The NASCAR Cup Series is the premier stock car racing series in the world. That fact is unquestioned. For decades it has been the dream of thousands of racecar drivers, not only from the United States, but from around the globe. Sadly, the means of making it to the top level of the sport has changed over the years.
It was once purely based on abilities.
Then corporate sponsorship took over the sport and, slowly but surely, the seats became the domain of the drivers who were able to bring the funding so that the teams didn’t have to do as much leg work to land big sponsors. Fortunately, the pendulum has begun to swing back a little towards the middle, where at least some of the drivers with talent are moving up the ranks without writing a fat check.
As a result of the swing back toward sensibility, the sanctioning body has begun to try and be a little more stringent on driver certification to compete in the national series, especially the Cup series. Recently, we have seen James Davison attempt to run at Talladega Superspeedway only to be denied within days of the event. That decision was understandable since there was going to be no practice or qualifying for the event. Hard to envision a driver’s very first lap in a Cup car as their first ever laps in a stock car on an oval. He had four starts in Xfinity on road courses before that event. Unlike that decision, the call that NASCAR is making for this weekend makes zero sense.
Jennifer Jo Cobb has been running in the national series of NASCAR since 2004. She has been, basically, full-time since 2010. She has 11 starts at Talladega, including last fall in the Truck series. She has 308 starts as an owner in the Truck series, with an additional 21 in Xfinity. As a driver she has 248 starts in the Truck and Xfinity series.
Apparently, over some technicality, she was not approved to run in the race at Talladega this weekend. While the letter of the law may give them a justification for disallowing Cobb to run in the event, common sense should have overcome such a short-sighted decision.
The sanctioning body has come under scrutiny for allowing drivers with limited experience to compete at the Cup level. While that may have applied in some cases, Cobb has turned a significant number of laps in the national touring series over her career and the dedication that she has shown to the sport, deserved to afford her a ride in the race. Derrike Cope was allowed to run in the Daytona 500 this year, having not been in a Cup car since 2018. There was limited backlash against that decision and there are more reasons to deny his effort than there were to pull the plug on Cobb.
The other factor involved here is Rick Ware Racing. Ware has been helping keep the Cup fields full with his cars for several years. Last year and, so far, this year, he’s been putting four cars on the track most weeks. There would be few other, better combinations to symbolize the loyalty of back marker teams to NASCAR than Rick Ware and Jennifer Jo Cobb. The underdog story should have been celebrated and a great marketing campaign to help highlight “The Greatest Season Ever”.
Instead the denial of Cobb’s participation is a slap in the face.
One other interesting tidbit to note as the field prepares to take the green flag this weekend, check out the experience of the following drivers, at Talladega, who will be in the field on Sunday.
National Touring Series Starts at Talladega
Josh Bilicki, 3
Kaz Grala, 3
Justin Haley, 7
Quin Houff, 2
Cody Ware, 6
That is a dozen drivers who have anywhere from three to nine fewer starts in the three national series than Cobb does. Five of the 12 have less than half of the starts she does. However, none of them are being questioned about their legitimacy to compete in the race.
Is Cobb a great driver who will be up front contending for the win on Sunday? Absolutely not.
Are there thousands of drivers in the country, running at local race tracks, who are more talented behind the wheel than she is? Undoubtedly so.
While both of those facts are true, she has still put in the time and dedicated almost half of her life to competing in NASCAR races at the national level. In a time where drivers buy seats routinely and would have very little chance of making it to the national level if it was based solely on driving accomplishments, this was an opportunity to reward someone for their dedication to the sport. Instead, she was slapped in the face, along with the car owner, which was simply insulting.
Last year at Talladega, we saw an incredible display of solidarity behind Bubba Wallace. It was one of the greatest moments of the terrible year that was dominated by the Covid-19 pandemic that kept fans away from the race track. This would be an amazing opportunity for the drivers and teams in the sport to make another statement through their actions. Whether they all carry a decal for Cobb, or they all pull down pit lane and stop in a show of solidarity, the sport should seriously do something. As the old saying goes, “There but for the grace of God go I.”
The sport has made some amazing strides in the past year and this very well may be “The Greatest Season Ever.” However, this move is a very big step backwards. Cobb and Ware deserve better.