BRISTOL, Tenn._ Bristol Motor Speedway is known for ruffling feathers and creating drama, and on Saturday it was the ladies of the NASCAR Nationwide Series that were leading the way. Jennifer Jo Cobb refused to drive a start-and-park ride, while Danica Patrick showed her frustration with Ryan Truex after wrecking out of Saturday’s race.
Prior to the 300-lap Nationwide race even got underway, the drama began. NASCAR announced the No. 79 car for 2nd Chance Motorsports would go to the back of the pack for a last minute driver change. What was odd about the announcement was Jennifer Jo Cobb was part of driver introductions and took the ride around the track waving at the fans. Just as the drivers were strapping in, Cobb and team owner Rick Russell got into a disagreement leading Cobb to walk away from the car.
According to Cobb, Russell told her only 10 minutes prior to the race the team would start and park early in the race to save the car for California. In addition, Cobb said she was also told another driver would be in the car next week in California, despite her having a contract with the team to drive through that race.
When Cobb refused to park, Russell explained he would have NASCAR black flag her, forcing her to park.
Providing the crew and the tires, Cobb collected her people, hid the tires and walked away from the team. She later released a statement on the issue:
“It feels like such a 'Jerry Maguire' moment. There were rumblings all week about us start and parking this race. I have a commitment to my sponsors, my fans, NASCAR that I won't start and park. I'm very serious about my career and my performance, and I've worked hard to prove it to everyone.
"The conversation was never had with me until 10 minutes before the race that I was to start and park. I had already bought tires for the race, so you can imagine that this was a blow to my principles and my finances to get this news. As the owner of 2nd Chance, he has the right to ask NASCAR to black flag me and said he would do that if I didn't comply.
"There were also rumors that he was going to surprise me and take me out of the car at California. We have a five race agreement that says I am racing for him, which is why I decided to collect Nationwide Series points and not Camping World Truck Series points. Because of those promises, I made decisions accordingly for my career.
"So after thinking about it for a few minutes, which there weren't many, I made a decision to walk away. I thank God for giving me the strength to do that. Sometimes that is the best thing to do. I just felt like I owed it to my fans and my sponsors that I'm seeking and to NASCAR that if I say, 'I'm here to race,' that I go out and race."
Cobb’s crew chief, Steve Kuykendall, later tweeted, “Car owner rick russell threatened myself and anyone associated with jennifer with a jack handle in the pits!”
Russell told reporters the decision was made to start and park on Friday after Cobb wrecked two weeks ago in Las Vegas.
“We only had one car, so had to have the body completely replaced on the car except for the roof, decklid and rear bumper, so without a sponsor the total of about $16,000 about broke me to get this car together,” he told Dustin Long. “We already had our entry in for here and California, so rather than try to roll this and lose this, we decided we’d come up here and I let everybody know we were here in a conservative mode. We would practice smart. We would qualify and we would make a few laps and then we would park the car and save it for California.”
“They were informed Friday morning of this,” he added. “Then this afternoon, the crew chief … he told me that they were getting together a pit crew and had bought tires. I said, ‘For what reason?’ He said, ‘So we can change tires and finish the race without a DNF.’ I said, ‘Who come up with this idea? The plan was, I told you Friday morning we weren’t doing that.’ I didn’t even bring my pit crew for that simple reason. So we had no pit crew. We were not going to pit. They took it on theirself to make this decision and then they wanted to make an agreement with me on pit road, and I said I’ll just have NASCAR black flag you and bring you in.
“She waited until five minutes until start time and told her crew chief and her other people that worked for her and they left. I’m sitting on pit road with a car without a driver and made myself look stupid, NASCAR look stupid, the whole bunch of us look stupid.’’
Scrambling to find a driver and put tires on the car, Russell eventually found Chris Lawson to pilot the car that sat in the garage for the majority of the race. Finally, on Lap 141 the No. 79 Ford headed onto the track, slowly circling around the apron. The team made four laps and parked it, earning $16,775.
While Cobb was standing up for her principles by refusing to park, Danica Patrick was parked after hitting the Turn 1 wall head-on after contact with Ryan Truex.
Racing multiple laps down, the pair made slight contact on the frontstretch, getting Patrick’s car loose. Unable to hang on, her day ended early. Climbing from the wrecked car, Patrick walked up the track to express her frustration to Truex as he drove past under caution.
In the early stages of the race, the pair battled for nearly 15 laps as Patrick tried to move past Truex’s No. 99 Toyota. While Patrick had the faster car at the time, she struggled to complete the pass on the rookie driver.
“He just runs hard,” Patrick said of Truex. “He just runs hard. He’s run hard every time I’ve been around him and it just seems like overkill. If your car is good you’ll go forward, if your car isn’t you’ll go back.”
Accepting blame for the incident, Truex explained the move was not intentional.
“We were racing there for a while – side-by-side,” Truex said. “My car was really loose for about half the race. I just came off the corner dead sideways. I was either backing into the wall or going down the hill and hoping to save it. I came off and came up – the right rear just almost hit the wall and came down to save it. She was there and came down on her and pretty much ended her day. I feel bad about that. It wasn’t on purpose and I’m sorry. I guess it’s a racing deal – it’s Bristol, it’s tight and things like that happen. I definitely feel bad about it.”
The term may be ‘Have at it, boys,’ but Saturday in Bristol it was women of NASCAR that found all the drama.
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