FONTANA, Calif. -- Shawna Robinson thinks she can make history without being considered a NASCAR sideshow.
"This is no gimmick," she insists. "I know I'm capable of driving in Winston Cup. Now all I have to do is go out there and prove it."
She'll have that opportunity this weekend at California Speedway, where the 36-year-old mother of two will try to qualify for the NAPA Auto Parts 500. That would make her the first woman to drive in stock car racing's top series since Patty Moise in 1989.
But Robinson wants even more, and car owner Michael Kranefuss thinks she has a chance to become the first regular. At the very least, the plan is to make her the first to compete in more than a handful of Cup races in a single season since Robin McCall in 1982.
"I think she's got the stuff," said Kranefuss, a former partner of Roger Penske in a Winston Cup team as well as the former boss of Ford's worldwide motorsports program.
Kranefuss has announced a six-race schedule for this year, and has enough confidence in Robinson that's he planning a full-time Winston Cup effort next season even though no sponsorship money has yet materialized.
"Now we've got sponsorship for four of the six races this year and there are some big companies, not traditional racing sponsors, who see this as a unique opportunity for a female athlete in a male-dominated culture," he said.
Robinson, who also owns and operates a home decorating company, understands the economics of the situation. But right now, she's ready to strap herself in and begin the quest for enough speed to make the show this weekend.
"All I've been doing is talking to potential sponsors and doing media interviews," she said, smiling brightly. "Come Friday, my focus will be on that car and nothing else."
After showing racing potential in the Busch Series as runner-up for rookie of the year in 1992 and winning a pole in Atlanta in 1994, Robinson took a five-year break to start a family and a business.
But Robinson, a racer half her life, found it hard to shake the urge to get behind the wheel.
James Finch gave her the opportunity to get back in a race car in 1999 in Daytona. Robinson took advantage, and was second in the ARCA race -- the best finish by a woman in that series.
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