Jennifer Jo Cobb spent the Sunday of what should have been her NASCAR Cup Series debut getting so dirty working on her truck she didn’t want to get in her car afterward. It was precisely the distraction she needed because even though the race from Talladega Superspeedway was on in the background at her shop, she couldn’t bring herself to pay attention.
“Saturday night going into Sunday was the hardest, and I just wanted (Sunday) to be over with,” Cobb tells RACER. “I just needed (Sunday) to go away.
“To give so much to this sport and (what) this sport has given to me. To have felt like a solid fixture in this sport. I have dedicated my entire life to this, and to have the president of NASCAR tell the media that I just wasn’t ready for this race, but that I was ready six years ago…”
From Cobb’s standpoint, the timeline of the announcement of her planned Cup debut to learning that her entry failed to gain approval from the series is what’s most peculiar. As she explains it, the Rick Ware Racing entry for the No. 15 Chevrolet was submitted with Cobb’s name listed as the driver and accepted. The license application was countersigned and sent back, and Cobb has a copy of a Cup Series driver agreement signed by John Bobo (NASCAR vice president of racing operations). The car’s paint scheme was also approved. With that done, the team announced on the Tuesday before Richmond (over a week before Talladega) that Cobb would be the first female since 2018 to run a Cup Series race.
“I received a phone call on Thursday afternoon, two full days after the announcement,” she says. “I was given a very vague reason (why) I was inactive. It was Brett Bodine (who called), and I truly thought he had me confused with someone else because I’ve raced consistently for 10-plus years; every single (Truck) race. I was confused by the language, and I was so flustered. I was driving, so I pulled over, and I didn’t know what to say.”
Rick Ware told her the team had been told the same and was looking into it. Cobb stayed silent as things progressed behind the scenes.
“I truly went through two days thinking it was a mistake,” Cobb says. “We were all just baffled.”
It was revealed the Monday leading into Talladega that Cobb was not approved to participate. NASCAR acknowledged she had been previously approved, but requirements and performance standards change over time. In Cobb’s case, it was cited that ‘experience’ doesn’t always equate laps completed, and officials didn’t think she was ready for the premier series.
“I feel like I belong,” she says. “I feel like even though I don’t have money to compete up front, I compete with my peers that have the same budget level that I do, and there are many races within the race. If you don’t want the lower-budget teams there, then you’re going to end up with a 16-truck field, and then when 10 of them wreck out …
“We belong; we have a purpose. We work our ass off to be there. We work harder than the other teams because we have less people. We have less money. When we need a part, we don’t pick up the phone and order it; we call all the used parts places, try to find it at 50% of the cost. It takes us 10 times longer to repair or build a Truck. Everything is harder. They’re harder to drive. And so, the biggest thing I say about this, whatever the excuse is, why weren’t all 40 of the drivers who participated on Sunday held to that same standard?”
If Cobb had been told she wasn’t approved before the announcement went to press, she wouldn’t be as hurt as she is now. Given how many people were involved in approving the entry blank, license, paint scheme, etc., Cobb believes NASCAR had plenty of time to inform her and Rick Ware of that decision.
Cobb also points to her past experiences of working through the approval process with drivers who have driven for her Truck team. In those cases, if the driver was not approved, they were given a path to approval. However, Cobb says she’s not received a path toward or invitation to reapply for Cup Series approval.
“Just said no,” Cobb says of NASCAR. “And took away my approval in the Cup Series for any track. I have never seen them do that.”
Cobb’s anger is borne from feeling she’s been disrespected, and she admits she spent last week in tears. Since the news broke, Cobb has heard from drivers, crew chiefs, owners, and others who have been outraged on her behalf. And while she initially never set out to run a Cup Series race, Cobb believes she can handle a Cup car and compete adequately around Cup drivers because she’s done so in the past when they’ve dipped into the Truck Series.
“Austin Dillon’s rookie year, I was a rookie,” Cobb says. “I’m on track with him a couple of years ago at Kentucky, and they’re like, ‘Hey, Austin’s got something on his grille, he’s going to get right up on your bumper and follow you, so hold your line.’ I’m like, ‘OK, cool.’
“Would he trust somebody who couldn’t handle a race car to do that? So, if I’m so inexperienced or dangerous to race with, why do they come race with me?”
A full-time Truck competitor since 2010, Cobb has run 217 races in the series. She earned a sixth-place finish at Daytona in 2011 and finished a career-best 16th in points in 2014. In seven of her 10 full seasons, Cobb has finished in the top 25 in points. Last year, she led 16 laps at Talladega, an accomplishment she believes should not be taken away just because time has passed.
There is no denying this saga has put a lot of attention on Cobb. Some might be hearing about the 47-year-old for the first time, and if that’s the case, don’t believe everything you read. For instance, Cobb is not, as Google might say, worth millions. Cobb pays herself $500 a week, and every other dime goes into her team.
“Because this is what I want to do,” said Cobb. “I love the life. I love the fans I meet; the people who tell me that I inspire them. I love traveling. I have so many friends in this sport that this is my life. I love it. So I don’t have to make a lot of money or amass a lot of net worth, and I haven’t. Everything goes back into the team. And nine times out of 10, those assets are crashed or blown up, and often not by me.”
A native of Kansas City, Kansas, Cobb grew up in a modest, lower-middle-class family. Joe, her father, dropped out of high school and owned a small auto repair shop for 35 years. Mom Connie, who passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2018, worked on an assembly line for General Motors, inspecting newly-painted bumpers.
Cobb calls them “really hard-working” parents who would’ve preferred she embarked on a profession with benefits and a steady paycheck, but Cobb didn’t go that route.