Jennifer Jo Cobb shows up at Dover International Speedway this weekend fresh off a historic 200th start in the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series last weekend on the Daytona International Speedway Road Course.
Her 31st-place finish on the new Daytona venue may not have earned bold headlines, but her longevity in the sport certainly deserves distinction. It is the most starts for a woman in any one NASCAR national series. And while Cobb, who is also team owner, doesn‘t have any winner‘s trophies to show for her decades-old hard work and staying power, the 47-year-old Kansas City native has a lot of hard-won perspective and an inspiring outlook.
“There‘s so many things I wish I could have accomplished in 10 years,” Cobb said of her full-time Gander Truck Series experience. “It seems like the biggest thing I‘ve accomplished is longevity. There are a lot of things that people would shake their head at when you’re in a competitive sport because we obviously are a small team. But our sponsorships are abundant — just with smaller companies. …
“… The things we have been able to accomplish from a small-team perspective have been pretty phenomenal. I do wish there were more accomplishments, but I haven‘t given up on still achieving some of those things I want to achieve. But I‘m also very proud of some of the things we‘ve overcome in 10 years time to still be racing.”
If there is a recurring theme in Cobb‘s career reflection, it is the people who worked on her team and who she has competed alongside — from a hearing-impaired crewman she gave an opportunity to work over the wall on her team to a woman she hired who is now a NASCAR official to a young man who started on her team and is now a tire specialist for the champion Kyle Busch Motorsports team.
Providing opportunity has made her as proud as the achievements she has earned on track. Statistically, she has only one top-10 finish — a sixth-place finish in the 2011 Daytona International Speedway season opener. But the competitive highlight she is most proud of comes to Cobb with no hesitation — an 11th-place finish in the 2018 Talladega Superspeedway race.
She was leading on a restart with 30 laps remaining and lost position in the ensuing typically-frantic Talladega restart. The three laps she led that day were and are the most she has led in a single race. And that top 10 near-miss is a bright reminder what she can accomplish in the right circumstances.
There are no false expectations or fairytale retellings of her time on track. She is forthright and honest. Cobb realizes with her small-team budget she will not typically be a part of door-to-door racing with the series heavyweights for a victory. But she is still competing for a realistic dose of success each race.
“I remember coming down pit road my rookie year and (NASCAR Hall of Famer Ron) Hornaday beating all over my back bumper and I smiled because I knew, he was teaching me,” Cobb said. “I was going too slow. And he was telling me, you need to go faster. And then I‘d go to him after the race and say, ‘Sorry, but I learned from that one.’
“I respect those guys and I‘ve tried to do every thing I could to earn their respect.”
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Two-time Daytona 500 winner Michael Waltrip, who handles broadcast duties on FS1 for the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series, gives Cobb a lot of credit for sustaining and succeeding in one of NASCAR‘s premier series as one of the smaller teams.
“I just appreciate her compassion and dedication,” Waltrip said. “She not only drives the truck, but helps get them ready and helps get them to the track. She doesn‘t have a winning truck and there‘s no two-ways around that. And I really appreciate that. I‘ve raced times when I knew my car wasn‘t capable of winning so my goal was to finish better than anyone else could in it. And I think that‘s Jennifer Jo.
“I‘ve seen her dig down deep and put in a qualifying lap when she needed it to get in the show, to make those 200 starts she‘s made. I just appreciate her effort and her love for the sport. Just think what she‘s doing. Her life is spent getting around getting to the races. Getting trucks together to be there and do what she loves. It‘s a huge commitment and a lot of times, that gets lost when people see her running 26th they don‘t understand what all she‘s done to be out there doing that.”
Cobb‘s background isn‘t in engineering or mechanics. A former college cheerleader, she was a journalism and marketing major and has instead put those skills to great use securing sponsorships and concentrating on the hospitality side of the sport. In fact, the Charlotte-based Fastener Supply Company, which originally was going to sponsor three races for Cobb, has just signed on to be her No. 10 Chevy truck‘s team primary sponsor for the rest of 2020. That backing is especially significant for the organization, considering trackside hospitality is non-existent in this COVID-19 season.
It is also a testament to the impact of Cobb‘s unique competitive story.
“Our sponsorships are largely hospitality based,” Cobb said. “I don‘t expect to be on TV every week so we can‘t sell sponsorships and say, ‘Hey, you‘ll see your name on TV’ so for us, it‘s hospitality based. I find what we‘re good at and what we do well and sell that to sponsors. Three of the key personnel at Fastener Supply Company came and worked in the shop, learned, got licenses and are actual legitimate crew members for me now. They go to many of the races.
“To know this team is to fall in love with the heart of it.”
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Brian Keselowski, brother of 2012 NASCAR Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski, serves as crew chief for Cobb’s team and is a shining example of excelling against the odds. As a driver, Brian famously raced his way into the 2011 Daytona 500 — earning a 12th–place starting position — driving for his family-owned team. It‘s exactly that kind of inspired performance that has sustained Cobb‘s presence in one of NASCAR‘s headline series.
It‘s the kind of story line that essentially makes Cobb a trophy-less champion. She does so many things behind the scenes — from cooking for the team to selling sponsorship to creating a robust “Driven to Honor” program that hosts a female military member at each race.
For Cobb and her team, this is what it means to win.
“The fact, I love my life and that I have learned how to define success through the eyes of a small team,” Cobb said. “I really want those great record-breaking finishes and a win. I really want that win. But I have learned to define success on so many different levels.”