The news that Jeff Gordon will exit retirement to race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Pocono Raceway for Dale Earnhardt Jr. means Gordon will be the latest – and among the most high profile – in a long line of substitute drivers over the last four years.
It will be Gordon’s 23rd start in the Brickyard 400, which he’s won a record five times. It will be his first start in a Sprint Cup race in a car other than No. 24.
The last time the No. 88 car visited victory lane with someone not named Earnhardt driving it was Oct. 2, 2005 when Dale Jarrett earned his final Sprint Cup win at Talladega Superspeedway. Before Earnhardt joined Hendrick Motorsports in 2008, the No. 88 was driven by Ricky Rudd in 2007 for Robert Yates Racing
Sunday’s Brickyard 400 and the July 31 event at Pocono Raceway will be the fourth and fifth races Earnhardt has missed for concussion symptoms since joining Hendrick. He missed races at Charlotte and Kansas in 2012. Regan Smith drove for Earnhardt, finishing 38th (engine failure) and seventh.
Alex Bowman drove the No. 88 last weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and finished 26th.
Smith was one of the go-to drivers for substitute work in recent years before joining Tommy Baldwin Racing in 2016.
Two years after he subbed for Earnhardt, Smith was called at the last minute to replace Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen International following the sprint car accident that claimed the life of Kevin Ward Jr. Smith failed to finish after being in a Lap 81 crash.
Here’s a look at other substitute performances in the last four seasons.
- Mark Martin – one race for Denny Hamlin at Martinsville (10th); 12 races for Tony Stewart (best finish of ninth at Richmond).
- Brian Vickers – three races for Denny Hamlin at Texas (eighth), Kansas (31st) and Richmond (35th).
- Max Papis – One race for Stewart at WGI (15th).
- Austin Dillon – two races for Stewart at Michigan (14th) and Talladega (26th).
- Jeff Burton – two races for Stewart at Michigan (37th) and Bristol (15th).
- Regan Smith – one race for Stewart (37th).
- Sam Hornish Jr. – one race for Hamlin at Auto Club Speedway (17th).
- Matt Crafton – one race for Kyle Busch in Daytona 500 (18th)
- David Ragan – Nine races for Busch (best finish of fifth at Martinsville); 25 races for Vickers (best finish of 12th at Daytona II)
- Erik Jones – one race for Kyle Busch at Kansas (40th). Two races for Matt Kenseth at Texas (12th) and Phoenix (19th).
- Regan Smith – one race for Kyle Larson at Martinsville (16th); three races for Kurt Busch (two finishes of 16th at Daytona and Las Vegas
- Brett Moffitt – Six races for Vickers (best finish of eighth at Atlanta)
- Brian Vickers – five races for Stewart (best finish of seventh at Martinsville)
- Ty Dillon – Three races for Stewart, plus relief effort at Talladega (best finish of sixth at Talladega)
- Alex Bowman – one race for Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Loudon (26th)
If Gordon wins Sunday he would join a short list of notable wins by substitute drivers in the history of the Sprint Cup Series:
- Tiny Lund for Marvin Panch – 1963 Daytona 500
- David Pearson for Dale Earnhardt – 1979 Southern 500
- Dale Jarrett for Ernie Irvan at Robert Yates Racing for the 1995 season (won at Pocono). Irvan was hurt at Michigan in 1994
- Robby Gordon for Mike Skinner— 2001 at New Hampshire
- Jamie McMurray for Sterling Marlin — 2002 at Charlotte
How do you think Jeff Gordon will do this weekend at Indianapolis?