- David Newton, ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Erin Crocker still believes she can make a difference as a female driver in NASCAR and make a name for herself in a sport dominated by men.
She also believes the best way to do that is to leave Evernham Motorsports, where she has gotten more publicity for her personal relationship with team owner Ray Evernham than her driving.
"At this point I want to earn that credibility back,'' Crocker said on Saturday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "I want to earn some more respect and go off on my own and do what I came here to do.''
Her comments came a day after Evernham said their relationship hurt Crocker's career because of the negative publicity that surrounded them much of last season.
The relationship became a point of contention when driver Jeremy Mayfield, after being released from Evernham Motorsports, alleged in a 2006 lawsuit that his boss was an absentee manager largely because of his "close personal relationship with a female driver he engages to drive on NASCAR's ARCA, Truck and Busch Series.''
Evernham, 49, said the outside distractions were a factor in Crocker's performance, his ability to build a quality team and attract sponsors.
"I don't know if he hurt it per se,'' Crocker said of her career. "What happened last year with media and sponsors, I don't know. At this point I just think it's best for me to move to another organization and earn credibility back. That's the only way I can do it.''
Crocker said there have been inquiries from several organizations about driving in the Busch or Truck Series.
The 26-year-old currently is driving for EMS in the ARCA series after Evernham shut down the truck program due to a lack of sponsorship. But she believes with five top five finishes and a pole at Daytona in seven starts she has the ability to succeed.
"I feel good about my driving,'' Crocker said. "I just want things to be positive again. I want to earn that credibility I had when I got here.''
Credibility is the key issue. If that means starting over in ARCA and earning her way back to the Truck and Busch Series Crocker is willing to do that.
"The frustrating part is not having to start over again,'' she said. "To me, I just want to be in racing, racing with good equipment with good people around me.
"I feel I kind of have that this year with ARCA. But it's just not enough. When I only race once a month, those other three weekends I drive myself crazy.''
Crocker says she's in the best shape of her career, having used the spare time to work out. She worked the Coca-Cola 600 as a radio pit crew reporter and plans to do a couple of more races this season.
"It wasn't too much instruction involved,'' she said. "They go, 'Here's a battery pack and your radio.' I went out on pit road and the first interview was Mark Martin. Then it was Jeff Gordon and Juan Pablo [Montoya].
"They still laugh at me because I couldn't even hold the microphone.''
Crocker found little to laugh at last season. She finished 26th in the Truck series and went through periods where she lost confidence in her ability to drive.
Losing her primary sponsor, Betty Crocker and General Mills, to Petty Enterprises left her without a ride. That made for a long offseason.
"I feel like it got to a point that I let the pressure get to me,'' Crocker said. "No one wants to admit that or say that they did … but I think I did and it affected my confidence.
"I had kind of a rough winter. I was like all my life I've excelled at things to some extent. … Last year was the first year where everything went wrong.''
There were a few good moments, such as qualifying for the front row in Charlotte in the Truck race. But for the most part Crocker struggled on and off the track.
"It was kind of a see-how-strong-you-are winter, see if you can climb back out of it,'' she said. "It probably took me longer to climb out of it than I've ever had something knock me down before.''
But Crocker said there's nothing she would have done differently, personally or professionally.
"No, it is what it is,'' she said. "You can always go back and say do this, do this. I'm honestly trying to like flip a switch and last year was last year. I really want to go forward.''
Erin Crocker still believes she can make a difference as a female driver in NASCAR and make a name for herself in a sport dominated by men.