Women making impact in racing

USA TODAY Sports

Danica Patrick made history at the Daytona 500, becoming the first woman to win a Sprint Cup pole; hours later, Courtney Force triumphed at Winternationals.

John Force was right. Danica Patrick, in fact, did not "deliver the baby Jesus" by winning the pole for the Daytona 500. But the Sprint Cup rookie did spawn the most impactful moment by a female race car driver this year, if not by becoming the first woman to win a pole for a Sprint Cup event, then by becoming the first to lead NASCAR's glamour event and finish as high as eighth.

That Patrick created not only a racing but a national sensation by winning the pole just hours before Force's daughter, Courtney, won the Winternationals Funny Car event was simply unfortunate timing for Force and the NHRA.

Danica Patrick, maestro of moments, had stolen one again.

Yet, all told, Force has produced a greater array of signature events this season, such as beating her father, a 15-time NHRA champion, this June in their first meeting in a final. She currently stands eighth in points.

Patrick has endured the expected inconsistency of a Cup rookie, finishing 14th or better just three times in 27 races following the Daytona 500. Crew chief Tony Gibson and Patrick express an understanding that the process of making her a competitive driver will not be brief.

So which other women drivers have had memorable moments in 2013?

Though Lyn St. James, a pioneering female race car driver and benefactor, told espnW.com, "It's not been the best year for women in racing," there have been highlights.

Among them, according to St. James: Ashley Freiberg leading the GT3 IMSA Cup standings at the midpoint of the season; Susie Wolff becoming a test driver in Formula One, and Katherine Legge's "terrific" performance in qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 on Bump Day.

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Katherine Legge lost her IndyCar ride at the beginning of the year but picked up a sponsor for the Indy 500 and qualified on Bump Day.

Katherine Legge

Expecting to return for her second season in a Dragon Racing machine in IndyCar, Legge was replaced in February by Sebastian Saavedra. However, she landed a last-minute ride with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports for the Indianapolis 500 and, despite having little practice, survived a nerve-wracking Bump Day to grab the last spot in the field.

She finished 26th after scraping the wall.

"I can't tell you how different it is getting in a good car at Indy,'' she said. "And that [mishap] was my mistake. We had a top-10 car, easily. … I think we kind of shocked a few people with the speed we had, and that was a testament to the team."

Legge, 33, returned to sports cars in May when she joined the two-driver lineup for Delta Wing, a radical "space-shippy looking" car in the American Le Mans Series.

Delta Wing, oblong, polarizing, but surprisingly nimble, Legge said, was devised as a candidate for the new IndyCar design in 2010 and could represent the future of racing with its less-gluttonous consumption of fuel and tires.

Legge and co-driver Andy Meyrick finished fifth overall (and third in class) in the Delta Wing on Aug. 11 at Road America, marking the highest finish for the car and making Legge -- with eight laps at the front of the field -- the first woman to lead an ALMS race. Delta Wing debuted its "coupe" model at Austin, Texas, last weekend after Legge became the first to test it.

"It isn't what I expected to be doing at the beginning of the year, but sometimes things happen for a reason and I am extremely happy I had this opportunity. I am very grateful," Legge said.

Courtesy of EFFORT Media

Ashley Freiberg led the GT3 IMSA Cup series at the midpoint of the season, then inexplicably lost her ride.

Ashley Freiberg

Freiberg, the first female to win an overall Skip Barber Championship and a Barber National Series race, also became the first to win a North American GT3 Cup Challenge Winner event when she went wire to wire at Watkins Glen International on June 29.

With two top-5 finishes in early May, Freiberg, 21, was tied for first in driver points going into the race and took over the top spot in the GT3 IMSA Cup developmental sports car series with the win.

She crashed in qualifying in late July at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, and EFFORT Racing elected to have her sit out the weekend, dropping her from first to fourth in points.

Her season ended oddly and abruptly when she and EFFORT mutually agreed to sever ties on July 31 even though she had led the point standings a few weeks before.

Simona de Silvestro

De Silvestro, 25, is currently 15th in the IndyCar driver standings after finishing ninth at Sonoma and fifth at Baltimore -- one spot off her career best. With three races remaining, she is in position for her best points finish in four years on the circuit.

Johanna Long

Long produced her third-highest finish of the NASCAR Nationwide season -- 16th -- on Saturday at Kentucky Speedway in the No. 70 Chevrolet.

Long, 21, has attempted 16 of 27 races for ML Motorsports as the Indiana-based team attempts to apply its financial resources to tracks where she has the best chance of being competitive.

The Kentucky finish was encouraging coming off a 26th-place result at Chicago marred by constant handling problems. Long was 12th at Iowa and 15th at Richmond earlier this season.

Justin Edmonds/NASCAR/Getty Images

Kenzie Ruston has four top-5s in her first season in NASCAR’s K&N Pro Series East.

Kenzie Ruston

Ruston, a 21-year-old from El Reno, Okla., is currently seventh in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East standings despite wrecking out of the event at New Hampshire last weekend.

Driving for Turner Scott Motorsports with Ashley Parlett as a mechanic, Ruston has four top-5s and six top-10s in her first season in the stock car developmental circuit. She began with a flourish, finishing third at Greenville-Pickens, fifth at Pensacola and fourth at Winston-Salem.

Ruston currently is a member of the "Next Nine" program designed to identify and market what the sanctioning body considers the next generation of drivers.

Erica Enders-Stevens

Despite missing 12 of the first 18 races of the NHRA Pro Stock season because of a lack of sponsorship, Enders-Stevens, 29, is currently seventh in the standings.

A five-time NHRA winner and last season the first female to win in NHRA Pro Stock, Enders-Stevens qualified first at Texas last weekend and advanced to the second round of eliminations.

She was fourth in the standings when her team expended its funding. She has since found new sponsorship.

Ayla Agren

The 20-year-old Norwegian, a prospect for the Bryan Herta Autosport IndyCar program, finished fourth overall in her rookie season in the F1600 open-wheel developmental series. She posted two sixth-place finishes in the season finale at Summit Point.

"This is my first season in this class, and fourth place is good," Agren told TV2, a Norwegian outlet. "Next season I hope to move up a class, but it depends on many factors if I can do it," prominent among them financing.

Susie Wolff

Wolff, 30, was signed by Williams this season as a test driver but aspires to become just the third female (and the first from Britain) to compete in a Formula One race. The Scot has had to deal not only with questions about gender, but nepotism, as her husband is executive director of the Mercedes AMG F1 team and a shareholder in Williams.

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