Prior to Sunday’s Geico 500, reports surfaced that Camping World Truck Series owner-driver Jennifer Jo Cobb did not receive approval to make her first Cup Series start. Days later, NASCAR president Steve Phelps met with the media and explained the decision. He said that the denial stemmed from a lack of readiness.
“[EVP, Chief Racing Development Officer] Steve O’Donnell, [Senior Vice President, Competition] Scott Miller, [Vice President, Officiating and Technical Inspection] Elton Sawyer, these guys have decades of experience in this sport,” Phelps told media members, per Fox Sports’ Bob Pockrass. “In their opinion, Jennifer did not have the experience necessary in order to run in the Cup race.
“I understand that it might seem ambiguous to those outside [the situation], but they have their finger on the pulse. In their opinion, Jennifer wasn’t ready to race in this race,” Phelps added.
A 17-year Cup veteran replaced Cobb in the No. 15 Chevrolet
When NASCAR confirmed that Cobb would not have the opportunity to join Rick Ware Racing for the Geico 500, the team had to find a replacement on short notice. They turned to JJ Yeley, a veteran driver with 327 previous Cup Starts on his resume.
First active in 2004, Yeley has 28 combined starts at Talladega Superspeedway and Daytona International Speedway. His best finish at the Florida track was 10th in the 2013 Daytona 500. His best finish at Talladega was 11th in the 2006 Aaron’s 499. Yeley has also made 21 starts at Pocono and another 10 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Yeley competed in two races on the 2021 schedule while driving the No. 53 Chevrolet Camaro for Rick Ware Racing. He started 34th at Bristol, finishing 28th. He then started 28th at Martinsville and finished 25th.
Phelps stressed that diversity remains a priority
While the key decision-makers denied Cobb the opportunity to compete in her first Cup Series race, Phelps told media that NASCAR remains dedicated to bringing more diversity to the garages.
“We certainly — on a day when you are talking about inclusion — would love to have female drivers racing in our top series,” Phelps added. “That’s something that we would very much be interested in doing. We are trying to diversify our driver corps. Women, people of color, those are things that are very important to the sport.”
NASCAR currently has three minority drivers in the top series — Bubba Wallace, Kyle Larson, and Daniel Suarez. The only female driver in recent Cup history, Danica Patrick, has not raced since the 2018 Daytona 500.
NASCAR is pushing to become more inclusive through Drive for Diversity, a developmental program designed to help aspiring minority and female drivers and pit crew members achieve their NASCAR dreams. Multiple drivers have competed in various levels of NASCAR after working with Drive for Diversity and Rev Racing, including ARCA Menards driver Nick Sanchez, Xfinity Series driver Ryan Vargas, and Jairo Avila Jr.
Wallace, Suarez, and Larson all drove for Rev Racing before moving on to the Truck, Xfinity, and Cup Series. Wallace drove for the team in 2010-11, Larson competed in 2012, and Suarez drove in 2013-14. Now they are all competing in the Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway.
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