Danica Patrick and NASCAR's 10 Most Notable Female Drivers Ever

Sandra MacWattersCorrespondent IApril 4, 2011

Danica Patrick and NASCAR's 10 Most Notable Female Drivers Ever

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    The women of NASCAR have not had it easy on their path into the male dominated sport of stock car racing, but some have garnered considerable attention for their attempts to race with the boys.

    Many of the women who have been able to race in the top-three series of NASCAR came from a background in karting just like many of the guys.

    Those who began karting at a young age often gravitate to the open-wheel series and do somewhat better than they do with the heavier, bulky stock cars.

    There were women who came into racing as a novelty back in the very early days of NASCAR, but did surprisingly well against the men we consider legends.

    Since the 1970's we have seen a spattering of women from the IndyCar series try and make their mark in NASCAR.

    The top series of NASCAR, known currently as the Sprint Cup series, has always been male dominated and until recent years most of those men preferred it that way.

    Back in June, 2006 an Associated Press article was posted on ESPN Racing in which Richard Petty declared his feelings about women in racing.

    Petty stated in the article, "I just don't think it's a sport for women and so far it's proved out. It's really not. It's good for them to come in. It gives us us a lot of publicity, it gives them publicity."

    There were those who thought his statement was somewhat out of line, but truth be known, there were most likely many male drivers who felt the same way. That, of course, is just the opinion of this writer, and there are no facts to substantiate it.

    NASCAR now has the Drive for Diversity program, which is currently in its eighth year. These are drivers who have proven talent behind the wheel and will be helped along in the lower series of NASCAR with hopes that one day they will be driving in the top series.

    There are 10 drivers in this year's Drive for Diversity class, and three of them are women—Tayla Orleans, Jessica Brunelli and MacKena Bell. They will race in the NASCAR Whelen-All American series.

    The high dollars spent in the top-three series of NASCAR now require strong sponsorship funding. Often it is difficult for women to secure that kind of money for a team because they have not proven to be contenders.

    A bit of a catch-22 exists because the young women may have great talent, but if they make it to NASCAR, they are relegated to low budget teams for the most part and don't have the equipment to showcase their talent.

    In this slideshow we will look at women who have raced in the Cup, NASCAR Nationwide and NASCAR Camping World Truck series.

    They came from a variety of backgrounds and most all of them just made a splash in the NASCAR pool, then drifted back to other racing series or stopped racing.

    The women we see today are securing sponsorship and seem to be a pretty feisty breed willing to contend with the hard knocks they get from the guys.

    It remains to be seen how the women we see in NASCAR now will look in the history books. Some may make a considerable mark while others will end up being a blip in the records.

    Keep in mind this is not a ranking of the best women drivers in NASCAR history. It is the 10 women who have garnered the most attention for a variety of reasons, some of which included their talent behind the wheel of a stock car.

1. Janet Guthrie

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    Janet Guthrie was an aerospace engineer who went racing in the SCCA series during 1963. She drove her first NASCAR race in 1976 at Charlotte Motor Speedway and finished 15th.

    Guthrie ran 33 NASCAR races in four years. She entered 19 Winston Cup (Sprint Cup) races out of the 30 in 1977 and qualified for all 19 races.

    Three times this driver qualified in the top 10 and finished four times in the top 10. She drove a Chevrolet Laguna for Kelly Girl.

    Most of her finishes in NASCAR were 16th or better except for engine failures and the Talladega race where she turned her car over to Lenny Pond so she could handle the obligations to her IndyCar team owner during the important month of May in Indianapolis.

    Guthrie competed in 11 IndyCar events, finishing as high as fifth place. She wanted to show that women could be competitive with the men of racing and that a lot of racing is mental, so it doesn't matter whether you are male or female.

    Her driver's suit and helmet can be found in the Smithsonian Institute.

2. Sara Christian

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    Sara Christian qualified in NASCAR's first race on June 19, 1949, at Charlotte Speedway. She raced on the Daytona Beach Road Course with two other women drivers, Ethel Mobley and Louise Smith.

    In 1949, she raced at Heidelberg Raceway in Pittsburgh and finished fifth in a NASCAR race. She held the record for the highest finish from 1949 until 2011 when Danica Patrick had a fourth place finish.

    Christian only ran seven races during two years. She passed away from natural causes in 1980, but managed to hold a unique record for quite some time.

3. Shawna Robinson

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    Shawna Robinson made her way through some lower series until she reached the NASCAR Busch (Nationwide) series in 1991.

    Robinson raced for lower budget teams most of the 61 second-tier races she ran. Her record shows one top 10 finish and one pole with an average finish of 27.1.

    She drove a few Cup races with her best finish of 19th at Talladega with a car from Michael Waltrip Racing in 2001.

4. Patty Moise

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    Patty Moise began racing in the IMSA road course series when she was 16. In 1986 she ran her first NASCAR Busch (Nationwide) series race.

    Moise went on to run 133 races during 12 years in the second-tier of NASCAR. She also drove in five Cup races between 1987 and 1989.

    This is just one of many female drivers who may have done much better had she had more financial backing. She only had four top 10 finishes in the Busch series.

    She ended her racing career in 1998.

5. Ethel Mobley

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    Ethel Flock Mobley ran more than 100 NASCAR modified races, but only had two starts in the Strictly Stock (Sprint Cup) class.

    One of the Cup races was the Daytona Beach Road Course that she ran with two other women drivers, Louise Smith and Sara Christian.

    That same race was the only one in NASCAR history to feature four siblings, Mobley and her three brothers. Tim Flock finished second, but she finished a career best 11th ahead of Fonty Flock and Bob Flock.

    Mobley passed away in 1984 at age 64.

6. Tammy Jo Kirk

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    Tammy Jo Kirk came from a background in motorcycle racing. In 1994 she moved to the NASCAR Slim Jim All-Pro series and became the Most Popular Driver.

    In 1997 she moved to NASCAR's Craftsman Truck (Camping World) series as the first woman to do so. Her best career finish was 11th that year.

    Kirk drove in 32 races over two years. She was released from several teams that she raced for with lack of sponsorship problems and tried to run her own team with little success. Her team was shut down in 1999, which ended her truck racing.

    In 2003, Kirk returned to NASCAR for an attempt in the second-tier series. Driving the No. 49 Advil Ford Taurus proved to be a real headache for her team owner, and she was released after a best finish of 21st in 15 races.

7. Jennifer Jo Cobb

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    Jennifer Jo Cobb started racing in lower classes including the ARCA series. She debuted in the NASCAR Busch (Nationwide) series in 2004, but crashed on the second lap and finished 43rd.

    In 2008, she began competing in NASCAR's truck series. She has the highest finish for a female in that series when she finished sixth this year in the NextEra Energy Resources 250.

    Her statistics show eight starts in the Nationwide series with an average start of 36.9 and an average finish of 36.8. Cobb has 30 starts in the Truck series with an average finish of 23.6.

    Cobb created controversy at the NASCAR Nationwide race in Bristol when she refused to start and park. The resulting battle of "he said-she said" broke out with her and the car owner. She then secured a ride with Rick Ware for the next race.

    Cobb works hard promoting herself, trying to obtain sponsorship and trying to run her own truck team. Her goal is to have a strong Nationwide team and move to Sprint Cup in a couple years.

    It remains to be seen if Cobb's work ethic and driving talent will secure her the funds she needs for a competitive ride. She may need a new business plan and perhaps work on honing her ability to stay out of wrecks.

    She is on this list because of her fiery personality, her goals, and the way she seems to be able to garner attention and supporters. Cobb, age 37, may be running out of time to prove herself as a real contender and potential Cup driver.

8. Johanna Long

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    Johanna Long at age 18 has quite the impressive record in late model racing around the southeast. In 2010, she won the Super Bowl of short track racing in the Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway in her hometown of Pensacola, Fl.

    She comes from a racing family and started racing karts when she was eight-years-old. Long moved up through legends to late models.

    Long has great potential to make a name for herself in NASCAR racing. She began racing in the NASCAR Camping World Truck series in 2010, running seven of 25 races with an average finish of 26.4.

    She hopes to run for Rookie of the Year in the truck series and has run all four races this year with an average finish of 25.2.

    Her finishes are not truly representative of her ability to mix it up with the boys and make runs in the front half of the pack.

    Make no mistake, this young lady is a racer, and fans of NASCAR will be hearing much more about her in the future.

9. Chrissy Wallace

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    Chrissy Wallace comes from a well-known racing family. Her father, Mike Wallace, is a veteran NASCAR Nationwide driver.

    Her uncle, Rusty Wallace, is a Cup champion and NASCAR commentator for ESPN. Her other uncle, Kenny Wallace, is an active driver in Cup and Nationwide races along with his duties as a NASCAR commentator for Speed TV.

    Young Wallace worked her way through Legend Cars, Bandoleros, and Thunder Roadster racing. She has wins in those classes and was the first female late model driver to win at Hickory Speedway.

    In 2008, she made her debut in the NASCAR Truck series. That year she ran six races. In 2009, Wallace had a career best finish of 13th at Talladega.

    In 2010, she debut in the NASCAR Nationwide Series at Daytona in February where she started 35th and finished 43rd after a first lap crash.

    Wallace made one more start at Talladega in the Nationwide series and finished 24th.

    The young lady with a racing pedigree and what would seem great inroads to the sport, talent and resources to make a name for herself in NASCAR doesn't look to be pushing her career too hard.

10. Danica Patrick

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    Danica Patrick splits her driving time between the IndyCar Racing Series and the NASCAR Nationwide Series where she drives the No. 7 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet for JR Motorsports.

    Patrick debuted in the Drive 4 COPD Nationwide race at Daytona in 2010. She faced mediocre finishes  during the year, as she learned how to handle the heavy stock cars and learn the terminology of NASCAR.

    In 2011, she is again dividing her time between the two series. Her best finish this year was fourth at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

    There has been obvious improvement with her ability to communicate with her team, relay feedback about the car and get pretty racy with the guys on the track as she gains confidence in her ability.

    Patrick has garnered more attention from the media and fans than any other female driver in NASCAR. She is a marketing package with her good looks and ability as a spokesperson.

    Though some may doubt it, Patrick wants to be known as a racer that is good at what she does rather than a pretty face attempting to secure a place in NASCAR.

    Crunch time is coming when Patrick will need to decide which racing avenue she wants to pursue, IndyCar or NASCAR. She still has the dream of winning the Indy 500.

    With her comfort level and ability with stock cars improving, it would not be a stretch to see her make the move to NASCAR and away from IndyCar next year.

    There is still a lot of racing to be done in both series this year and how each series plays out will have an impact on her future plans.

    Patrick has strong ties to GoDaddy.com and her current contract with Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s JR Motorsports and Rick Hendrick, places her in a pretty good spot with NASCAR racing.

    Regardless of what direction Patrick goes, her name will be one that is talked about in the future.

10-A. Louise Smith

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    This list would be remiss without the inclusion of Louise Smith who was discovered by a young Bill France when he was trying to promote auto racing and get more people to the tracks in the early 1940's.

    Smith was known for outrunning the law and showed a distinct streak of wildness. She had never seen a race, but once she did, she was hooked.

    France used Smith as a novelty in racing, sending her to the northeast and Canada to promote the sport. She primarily raced modifieds and won a lot of races and had lots of crashes as well.

    One story that is often told about her is when she took the new family Ford to Daytona Beach and raced it on the beach course. She wrecked the car.

    After taking the bus home, she told her husband the car had broken down in Georgia, but he found out otherwise when he saw a picture of the wrecked car in the hometown newspaper.

    Smith is known as "the first lady of racing." She was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1999. She passed away in 2006 at the age of 89, but had remained involved in various phases of NASCAR for many years.