Female drivers have been prominent faces in NASCAR since the sport started, but in recent times fans have not seen many. This may leave you wondering if there are currently any female NASCAR drivers at all and what the landscape looks like for female drivers in the 21st century.
There are no females competing in the NASCAR Cup Series and just one in the Xfinity Series as of 2022. However, the late 2010s and early 2020s saw a few successful female drivers competing in the Truck Series and ARCA Menards Series, so it is possible for female drivers to race in NASCAR.
While there are very few females competing in NASCAR-sanctioned events in the early 2020s, there have been many prominent females in the sport in the past. Below, we will explore why there are so few female NASCAR Drivers and if anything is being done by NASCAR to change that.
There are no current female NASCAR drivers in the 2022 Cup Series, but there is one female driver in the 2022 Xfinity Series. Despite having some notable female drivers in the past, the overall number of female drivers throughout NASCAR history is quite small.
You may recall watching a few races where these drivers set some new milestones for females. Danica Patrick is a great example, having become the first female NASCAR driver to start in pole position. Patrick’s level of success extended beyond female drivers. She is one of only 14 drivers, male or female, to have led laps at both the Indy 500 and the Daytona 500.
Patrick also has a horde of accomplishments at both the NASCAR Cup level and IndyCar. Despite Patrick’s breakthrough for women in NASCAR, there were no women competing in the NASCAR Cup Series as of 2022. There was just a small number of women competing in the NASCAR Truck Series and the Xfinity Series.
This is a trend that is not new, with Patrick being the first and only female driver to drive full-time in NASCAR. In 2013, Patrick signed with Stewart-Haas Racing, making 191 career starts before retiring.
Female Drivers In NASCAR (2018 To 2022)
Natalie Decker is one name that started making strides in 2021 when she made her NASCAR Xfinity Series debut at Daytona. Before she moved up to Xfinity, Decker had a solid run in the Truck Series in 2019 and 2020, posting a career-high finish of 5th place at Daytona.
In the late 2010s and early 2020s, Toni Breidinger made phenomenal strides as the first female Arab American to compete in NASCAR. Debuting in the ARCA Menards Series, which NASCAR acquired in 2018, Breidinger has enjoyed some success.
She posted four top-ten finishes in her first 19 ARCA starts and she also enjoyed a solid 13th-place finish in the standings in 2021. Breidinger had also seen success in racing late models, and racing in the United States Auto Club (USAC), posting 19 wins in the latter.
Also in the early 2020s, Gracie Trotter has dominated in the ARCA Menards Series, finishing third in points in the ARCA West. Between 2020 and 2021, Trotter posted 19 top-ten finishes and even secured a win at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
This was not a breakthrough despite Patrick’s success in the NASCAR Cup Series. However, Decker, Breidinger, and Trotter could draw more interest in women joining the sport as the decade presses on. There will likely come a turning point as more awareness on the success of female drivers is spread.
You also cannot forget about Hailie Deegan, who also saw success in the early 2020s. Deegan posted a top-ten finish in the Truck Series in 2021. She also did well in the K&N Pro Series West in the late 2010s, finishing 5th and 3rd in points, respectively. Also in 2020, she took 3rd in the ARCA Series.
These women have shown in the late 2010s and early 2020s that females can be every bit as successful on the track as their male counterparts. They provided a sound path for more female drivers racing at the grassroots levels that aspire to compete in NASCAR.
There are no female NASCAR drivers currently because the previous female drivers retired, and it seemed that NASCAR had little urgency to market female talent in the 2020s. This is because many of the female drivers were very young and lacked the needed experience to succeed in other tiers.
Things seemed to be progressing well for female NASCAR drivers throughout the 2000s and 2010s. Aside from Patrick’s five-year stint in the Cup Series, Forbes confirmed that 2019 marked the first year since 2000 that no women had competed in either the Cup or Xfinity Series.
However, despite female drivers making appearances in Xfinity between 2001 and 2018, only Patrick and Shawna Robinson competed at the Cup Series level in that timespan. As the 2010s morphed into the 2020s, it appeared NASCAR had little urgency to heavily market female talent.
Why was NASCAR struggling on this front? It really had to do with the sheer youth of the drivers mentioned in the above section. The four women were all 23 and under when the 2020 NASCAR Season rolled around, having mainly competed in ARCA and the Truck Series.
Really, for these successful female drivers at the lower levels, it was a matter of lack of experience that has kept them mainly out of the Xfinity Series and out of the Cup Series. However, with more seasoning, it is likely female drivers will succeed in both Xfinity and the Cup Series.
NASCAR made tremendous strides on the diversity front since the turn of the 21st century. They realized that talent exists in all corners of the world, and from different countries, races, genders, and ethnicities.
To truly accomplish diversity in the sport and attract more female drivers, NASCAR must continually encourage it. This means paying close attention to female drivers at the grassroots level and reaching out and networking with them.
Although there have been few female NASCAR drivers in the sport in comparison to their male counterparts, it is a mistake to believe these women have been unsuccessful in the sport. Below are some of the youngest talents of the late 2010s and early 2020s and their accomplishments.
We outlined some of Patrick’s success earlier, but it is also appropriate to acknowledge her greatest accomplishments. Patrick’s Cup Series career started in 2012 and through her record 191 starts, Patrick also set a record with seven top-ten finishes.
She also finished 24th in the NASCAR Cup Series standings in back-to-back seasons. While Patrick is often regarded as the most successful female driver who raced in the Cup Series, other drivers accomplished a few things she did not.
Guthrie made 33 starts at the Cup level between 1976 and 1980, posting five top-ten finishes and finishing 23rd in the Cup standings in 1977, the highest finish since Sara Christian, who took 13th in the 1949 NASCAR Season.
Janet Guthrie was the first woman to both lead a lap and compete in the Daytona 500. She is a member of the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame, the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, and the Automotive Hall of Fame.
Christian was the first female to race in the history of the sport. She wasn’t the only female competing in NASCAR back in 1949, however. Ethel Mobley and Louise Smith also took part in events. Neither enjoyed the same success as Christian, who remains the only driver in Cup Series history with a top five finish in a race. Her 13th place finish that season is also a Cup Series record.
While Moise didn’t make much of a dent in the NASCAR Cup Series, she was a regular face at the Xfinity level, then known as the Busch Series, between 1986 and 1998. Her 133 starts remain an Xfinity Series record. She also posted four top-ten finishes, and in 1990, finished 22nd in points.
Robinson only made eight starts at the Cup Series level and struggled between 2001 and 2002. However, she enjoyed a solid Xfinity career that spanned 61 starts from 1991 until 2005. Her most successful season came in 1993 when she took 23rd in the standings.
Besides Danica Patrick, Robinson is the only female to earn a pole position award at the Xfinity level. Her 15-season Xfinity Series career is a NASCAR record, tied with Jennifer Jo Cobb (2004-2018).
Cobb made 31 starts at the Xfinity level, but her greatest accomplishments came in the NASCAR Truck Series. With over 230 starts, Cobb posted a top-ten finish in her career and she enjoyed a 16th-place finish in the Truck Series standings in 2014. Her Truck Series career started in 2008, and she has completed more seasons at the Truck Series level than any other female driver.
There are things being done to encourage female NASCAR drivers. Sports leagues across North America are working diligently to encourage more diversity, especially with females gaining a greater presence in various sports. Busch Light took initiative to invest millions in its female drivers in 2020.
In Major League Baseball, Kim Ng became the first female general manager when she took the job with the Miami Marlins. Before taking a head coaching job with the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces in 2022, Becky Hammon served as an assistant coach for the San Antonio Spurs. She also acted as first female head coach in NBA history in December 2020 when Spurs coach, Greg Popovich, received an ejection.
Female coaches are also becoming a common fixture on NFL sidelines. The NFL has pioneered numerous initiatives to get more females involved with the sport. So, has NASCAR followed its major North American sport counterparts?
Busch Light took the initiative in the early 2020s, investing $10 million in its female drivers, seven of which became part of the program in 2022. They realized how unique NASCAR is in the North American sports landscape, since both male and female athletes can compete against one another.
It is something you rarely see in other North American sports leagues. This sets NASCAR apart, which led to Busch Light’s investment looking to bring adequate sponsorship to its female drivers taking part in the program between 2022 and 2025.
The program, officially called Busch Light – Accelerate Her, included familiar names like Jennifer Jo Cobb, Tony Breidinger, and Natalie Decker. They also sponsored Amber Balcaen, Brittney Zamora, Stephanie Moyer, and Melissa Fifield.
Busch has been a familiar face on the NASCAR scene, having previously served as the primary sponsor for its Xfinity Series. Via their comments upon the Accelerate Her Program’s launch, NASCAR couldn’t be happier, and they were supportive of the program.
There are currently no female NASCAR drivers in the Cup Series. This is mainly due to relative inexperience with the fastest rising female drivers. However, the new initiatives and awareness of the success of previous female drivers will perhaps encourage more females to join the sport.