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(Photo: Zach Catanzareti)

NASCAR Mailbox: Who Is NASCAR’s Next Female Star?

The echo from the microphone during Danica Patrick’s retirement press conference on Friday at Homestead-Miami Speedway said it all.

Unlike most NASCAR press conferences, there was no murmuring in the room. Instead, no one’s lips moved as Patrick cried her eyes out, spilling a raw emotion so rare in NASCAR that no one knew how to react.

Not only does Patrick’s departure mean the Cup Series is left without a female driver, but it makes the path moving forward difficult for the sport. Yes, she opened the floodgates for other female competitors to realize they, too, can be successful. But since the former IndyCar Series driver came over to the world of stock car racing, only a handful of women have followed in her path.

As difficult as it might be, though, the future is bright. Several female drivers are working their way through the NASCAR rankings, and it’s all thanks to Patrick’s efforts at making the sport more accepting and inclusive.

While Patrick ended her full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career on Sunday, so did Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth. But the 2003 Cup champion didn’t get the attention his two peers received. When the race was over, he sat on pit road, looking over at the swarm of fans and media hovering over Earnhardt.

Are you ready for 2018? We’re going to have a special section here for NASCAR fan of the week! Send me your pictures and a little summary of why you love NASCAR to @JosephNASCAR or email me at Joseph.Wolkin@gmail.com!

Q: Now that Danica Patrick is done full-time racing, who will replace her as NASCAR’s next female star? – Christine P., Philadelphia

A: Patrick provided NASCAR with a unique opportunity to reach out to a new fan base. The benefit of having her around the sport for only seven years is unlike any other we’ve seen.

Thanks to Patrick’s efforts on and off the racetrack, there are women racers who now know they can make it in the sport. No longer will they have to think they can’t get the job done because they certainly can.

Patrick’s results obviously weren’t the best. In 190 Cup starts, she has seven top 10s and led 64 laps. She finished 24th in the standings twice (2015 and 2016), which isn’t spectacular for someone competing with Stewart-Haas Racing.

But what Patrick did prove is that given her disadvantage of racing in open-wheel divisions for so long, she was able to overcome the adversity at times. She could get the job done, and in doing so, she became the most successful female driver in NASCAR’s nearly 70 years of existence.

Moving forward, there are several women drivers who have the potential to duplicate, if not better, Patrick’s results. The possibility of making it in the sport was slim to none before her arrival. But now, the future is brighter than ever and it is the opportune time to try to make it.

Here are some female drivers who can move through the rankings to eventually become Cup drivers:

Hanna Zellers:

Zellers has plenty of potential to succeed in NASCAR given a diverse resume. While her stock car experience is limited, running one K&N Pro Series East race this year, she has plenty of other experience. It’s a resume that features SCCA racing and she is an FIA silver rated driver. If she can get sponsorship to run more K&N races, we could certainly see her work way up in the racing realm.

Amber Balcaen:

Balcaen is a Canadian female racer who is a social media wizard. She has almost 9,000 Twitter followers and 37,000 fans on Instagram. Like Zellers, her experience is limited. She has some impressive Late Model starts on her record, including a few stellar runs with Lee Pulliam Performance at Motor Mile Speedway. In her lone K&N Pro Series East race, she finished 20th with Martin-McClure Racing.

#PARKEDIT in Victory Lane last night at Motor Mile. ??☝? Can't tell you how good this win felt after not being in the seat for over 3 months. Just goes to show with hard work and perseverance that you can make anything happen. We must always make the most of every opportunity we get, but most importantly #NEVERGIVEUP ! ???? I can't thank my fans enough that stick by me through the highs and lows of my racing career. Huge Thank you to Glen McLeod & Son Ltd. for making this race possible, along with my other sponsors @simpsonraceproducts @1stphorm @wcsportsbar and #SheadRacing. And thank you to Lee Pulliam Performance for giving me an awesome race car. Thanks for the support everyone? I love being in a racecar, and love being in the winners circle even more ?

A post shared by Amber Balcaen (@amberbalcaen10) on

Nicole Behar:

Behar’s resume is absolutely stacked thanks to running the better part of the last four years in the K&N Pro Series West. She has six top fives and 23 top 10s in 34 starts, with a best finish of second in 2015 at Irwindale Speedway. All of her starts have been with her family-owned team. For the 20-year-old racer, it’s only a matter of time before a big team and sponsor pick her up so she can move up into one of NASCAR’s top three divisions.

Natalie Decker:

Decker, like Balcaen, had been racing Late Models for a while. As part of the 2015 Drive for Diversity class, she competed with Rev Racing at Hickory Motor Speedway. In 2016, she attempted her first Camping World Truck Series contest at Martinsville Speedway with NTS Motorsports, but DNQ’d. This past season, Decker ran seven ARCA Series races for Venturini Motorsports, with a best finish of seventh at Road America. She will compete full-time for Venturini next year.

Julia Landauer:

The New York City native is well-known for her stint on the television series Survivor. But her success on the racetrack is much more impressive. She was the first female champion in the Skip Barber Racing Series, doing so at 13 years old. After being a member of the 2016 NASCAR Next class, she is now one of the top female NASCAR drivers. Last year, she earned seven top fives and 13 top 10s in 14 races for Bill McAnally Racing, finishing fourth in points. In 2017, she moved over to the Sunrise Ford Racing team, earning a top five and seven top 10s en route to a seventh-place finish in the standings.

Q: It seemed like Matt Kenseth rode into the sunset without many people recognizing him. Why was this the case? – Adam R., Charlotte

A: It’s a real shame more people didn’t recognize Kenseth’s retirement. His passion for the sport is as great as it gets. But no one seemed to pay mind to that as all the attention went to Earnhardt and Patrick.

Meanwhile, Kenseth is the only one of those three drivers who is a Cup champion. With 39 wins in the sport’s premier division and 29 trophies in the second-tier, he is a shoe-in for a NASCAR Hall of Fame nomination.

But when I walked on pit road Sunday evening, no one besides a Fox reporter and I were talking to him. It was unbelievable to think the NASCAR media parade just ignored a champion.

The worst part about Kenseth’s departure is that it is clear he can still win at NASCAR’s top level. He just earned a triumph at Phoenix International Raceway in his penultimate race with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Kenseth deserves only the utmost respect for his stellar ability behind the wheel. His dry humor is seen as different, and that’s a good thing to combine with a driving ability that made him one of the most consistent NASCAR drivers of his time.

About Joseph Wolkin

Joseph started with Fronstretch in Aug. 2014 and worked his way up to become an editor in less than a year. A native of Whitestone, New York, Joseph writes for NASCAR Pole Position magazine as a weekly contributor, along with being a former intern at Newsday and the Times Beacon Record Newspapers, each on Long Island. With a focus on NASCAR, he runs our social media pages and writes the NASCAR Mailbox column, along with other features for the site.

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21 comments

  1. I think most of us wanted to give her a fair shot at the start.
    The first year or two, a lot of the animosity toward her was as much to do with her being forced at us and her mediocrity being portrayed as something spectacular (usually by the network covering the first half of the season). How many times would DW or Larry Mac slobber over great Happy Hour practices, assuming 17th-20th was considered the standard for great?
    As time went on, the act of blaming everything and everyone under the sun after each wreck grew old. With a lot of people, Kansas this year was the final straw where it was all about her while a fellow competitor was suffering from a broken back in an ambulance that couldn’t find the infield care center.
    As much as we rag on Kyle and other Cup drivers in the lower series, she is one who have been well served to run some races there. It would have at least shown more of a commitment to the sport than sharing yoga pictures.

  2. Next star? We are still looking for the first one, aren’t we?

  3. Regarding Danica & how she opened the door for other female drivers, funniest thing I’ve read in a long time.

    Setting aside her debacle of a NASCAR career for a moment, she was an average Indy car driver, (at best), with a single fluke win on fuel mileage, while most of the heavy hitters of the IRL were competing in another IRL race the same day, (due to the collapse of CART & IRL buying it’s assets). By the time she left for NASCAR, she had burnt her bridges & worn out her welcome in the IRL, which is what lead to her joining NASCAR.

    In NASCAR it was painfully obvious that she was a pluperfect example of the “Peter Principle”, where she literally rose to her level of incompetence.

    Perhaps the most embarrassing statistic of her extremely mediocre professional racing career is that in 300+ starts in many different divisions, almost always in top notch equipment, she garnered exactly ONE fluke win.

    All Danica was is an overrated, overhyped prima donna of a below average race car driver. She wasn’t a racer, & if anything, her lack of achievement on the race track might actually hinder a more worthy female driver who actually is capable of competing. Sad to say, some of the other female drivers you’re championing in this article aren’t very impressive either, based on what you wrote regarding their stats & accomplishments so far. NASCAR needs to get back to racing & real racers, instead of these overhyped “superstars” they so desperately try to create.

    • Remember it was nascar that decided, after the factory boycotts of the 60’s, not to be held hostage by the manufacturers again. That they would emphasize the drivers rather than the cars. Now 50 years later all they have is aging stars and some wannabes. Now of course the pr machine will make a select few the next superstars, but will anyone care? I suspect that beyond Elliot, who is the beneficiary both of his name and HMS resources, few will.
      But hey, the show will go on.

  4. Glad to see the punk driver from Joe Gibbs team of miss-fits off the Nascar tracks.

  5. Kenneth helped make Nascar what it was. I mean, look at the car he won his first Busch series race with. Just s guy that wanted it more than anybody else. Always was in good equipment, not great equipment. And ran his heart out. Honestly will miss him. Being from Wisconsin his name is synonymous with Nascar.

  6. Danica inspired a new generation of female drivers who now have to go out and find a sugar daddy to move up the food chain. Seriously, how many little girls will sit through 3 hours of racing? The NASCAR media has preesented unrelentlessly a prima Donna who has accomplished nothing on the track and a miracle in her pocketbook. A joke.

  7. Who was NASCAR’s first female star?

  8. How in the world have Patrick’s results opened up opportunities for other females? Johanna Long outqualified her in shoestring-budget Xfinity cars and never got a second look from anyone else. Patrick rarely ran other series to try to improve herself, barely progressed despite five seasons of guaranteed seat time, and almost never accepted any blame for incidents. Is that the door she opened? “Get lucky and coast! Girl power!”

  9. Just shows you where Nascar’s priorities are, if a champion like Kenseth is ignored after potentially his last race, but we get Jr shoved down our throats endlessly for 10 weeks. With Edwards, Stewart, Gordon, Kenseth, Jr, and Patrick all retiring in the last 2 years, Nascar is going to have a rude awakening next season. Those tarps aren’t going to be big enough to cover all the empty seats.

    But then again, watching Larson back off and not try to win the race on Sunday was pretty much the last straw for me. It turned my stomach seeing the fastest car not go for the win.

    • I’m a Larson fan but do not feel the same way about what he did on Sunday. He had the fastest car but when he tried to pass Busch he could have made it but would he have enough to catch the 78?I think he just felt that he knew what the chance’s were and decided to be a racer with class and knew 78 was gonna win.It just proves that this why all the other drivers respect Kyle so much. Not a dirty driver ,just a real racer who doesn’t have to take the low road but rather the high road alon the lines of The King ,Terry Labonte,Mark Martin and so many others.

  10. How about making a women’s NASCAR just like the WNBA or the WTA or the LPGA? I’m being sarcastic of course but its been recognized and admitted that women cannot compete with men in those sports and its purely biological. It’s not an issue of wanting to “keep them out”. And I’m still waiting to see women compete in the NFL, MLB, and NHL(beyond just a token appearance). And in the Olympics isn’t pretty much everything segregated by gender? Skiing, skating, track, etc.
    Are we saying that NASCAR/racing is the singular one where women can 100 percent compete with men? Just asking.

    • You might want to take a look at American Flat Track motorcycle racing where Shayna Texter, a 100 pound female racer finished third in the Singles division in 2017 and led the field with 5 wins. This sport is, in my opinion, the absolute best of motor racing. Competitors run at speeds up to 130-135 mph on dirt ovals from 1/4 mile to 1 mile in distance and its not unusual for first to fourth place finishers to be separated by the length of a motorcycle. The guys don’t cut Shayna any breaks and she doesn’t cut them any. This racing is as tough as it gets and Shayna runs with the best in her class.

      Before Shayna there was Nicole Cheza (now Mees) who also did well against the guys. And there were others before them (whose names escape me now) who also were competitive.

      Of course there is also drag racing, both cars and motorcycles, where females have not only always been competitive but have won many championships. So NASCAR is certainly not the only sport where women can compete 100 percent with men.

      And while we’re at it, it’s only fair to recognize that while NASCAR’s recognition of Matt Kenseth was pitiful, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. not only recognized him for his outstanding ability as a driver but as a person and a friend.

  11. Couldn’t agree more about Matt, what a crummy way to treat a great driver. The over the top yapping that goes on about the underperforming Earnhardt Jr and Patrick just makes a mockery of what this sport is supposed to be about. It seems it’s more of a popularity contest than a sport that recognizes winning as the goal. Such a disgrace.

  12. Hopefully the next female on the track will truly be a star because of her success and not because of her gender.

    • Do you think it really will happen? Or, will she get the same treatment, albeit at a lower level as Danica got? Which will possibly prevent her getting to the top.
      Remember Danica was fairly well regarded when she turned to stock car racing.

      • By who? Most knowledgeable Indycar fans had little good to say about her and her single win over in Japan was dismissed for the fluke that it was. I guess Indycar fans are more knowledgeable than Nascar fans or something.

        • Fairly well regarded does not mean a superstar. I stand by my statement. Indycar while it may not be as much so as stock car racing, has its fair share of people who aren’t interested in change.

      • RE: Do you really think it’s possible?
        I wouldn’t bet on it but I think it is possible.

        RE: …fairly well regarded…
        I’d say fairly well known due to the same media hype machine that we saw in NASCAR coverage. I haven’t seen anything that made me feel she was well regarded.

        • No female driver has a future in stock car racing other than as a token. Even then it will have to be nascar or one of the manufacturers creating the opportunity.
          That will hurt both nascar and the teams in the wallets.