“As of now nothing is really set in stone,” Deegan said. “Money is still tight. ARCA is expensive. We are still figuring it out. At the beginning of the year I thought we would be in the clear to do a few truck races money-wise and budget-wise for my racing, but what actually happened was with the whole COVID deal and everything, everyone’s budgets that they were going to give extra on top of what I had was cut.
“We had to start from square one again.”
Deegan said she knows “people that have trucks but I am struggling to find people that want to pay for them.”
Deegan, who has three ARCA Menards West wins, has been “making the best” of what she has had available to her this season while racing for DGR-Crosley.
“Put a lot more time on the simulator and been doing a lot more around stock car racing, not just practicing at the track,” Deegan said. “I have been doing a lot more dirt circle track racing and sim time and studying footage and focusing on the off-track stuff to get me ready for the on-track stuff to get me ready since we have such a lack of practice.”
Through 14 races, Deegan has 12 top 10s and a best finish of second in the season opener at Daytona. Her best non-superspeedway result was third at Lucas Oil Raceway. Going into Toledo she’s third in the standings, 48 points behind Michael Self.
Her two DNF’s were at Kentucky (wreck) and Iowa (mechanical issue).
“If I finished outside of the top 10 without anything happening I would be nervous for myself,” Deegan said. “I just hold myself to such a high standard and have such high goals for myself to accomplish and I know I am still in my development years and stuff but still, having a lot of eyes on me does add pressure and it does add pressure to do better than I am at any moment. I think I just have to keep my mind that I am in the ARCA Series and developing for the future.”
Deegan said the pandemic has made “it difficult, especially for a driver like me that doesn’t have as much experience as I want to have and needs more experience.”
Deegan transitioned to stock car racing after getting her start in off-road racing. This is just her third full-time year racing on pavement.
“It favors drivers that have been there forever,” Deegan said of the lack of additional track time. “Those are the ones it doesn’t affect the most. The up-and-coming drivers are trying to get seat time and experience. These races still cost the same for sponsors to pay for as they would if we got practice and qualifying and all that stuff. I get cut short, I am really the only one that gets cut short in the whole process because I am not getting the most out of it that I am needing to and was planning on from the beginning.”
While Deegan doesn’t believe the circumstances of this season push her racing plans “back a year,” she knows she’s will have to “really buckle down and focus” for the rest of this season.
Deegan, who competes in the ARCA Menards Series, will be in the field when the series takes to the 14-turn, 3.61-mile circuit for practice and a race Friday evening (5 p.m. ET on Trackpass).
“I’m pretty excited because this was not one of the races we had planned on our schedule,” Deegan told NBCSN’s Kelli Stavast earlier this week. “At the beginning of the year I saw all the races, obviously to see which ones you’re looking forward to, like your favorites and stuff and obviously this on wasn’t on there. … I like road courses. I raced at Sonoma about twice (in ARCA Menards West). I was decent there, I qualified on the pole one of the times (2019) there against a lot of good drivers. It was a confirmation that, ‘Ok, we’re decent at road courses.'”
Deegan, who enters the race fourth in the point standings behind Michael Self, first got a shot at the road course at the beginning of the year. As a Ford development driver, she took part in multiple days of testing before competing in a Michelin Pilot Challenge race in a GT4 Mustang.
“I would not say I’m perfect at road courses,” Deegan said. “But I feel that’s one of my stronger suits. I’m trying to learn this whole stock car world. Circle track, everything like that, that’s all been a foreign concept. So everything I’m learning I’m learning for the first time. But when we go back to road courses, I grew up in go karting, I grew up racing off-road trucks on courses where you turn right and left. So that’s not a foreign concept to me. So I feel more comfortable on road courses, especially with us only getting an hour of practice and all the time I have on that track.
“I have so many days of practice from the beginning of the year on that track. Obviously, it’s a different car, a GT4 Mustang. … It’s easy to drive, but hard to be fast in an IMSA car. (While) the stock cars are harder to drive, but you have that experience, I feel like you can have a little bit of an advantage over people.”
A year into his role as Jimmie Johnson’s crew chief and facing another challenge to make the playoffs, Cliff Daniels has a simple request.
“I’m not even asking for things to exceptionally go our way,” he told NBC Sports. “I’m just asking for them to exceptionally stop going against us. When that happens, we’ll be OK.”
This has been a dizzying season of disappointment for Johnson and his team since the season resumed in May. The result is that the seven-time Cup champion is outside a playoff spot heading into this weekend’s doubleheader at Michigan International Speedway and in danger of missing the playoffs for a second year in a row.
Since May, there have been few highlights for Johnson and the No. 48 team.
# Clint Bowyer gained five spots in the last 11 laps at Atlanta to remain 12th in the owner standings and ahead of Johnson. That was critical because cars 1-12 in owner points are eligible to start in those spots via the random draw. Cars 13-24 in owner points, drew for those spots. Johnson’s luck in the random draw would prove to be terrible in the summer, costing him points in the first stage. Johnson has scored Stage 1 points in three of the 10 races since Atlanta.
# While running 13th at Kansas, Johnson was collected in a multi-car crash and finished 32nd, again losing points.
# Last weekend at New Hampshire, contact with Clint Bowyer’s car spun Johnson as they raced for fifth place late in the opening stage. Johnson went on to finish 12th — his best finish in his last eight starts.
All this has put Johnson 25 points behind Hendrick Motorsports teammate William Byron for what would be the final playoff spot with six races left in the regular season.
The challenge is that with Johnson only eligible for starting spots 13-24, it is not easy to score points in the first stage of any race. It won’t be easy this weekend at Michigan. The first stage in both races is at Lap 40 — a quarter of the way through the 156-lap race. Last year, the first stage ended about a third of the way into the race. With fewer laps, it makes it more challenging to gain points early. NASCAR will change how the starting lineup is determined beginning next weekend and that could help Johnson.
Johnson will start 17th on Saturday. That also impacts how Daniels will set the car.
“We really have to slide our scale more toward the traffic balance potential, and you’ve got to be aggressive on the restarts, get all we can for positions there, and then make sure we’ve got a car that is able to pass,” Daniels said. “If you look at Kentucky, if you look at Texas, if you look at Kansas, that kind of paid off for us in making sure that we could pass and we did. We were able to pass and get up into the top 10 or better at all three of those tracks pretty quickly. … I do expect us to get our shot out front at some point during the day (at Michigan), at least that’s the plan.
“We’re going to keep marching forward in what we have built into the car in terms of being able to pass, have good pit stops and good restarts and a good strategy. The tough part is when we get up to the front we may not have quite the raw potential built into the car, so we’ll have to duke it out with them and that puts even more emphasis on executing those restarts and pit stops to keep our track position.”
David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development, explained in 2018 the manufacturer’s interest in developing talent:
“If you had asked me 10 years ago, I would have said that manufacturer’s don’t have any business developing drivers. You know you look at Kasey Kahne being brought up as a Ford driver and getting poached by Chevy or Jeff Gordon, kind of all of these examples – what we came to realize is one, why shouldn’t manufacturers have a role in driver development? From the competitive perspective you have two options, develop your own or steal them and you know Rick Hendrick and I have had a friendly you know jab about that because he’ll say ‘I’ll just steal them from you.’
“Arguably, he did already, but that’s okay because the second part of it is more altruistic I’d say and that’s that I think as a stakeholder in this sport, we have a responsibility to give back and we recognize – and the troubling part about it is Toyota doesn’t own racing teams. That’s not our role. The tough part about it is we’ll lose as many of these young kids as we’ll be able to keep just because you know the higher you climb the ladder, the fewer seats are available. That’s what keeps me up at night, frankly.”
3. A catwalk unlike any other
Among the many events postponed by the pandemic was the Martin Truex Jr. Foundation Catwalk for a Cause. The charity event held in May has raised more than $600,000 each of the past two years and highlighted pediatric cancer patients and survivors — heroes as they are called — in the fashion show.
Last year’s event raised money for the Martin Truex Jr. Foundation Children’s Emergency Department at Novant Health Huntersville Medical Center and the Sherry Strong Integrative Medicine Oncology Clinic at Novant Health Presbyterian Main.
Sherry Pollex, partner of Martin Truex Jr., told NBC Sports that COVID-19 and the economy are forcing foundations to examine how they raise funds.
“I think we’re going to have to come up with some ideas that are outside of the box, that we’ve probably never seen before because we need to honor these commitments to these hospitals and these children that we were going to fight for,” Pollex said.
An example is what the foundation looks to do with Catwalk for a Cause.
“We’re hoping that we can still do something special,” Pollex said. “We’re trying to put all the pieces together right now. We’re not really sure what it’s going to look like. We want to obviously protect the kids and their health and their families and everybody that is going to come in, but we’re hoping it’s going to be kind of like a drive-in movie theater type atmosphere where you drive your car in and are tailgating from the back of it. We’ve got some great ideas for that and we’re hoping that goes off in September so we can get funding from that.”
Fundraising continues for the foundation, which has been selling a variety of T-shirts this summer. Truex said the key is to keep the “word out on what we’re doing. Simple things like selling T-shirts. Our fans and supporters have been excited about little things like that and that keeps the fire burning.”
Truex’s sponsor Auto-Owners Insurance combined with his foundation to sell 500 limited edition mini helmets signed by Truex and Pollex. The helmets sold out this week in less than three hours. Auto-Owners also matched employee donations to the Martin Truex Jr. Foundation. That and the sale of the helmets raised more than $80,000. To celebrate, the hood of Truex’s car this weekend at Michigan will have the names of 1,900-plus Auto-Owners associates who made donations to the MTJ Foundation.
“Racing is tough,” Keselowski said in a media conference Thursday. “It’ll make you bitter. There ain’t no way around it. It’s competition in all forms. It’s competition from the driver level, the owner level, the crew chief level and it’s tough.There’s no way around it.
“I’ve heard a lot of talk lately about the ownership model being broken. I’m not so sure I believe that. Sometimes I think it is. Sometimes I think it isn’t. There’s a lot to be said for the very pure and true competitive and capitalist model that NASCAR team ownership has, so it’s got its positives and its negatives.
“I don’t enjoy seeing guys like Bob Leavine or anyone else for that matter leave the sport in ownership. I take no pleasure in their pain, but then on the other side I do recognize that in competition there must always be winners and losers, and maybe some people lose that don’t deserve to lose. That probably happens from time to time, but it’s part of the story of our sport is that there are winners and losers.
“We don’t have to like who the winner is, and we certainly don’t have to wish for someone to lose. We might not like who it is that loses. I think in this case, Bob seemed like a really great gentleman who has brought a lot to this sport in a very short period of time, but it’s a tough sport. It really is, and this is part of that unfortunate cycle of life for our sport as well.”
5. Kyle Larson’s future
Mark Rushbrook, global director, Ford Performance Motorsports, met with the media this week. One of the questions he was asked was if there had been any conversations about whether Kyle Larson could be in a Ford next year.
So, could Larson drive for Ford in NASCAR next year?
“We’re in the midst of silly season and what I can say is we’re looking at all of our options,” Rushbrook said. “A lot of our seats have long-term contracts and are solid. You saw the extension announced (Monday) for Brad (Keselowski). We certainly have some seats in play, so looking to see what the best options are.
“We’re here to win races in the right way. We want to be competitive on track. We want to have our innovation and tech transfer, and we want the marketing out of it, so looking to see what we can do with any open seats for next year to fill them with the best driver.”
Janet Guthrie never set out to be a pioneer or trailblazer. All she wanted to be was a race car driver.
The Iowa native considered herself just like every other racer out there: she loved going fast.
That she was a female was inconsequential. She never sought attention just because of her gender. Rather, she wanted to be judged solely on her merits behind the wheel.
Unfortunately, many in the racing world – particularly fellow competitors and fans in NASCAR and IndyCar – thought otherwise.
To those jaded observers, a stock car or open-wheel car was no place for a woman to be in. Yet that’s precisely where Guthrie aspired to be.
May 30 marks the 44th anniversary of Guthrie’s first appearance in a NASCAR race. She started 27th in the World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway and finished 15th, a remarkable showing considering it was her first-ever foray into the world of NASCAR.
The male-only world of NASCAR, that is.
Her Charlotte debut – which would mark the first time a female raced on a NASCAR superspeedway – would be the first of 33 appearances for Guthrie in the then-Winston Cup Series between 1976 and 1980.
Even to this day, more than four decades later, Guthrie’s name remains synonymous with opening the door for other female racers who wanted to make their mark in the world of motorsports, particularly in NASCAR and IndyCar.
Virtually every female who has come along in some form of stock car racing, from NASCAR Cup to the lowest levels of sportsman racing, from Danica Patrick to Hailie Deegan, has Guthrie to thank for paving the way for them.
Even now, at the age of 82, Guthrie has never forgotten the weight that rested on her shoulders when she took the green flag at Charlotte.
“I knew back at the time that if I screwed up, it would be an exceedingly long time before another woman got a chance,” said Guthrie, who was 38 at the time of the Charlotte race. “I came to feel it as a responsibility, really.
“I mean, I didn’t do what I did to prove anything for women. I did it because I was a racing driver right through to my bone marrow.”
Guthrie achieved a number of firsts in her career, with the most notable year of her life being 1977 when she became the first woman to compete in both the Daytona 500 (finished 12th and was named the race’s top rookie) and the Indianapolis 500.
After graduating from the University of Michigan, Guthrie began what she thought would be a long career as an aerospace engineer.
The desire to make airplanes go faster rubbed off in four-wheel form with Guthrie, who began racing sports cars in her mid-20s. She would become quite successful, including earning two wins in her class in the 12 Hours of Sebring endurance race.
Guthrie said she was much more accepted as a female racer in sports car racing, particularly on the Sports Car Club of America circuit. The more she raced, the more opponents and fans looked at her solely as a very tough competitor, not as a female.
But by the mid-1970s, when she was racing sports cars full-time, the lure – particularly IndyCar racing – kept getting stronger for Guthrie.
It was that lure that eventually led to an unexpected career detour into NASCAR.
In 1976, Guthrie was offered a ride to become the first woman to race in the Indianapolis 500, but her car wasn’t competitive enough and she failed to make the field.
When her effort fell short at Indy, Charlotte Motor Speedway president Humpy Wheeler offered Guthrie a ride in NASCAR’s longest race, the World 600 – which ran later on the same day as the Indy 500.
Despite having never been in a stock car, Guthrie jumped at the chance to further show her four-wheeled versatility.
While there was quite a bit of insolence among her male competitors, Guthrie got some help from some competitors including Donnie Allison and Buddy Baker.
But some others that initially helped Guthrie were soon forced by peer pressure to ultimately ignore her.
“Somebody would give me a little hand and I would credit them when talking to a newspaper reporter and then that driver wouldn’t speak to me,” Guthrie said. “Oh my God, they’d apparently get a hard time from everybody else – so I learned not to do that.”
That is, until she got the Junior Johnson and Cale Yarborough seal of approval.
“The single most significant thing that happened was when (team owner) Rolla Vollstedt called Cale, who agreed to take my car out and practice it. Cale took it out and his speeds weren’t any more competitive than mine had been.
“Then Junior Johnson walked over to where we were standing and he and Cale talked and Junior looked at me and he said to Herb Nab (Yarborough’s crew chief) ‘give her the setup.’ And that made all the difference in the world. That was a gift that was truly priceless. I’ll never forget Junior Johnson for doing that.”
Guthrie earned five top-10 finishes in her 33 career starts in stock car racing’s highest level, including a career-best sixth-place finish at Bristol in 1977.
That would remain the highest finish by a woman in modern day Cup racing (from 1971 to the present day) until Patrick equaled Guthrie’s finish at Atlanta in 2014.
Sara Christian was the only woman in NASCAR history to earn a top-5 finish — finished fifth — in a dirt race in Pittsburgh in 1949, but that preceded the Grand National Series, which eventually became the Winston Cup Series in 1971. Christian also recorded a sixth-place finish three races earlier in 1949 at Langhorne (Pa.) Speedway.
“We had run high on previous occasions, but something always happened,” Guthrie said. “Bristol was a ferociously difficult track, so short, so many high-banked turns, no time to relax.
“Everything went right for us that time. Nobody spun where I couldn’t avoid them, the engine didn’t blow and we didn’t have any significant handling issues. I really felt very, very good about that race.”
Doing so well on one of NASCAR’s most challenging tracks also marked a breakthrough when it came to how fellow drivers treated her. Instead of their dwelling on her being a female, Guthrie finally began to be treated like one of the boys – and she loved it.
“The most gratifying thing was to see attitudes change — and they did change,” Guthrie said. “They were starting to joke with me and give me a hard time and that kind of stuff. That really made me feel very good.”
Another high point of Guthrie’s NASCAR career was the 1977 season-ending race at Ontario Motor Speedway, when she became the first woman to ever lead a Cup race.
“That was one my very greatest pleasures,” she said. “The high point of that race really was going at it hammer and tongs with Bobby Allison for lap after lap after lap.
“I mean, I had so much fun. I’d pass him, he’d pass me back. We just went back and forth and back and forth. It was wonderful. I just loved it – until the head gasket failed and I ended up in some insignificant position (24th).”
After competing in 31 NASCAR races between 1976-78, Guthrie couldn’t get a ride and was forced to sit out the 1979 season. She returned for two final starts in 1980, including being Dale Earnhardt’s teammate in that year’s Daytona 500 – he finished fourth, she was 11th.
Guthrie’s NASCAR career abruptly ended after her final Cup start in the 1980 Coca-Cola 500 (finished 28th) at Pocono Raceway.
The reason for her departure was perhaps the one element Guthrie ultimately had most in common with countless male race car drivers over the years – lack of sponsorship.
She failed to get even one overture from other teams, including small, underfunded operations.
“Oh, it was a really terrible period of time,” Guthrie said. “I mean, ’78, ’79, ’80, ’81, ’82, ’83, all those years I spent every living moment attempting to find backing to continue racing at the top levels.
“Finally, in 1983 I realized that if I kept it up, I was going to jump out of a high window. That was when I quit doing that and started working on the book.”
Unable to race, Guthrie’s book – “Janet Guthrie: A Life at Full Throttle” – became a labor of love. It took her 23 years to write before it was published in 2005.
“I really thought of that book as my own legacy,” Guthrie said. “Sports Illustrated called it, I’ll never forget this, ‘An uplifting work that is one of the best books ever written about racing.’ I thought that was pretty nice.”
With the book now out of print, Guthrie is looking to republish it on her own on the Kindle platform, to introduce her life story to a new audience, particularly young, aspiring female racers.
While opportunities for women in NASCAR have increased since her time in the sport, including initiatives such as Drive for Diversity and a number of rising stars such as Hailie Deegan, Guthrie admits things are still not equal.
“The problem for women, in my opinion, is they still have a harder time finding funding for this very expensive sport than does a man of similar accomplishments,” she said.
A resident of Aspen, Colorado for the last 30-plus years, Guthrie is active in the town’s arts scene as well as belongs to a garden club. She also keeps up with racing by watching on TV but doesn’t attend many races.
Guthrie has been inducted into more than a half-dozen motorsports halls of fame and is again among five nominees – the others are Mike Helton, Alvin Hawkins, Dr. Joseph Mattioli and Ralph Seagraves – for the 2021 Landmark Award for the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Because she didn’t log the minimum 10 years in NASCAR to be eligible to be inducted into the Hall as a driver, winning the Landmark Award would still acknowledge all that she went through in her NASCAR career.
While she calls being considered for NASCAR’s Landmark Award “very flattering,” Guthrie admits there remains one big lament in her life.
“I wish with all my heart that I had been able to continue racing so that I would have the 10 years in NASCAR necessary to be considered for the Hall of Fame itself,” she said. “I really feel that I would have won Cup races.
“I mean, I led a race, I had run with the leaders on various occasions and I knew what I could do there. Now in Indy cars, I only drove 11 races, so I can’t make the same assertion with the same confidence. But in NASCAR I can.
“Oh, I’d give anything to go back to 1980.”
Editor’s note: We will have another story focusing on Janet Guthie’s IndyCar career – most notably the Indianapolis 500 – next week on MotorSportsTalk.
NBCSN will air “On Her Turf: Inspiring Greatness” to celebrate Mother’s Day at 8 p.m. ET today.
The special looks back on great female sports performances while also weaving in a little bit of a Mother’s Day theme and recognizing first responders. From game changers to championship moms, ones to watch to breathtaking moments, “On Her Turf: Inspiring Greatness” spans numerous sports and athletes.
The special, hosted by Kathryn Tappen and Rebecca Lowe, features a multitude of guests, including skier Lindsey Vonn, swimmer Dara Torres, NASCAR driver Hailie Deegan and hockey players Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson and Monique Lamoureux-Morando. They’ll discuss their careers and how they’ve handled life during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Kelley Earnhardt Miller also is on the show and talks with her brother, Dale Earnhardt Jr, about her years in racing and managing a NASCAR team.
Spotlighted moments include Simone Biles with her 2016 all-around gold medal floor routine, Serena and Venus Williams together in the 1999 French Open doubles title and against each other in the 2002 French Open title, Tatyana McFadden with inspiring marathons in the 2016 Paralympic Games and 2018 in Boston, Michelle Wie with a 2014 win at the Lotte Championship and many more.