Atlanta: Round three preview

John Deere 200 marks series' 100th race with at least one female starter DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (March 13, 2006) -- Veteran Kelly Sutton (No. 02 Team Copaxone Chevrolet) and Raybestos Rookie of the Year contender Erin Crocker (No. 98 Cheerios...

John Deere 200 marks series' 100th race with at least one female starter

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (March 13, 2006) -- Veteran Kelly Sutton (No. 02 Team Copaxone Chevrolet) and Raybestos Rookie of the Year contender Erin Crocker (No. 98 Cheerios Betty Crocker Dodge) will push the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series to a very special century mark this week.

Friday's John Deere 200 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, in which both will participate, marks the 100th time -- and 55th consecutive race -- in which one or more female drivers have competed.

Only one other series has had greater female participation. The NASCAR Busch Series has logged 237 races with a female driver in its 24-plus seasons of 737 races.

Sutton, who'll start her 42nd event, is in her third full season with the series. Her October 2003 start at Phoenix International Raceway marked the beginning of the series' current, 54-race female driver streak.

The 34-year-old Crownsville, Md. driver has the most starts by a female driver and most money won ($350,831). The high point of her NASCAR Craftsman Truck career came in 2005 at Lowe's Motor Speedway where she finished 15th.

"I've never viewed myself as a pioneer for women's racing because so many talented women have already fulfilled that role," said Sutton. "What I can do is build off their collective legacy to prove that women can be talented drivers and a crucial component for the future of NASCAR."

Sutton admittedly has struggled with a team owned by her father Ed Sutton.

"We have a great team but we realize our jobs are made much more difficult due to the limited resources we have in comparison to those of larger teams," she said.

The team has made significant progress in 2006 with the addition of veteran crew chief Gary Showalter. Sutton reached 12th place in the lead draft in the late stages of the season opener at Daytona International Speedway before being sidelined by engine failure.

"Describing the ups and downs of my career is a simple task," said Sutton. "The most important positive came this past off-season when we hired Gary and most the most notable negative is that we didn't hire him sooner."

Crocker, the first female driver to win a World of Outlaws sprint car race, is the first female to drive in the series for a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series-affiliated team.

The Wilbraham, Mass. native, who'll celebrate her 25th birthday on March 23, was tapped as a development driver by Ray Evernham. She comes to the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series with a solid resume in the ARCA RE/MAX Series where she finished in the top five four times and top 10 five times in six appearances for Evernham.

Her quick success in a stock car was both positive and negative.

"I think being a female definitely adds more pressure," said Crocker, who finished 27th at Daytona and California. "You are kind of under a microscope. You know if you start wrecking, people definitely take notice right away. The opposite works if you start doing really well. It gets noticed right away. There are definitely a lot of opportunities for women right now."

Crocker recognizes the difficulty of finding Victory Lane in NASCAR but she is undaunted.

"It certainly is steep," she said. "Back when I ran the World of Outlaws, it was steep (too) and I was able to accomplish it in my first year. I know there is a lot for me to learn and as a team we have a lot to improve and grow on but it is possible.

"If I didn't think it was possible I wouldn't be trying."

Sutton and Crocker are pursuing a pair of records held by Tammy Jo Kirk, whose finish of 11th at Heartland Park Topeka and start of third at Portland Speedway, both in 1997, are tops for a female driver in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.

-nascar

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Series NASCAR Truck
Drivers Kelly Sutton , Ray Evernham , Erin Crocker , Tammy Jo Kirk