Ellis was to listen to his doctor.

“You can’t have any doubt in your mind about what you’re doing as far as whether it’s going to work or whether it’s not going to work,” Earnhardt said he told Ellis. “You’re going to get people coming from all over the place out of all kinds of corners saying, ‘Hey, this is what you need to do. Hey, this is what you need to do. You know, my buddy had that. I bet you have inner ear infection or your rocks are loose’ or what the hell ever.

“Everybody thinks that they know what is wrong with you and what to do. You just need to listen to one person, and that’s your doctor, and you gotta be completely transparent when you go to your doctor and you’re hurt.”

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Sarah Cornett-Ching moves up from ARCA to K&N Pro Series East in 2016

(Photo courtesy Sarah Cornet-Ching Racing)
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A year ago, Sarah Cornett-Ching was working as a master welder in the remote hinterlands of northern Canada.

Today, Cornett-Ching is one of the most promising young drivers in stock car racing, with a bright future ahead of her.

That’s why it’s no surprise that after a strong rookie season in the ARCA Series in 2015 – including finishing seventh in the standings (an ARCA record for highest finish ever for a female driver), Cornett-Ching is moving on up to the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East in 2016.

She made the announcement recently on her web site.

Cornett-Ching will run for K&N East Rookie of the Year honors in 2016. She’ll also continue driving for team owner Tony Blanchard and RACE 101 as they join her in the climb from ARCA to the K&N series.

Cornett-Ching will also compete in select races in ARCA, as well as the CARS Super Late Model Tour.

“I’m really energized about running in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series,” Cornett-Ching said in a release. “We raced a handful of events with them last year, I really liked how the races were organized, the parity of the rules package and what it offered me as a driver.”

The 24-year-old Summerland, British Columbia resident has shown great promise in her climb up the racing ladder. The K&N Series is the next step in her evolution as a racer.

“As my career continues to advance, I’ll be racing on some of the same tracks and with a lot of the same drivers and teams,” Cornett-Ching said. “Combine that with the added value that the NASCAR brand can bring to me and my partners (and) it was really a no-brainer (to move up to the K&N league).”

Cornett-Ching will kick off her 2016 racing season in the ARCA season opener at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 13. The following day, she’ll compete in the K&N Pro Series East season opener at nearby New Smyrna Speedway.

“The K&N Series has a great mix of tracks and is a really good place to build my skill-set and improve my confidence as a driver, but ARCA still offers valuable opportunities for big-track and radial tire experience,” Cornett-Ching said. “Seat time is seat time, no matter what I’m driving.

“So to have laps around places like Chicago, Talladega or Kansas is extremely valuable, especially when I have an opportunity to move up to Xfinity or the Truck Series in the future.”

Cornett-Ching had five top-10 finishes in 20 ARCA starts in 2015. Now that she moves up to the K&N series, she looks forward to following in the footsteps of others who preceded her.

“So many drivers came through those cars on the way to K&N success, and ultimately the top three tiers of NASCAR – Kyle Busch, Chase Elliott, Erik Jones and so many more,” she said. “There’s a pattern there.”

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Like father, like son: Ross Kenseth, Matt’s son, wins at Michigan in 3rd career ARCA start

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Ross Kenseth gave father Matt — as in former Sprint Cup champion Matt Kenseth — an early Father’s Day present on Friday at Michigan International Speedway.

Piloting a Chevrolet owned by veteran racer Ken Schrader, the younger Kenseth earned his first career win in only his third start in the ARCA series, capturing the Corrigan Oil 200.

“Hats off to these guys,” Kenseth said on Fox Sports 2. “It was a lot of fun today. I felt we were alright (on fuel). I’m just real happy to be here.

“This is about a year and a half since my last win in anything. … I’m happy to do my job for them.”

The 22-year-old Kenseth drove the final 62 laps on the same tank of fuel, while others in the 27-driver field such as Grant Enfinger had to pit late in the race to reach the finish line.

As it turned out, Kenseth was able to conserve enough fuel to not only cross the start-finish line, but to also do a celebratory burnout and make it all the way to victory lane.

“It was pretty cool, I’m glad he won it,” proud father Matt said of his son. “He did a great job. Ross has been working particularly hard to get some opportunities.”

In Ross Kenseth’s other two career ARCA starts, he finished third (2014, Kansas) and sixth (2013, Madison).

Coming on the heels of his first ARCA win, Ross Kenseth will make his first Xfinity Series career start next weekend at Chicagoland Speedway during an off-weekend for the Sprint Cup Series.

“This is a great weekend for me here and I look forward to spending next weekend with him in Chicago,” Matt Kenseth said.

Ross and Matt are now the fifth father-son pairing to ever win a race at MIS. Others are Dale and Dale Earnhardt Jr., Rusty and Steven Wallace, Bobby and Davey Allison and Bob and Brad Keselowski.

Series veteran Frank Kimmel finished second (2.123 seconds behind Kenseth), followed by Austin Wayne Self, Tom Hessert and Matt Kurzejewski.

Sixth through 10th were Josh Williams, David Levine, Grant Enfinger, Sarah Cornett-Ching and Bo Lemastus.

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