Matt Kenseth among notable Cup Series substitute drivers

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Just when you thought 2020 couldn’t get any weirder, Chip Ganassi Racing announced Monday that Matt Kenseth, at the age of 48, is coming back to drive its No. 42 Chevrolet for the rest of the year.

The 2003 Cup champion is the replacement driver for Kyle Larson, who was fired from the team two weeks ago after using a racial slur in an iRacing event.

Substitute drivers, whether for one race or longer, are nothing new for NASCAR.

Here’s a look back at some notable substitute drivers in the Cup Series. What better place to start than with Kenseth himself?

Matt Kenseth subs for Bill Elliott, 1998

Two years before his rookie season in the Cup Series, Kenseth was competing full-time in what was called the Busch Series. In September, the 26-year-old Kenseth was called in to drive Bill Elliott’s No. 94 McDonald’s car at Dover while Elliott attended his father’s funeral. Kenseth finished sixth in his Cup debut.

Kevin Harvick replaces Dale Earnhardt, 2001

Richard Childress Racing tapped Kevin Harvick to replace Dale Earnhardt after Earnhardt’s death at the end of the 2001 Daytona 500. Harvick made his Cup debut the following week at Rockingham and would win at Atlanta in his third series start. He competed full-time in both Cup and the Busch Series that year, winning Cup Rookie of the Year honors and the Busch championship.

Jamie McMurray subs for Sterling Marlin, 2002

In September 2002, Chip Ganassi Racing chose Jamie McMurray to sub for Sterling Marlin after he was injured in a crash at Kansas Speedway. McMurray made his Cup debut on Oct. 6 at Talladega. A week later, he won a race at Charlotte. After finishing out the last six races of the season, he went full-time with Ganassi in Cup in 2003.

Jeff Gordon and Alex Bowman sub for Dale Earnhardt Jr., 2016

Less than a year after he retired from NASCAR competition, Jeff Gordon was back in a race car. Gordon and Alex Bowman were enlisted by Hendrick Motorsports to split time in the No. 88 Chevrolet as Dale Earnhardt Jr. recovered from a concussion. Gordon made eight starts while Bowman made 10 and nearly won the playoff race at Phoenix. Bowman’s performance helped him earn the No. 88 ride full-time after Earnhardt retired at the end of 2017.

Ernie Irvan replaces Davey Allison, 1993; Kenny Wallace/Dale Jarrett sub for Irvan, 1994-95

The mid-90s were a difficult time for Robert Yates Racing and the No. 28 team. On July 13, 1993, Davey Allison died from injuries sustained in a helicopter crash at Talladega Superspeedway. After skipping the next race at Pocono,  Robby Gordon and Lake Speed shared the No. 28 over the next four races. Ernie Irvan took over the ride permanently, making his first start in the Southern 500.

Irvan made it through the first 20 Cup races in 1994 before being critically injured in a crash in practice at Michigan in August. Irvan wouldn’t return to the Cup Series until October 1995. Kenny Wallace finished out the 1994 season in the No. 28, making 10 starts. Dale Jarrett took over the ride full-time in 1995, and would be teammates with Irvan when he returned in the No. 88 (they would swap numbers in 1996).

Matt Crafton before the 2015 Daytona 500. (Photo by Michael Bush/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Matt Crafton subs for Kyle Busch, 2015 Daytona 500

When Kyle Busch fractured his right leg and left foot in a crash in the 2015 Xfinity Series season opener, Joe Gibbs Racing turned to Matt Crafton to drive the No. 18 Toyota in the Daytona 500. Then a two-time Truck Series champion, it was Crafton’s first Cup Series start. He finished 18th.

Michael McDowell subs for Kyle Busch, 2011

Four years earlier, Busch missed one Cup race due to suspension. He was parked for the rest of the weekend at Texas Motor Speedway by NASCAR after he intentionally wrecked Ron Hornaday Jr. under caution during a Truck Series race at Texas. Michael McDowell was chosen to race in Busch’s place. He finished 33rd.

Erik Jones subs for Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth, 2015

In 2015, Erik Jones was a substitute driver for 3/4ths of Joe Gibbs Racing’s Cup teams. He made his unofficial Cup debut on April 19 as a mid-race relief driver for Denny Hamlin. He was then the final substitute driver for the injured Kyle Busch on May 9 at Kansas Speedway. He finished 40th. Jones made two more starts in Kenseth’s No. 20 after Kenseth was suspended for intentionally wrecking Joey Logano in the playoff race at Martinsville.

Mark Martin subs for Tony Stewart, 2013

When Tony Stewart broke a leg in a sprint car crash in August 2013, Stewart-Haas Racing turned to 54-year-old veteran Mark Martin to take his place. Martin drove the No. 14 car for 12 of the last 13 races to close out a Cup career the began in 1981.

Darrell Waltrip subs for Steve Park, 1998

Dale Earnhardt turned to three-time Cup champion Darrell Waltrip in 1998 to sub for Steve Park after he suffered three fractures in a crash at Atlanta in March. Waltrip made 13 starts in the No. 1 Chevrolet, which included his final career top five in a race at Auto Club Speedway.

Regan Smith at Martinsville Speedway in 2015. (Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Regan Smith

There are substitute drivers, then there’s “Super Subs” like Regan Smith. Here’s how much substitute work Smith has gotten over the years.

– 2012: Drove for Dale Earnhardt Jr. in two races late in the season as Earnhardt recovered from a concussion.

– 2014: Subbed for Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen following Stewart’s sprint car incident that killed Kevin Ward Jr.

– 2015: Subbed for a suspended Kurt Busch in the first three races of the season. Then subbed for Kyle Larson at Martinsville after Larson fainted during an autograph session that weekend.

– 2017: Subbed for an injured Aric Almirola in the All-Star Race, the Coca-Cola 600 and at Dover.

– 2018: Drove in the place of Kasey Kahne for the final 11 races after dehydration issues resulted in an early end to Kahne’s career.

Kenny Wallace

Like Smith, Kenny Wallace did his fair of substitute driving during his Cup career.

– 1991: Drove Kyle Petty’s No. 42 car in two races after Petty broke his leg in a crash at Talladega.

-1994: Drove Ernie Irvan’s No. 28 car in the final 10 races of the season after his injuries suffered in the Michigan crash.

– 2001: Drove Steve Park’s No. 1 car for the final 12 races after Park was injured in a freak accident in the Xfinity race at Darlington.

– 2002: Subbed for Kevin Harvick at Martinsville after Harvick was suspended for actions during that weekend’s Truck Series race.

– 2005: Drove Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 97 car for the final two races of the year after the team suspended Kurt Busch.

– 2007: Drove Robert Yates Racing’s No. 88 car in four races after Ricky Rudd injured a shoulder in a wreck at Auto Club Speedway.

 

Dr. Diandra: Strategies in making Clash picks

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Crew chiefs must develop their approach to today’s Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum using only last year’s data, plus this year’s practice and qualifying.

Fans wagering (for fun and/or profit) must contend with the same lack of data as they make their Clash picks.

The shortest regular-season track is a half mile. A quarter-mile track is a different beast, even with a year’s worth of Next Gen experience.

“Last year everything was brand-new – the track, the format and the car,” Alan Gustafson, crew chief for Chase Elliott, said in a team release. “We’ll have a little bit better of an idea of what we’re going for this time around, but the track is so unique that even with going there last year, we’re still learning.”

As are the fans.

There are a few changes to keep in mind as you make your Clash picks.

NASCAR increased the field from 23 cars to 27. With 36 drivers entered, only nine will miss the Clash. Even without points on the line, no one wants to head home before the main event’s green flag.

Last year, equipment failures caused four out of five DNFs in the main race. Expect fewer mechanical issues this year.

But perhaps more aggression.

Don’t pay too much attention to practice

Last year’s practice times showed no correlation with Clash performance. Eventual winner Joey Logano finished practice last year with the 26th fastest lap — also known as the 11th-slowest lap. But he qualified fourth.

This year, despite losing about 40 hp to mufflers, Martin Truex Jr. set a fastest lap of 13.361 seconds. Truex’s lap beats last year’s best practice lap time of 13.455 seconds, set by Chase Elliott.

Although only seven-tenths of a second separate the fastest practice lap and the slowest, the change is far from linear.

A graph showing practice times for the Busch Light Clash field

  • The top 11 drivers are separated by just 0.048 seconds out of a 13- to 14-second lap
  • Brad Keselowski, who didn’t make the race last year, had the third slowest practice time.
  • Tyler Reddick ran the most total practice laps with 117. He was followed by Kevin Harvick (116), and Noah Gragson and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., both of whom made 115 laps.
  • Most drivers ran their best times in their first or second session. Austin Dillon, however, ran his best time on lap 109 of 112.
  • The top three in practice also had the three best 10-lap averages.

Qualifying is the key to good Clash picks

Last year, qualifying position correlated well with driver finish in the Clash. If your driver qualified on the front two rows for his heat race, last year’s results suggest that the only thing keeping him from making tonight’s Clash is an accident or mechanical failure.

That’s bad news for Ty Gibbs, who wasn’t allowed to qualify and will start in the back of the field. It’s also a negative for Ryan Blaney, who posted a 40-second lap, however, Blaney has a shot at the provisional and Gibbs doesn’t.

The heat races are only 25 laps, which doesn’t leave much time for passing. Heat race starting position is highly correlated to heat race finishing position.

  • Last year, the pole-sitter for each of the four heat races held the lead for the entire race.
  • Of the 12 drivers starting in the top three for each heat race, nine drivers — 75% — finished in the top three.
  • Only the top-four finishers of each heat race advanced last year. This year, the top five move on. Last year, 16 of the 25 drivers (64%) starting in positions one through five finished in the top five of their heat races.
  • No driver who started a heat race from ninth finished better than sixth. That’s not encouraging news for Blaney and Gibbs, among others.

That means Justin Haley, Kyle Busch, Christopher Bell and William Byron are pretty much guaranteed locks for a good starting spot in the Clash.

The 20 drivers who qualified in the top five for their heat race have a very high probability of making it through to the main — and of finishing well there.

As was the case last year, practice showed little correlation with qualifying. Martin Truex Jr. qualified 22nd despite posting the best practice time.

The Last Chance Qualifiers

Three drivers from each of the two last chance qualifiers fill out the final rows of the Clash starting grid. Last year, drivers were more aggressive in these 50-lap races than the first four heats.

Again, the closer to the front a driver starts, the better his chance of making the race. Last year, both pole-sitters finished in the top three and advanced.

The last chance qualifiers are long enough for a driver starting in the rear to make it to the front. Last year, Ty Dillon came from 10th place to win the second race. He was subsequently disqualified for jumping the final restart and Harrison Burton, who had started seventh, advanced. If you’re looking for long-shot Clash picks, don’t count the back of the field entirely out.

The Big Show

Last year, the 150-lap main had five lead changes and five cautions.

  • Of last year’s four heat-race winners, two finished in positions one and two, while the other two didn’t finish the race.
  • Of the six drivers who advanced from the last chance qualifiers, none finished higher than A.J. Allmendinger in ninth.
  • Allmendinger tied with Erik Jones for most spots gained. Jones started 16th and finished fourth.
  • Excluding drivers who failed to finish the race, Danial Suárez had the biggest position loss, starting fifth and finishing 14th.

If you want to avoid the frontrunners, you might want to keep an eye on Aric Almirola, who qualified fifth, and had the seventh best 10-lap average run during practice. Austin Dillon didn’t put together a strong 10-lap run, but his team found something in the last minutes of practice that allowed him to go from finishing practice in 22nd to qualifying sixth.

And although Bubba Wallace qualified 16th, he ranked first in runs of 10, 15, 20, 25 and 30 laps. He was second in five-lap speed.

Good luck with your Clash picks!

NASCAR Sunday schedule at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

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It’s race day for the NASCAR Cup Series.

The Clash at the Coliseum will open the 2023 season for NASCAR on Sunday with the featured 150-lap race scheduled for 8 p.m. ET at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

The field for the non-points race will be set by a series of heat and last chance races Sunday afternoon. The top five finishers in each of four 25-lap heat races will advance to the feature, and the top three finishers in two 50-lap last chance races will join the grid.

Joey Logano won last year’s Clash as it moved from its long-time home at Daytona International Speedway to the Coliseum.

The Cup Series regular season is scheduled to begin Feb. 19 with the Daytona 500.

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

Weather

Sunday: Partly cloudy with a high of 64 degrees in the afternoon and no chance of rain. It is expected to be sunny with a high of 62 degrees and a 1% chance of rain at the start of the Clash.

Sunday, Feb. 5

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. Sunday – 12:30 a.m. Monday — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 5 – 5:45 p.m. — Four heat races (25 laps; Fox, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 6:10 – 6:35 p.m. — Two last chance qualifying races (50 laps; Fox, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 8 p.m. — Feature race (150 laps; Fox, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

NASCAR Clash heat race lineups

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LOS ANGELES — Justin Haley, Kyle Busch, Christopher Bell and William Byron will start on the pole for their heat races Sunday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. 

There will be nine cars in each of the four heat races. Here’s a look at each of the those heat races.

Clash heat race starting lineups

Heat 1

This heat has four drivers who did not make last year’s Clash: Alex Bowman, Aric Almirola, Chris Buescher and Ty Dillon. Almirola starts second, Bowman third, Buescher eighth and Dillon ninth. This heat also has defending Clash winner and reigning Cup champion Joey Logano, who starts fifth.

Heat 2

Richard Childress Racing teammates Busch and Austin Dillon start 1-2. This race has five former champions: Busch, Kyle Larson (starting third), Kevin Harvick (fourth), Martin Truex Jr. (fifth) and Chase Elliott (eighth).

Heat 3

Toyota drivers will start first (Bell), second (Denny Hamlin) and fifth (Tyler Reddick). Ryan Blaney starts last in this heat after his fastest qualifying lap was disallowed Saturday.

Heat 4 

Byron will be joined on the front row by AJ Allmendinger in this heat. The second row will have Ross Chastain and Bubba Wallace.

The top five in each heat advances to Sunday night’s Clash. Those not advancing go to one of two last chance qualifying races. The top three in each of those races advances to the Clash. The 27 and final spot in the Clash is reserved for the driver highest in points who has yet to make the field.

Justin Haley tops field in Clash qualifying

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LOS ANGELES — Justin Haley posted the fastest lap in Saturday’s qualifying for the Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Haley will start the first of four heats on the pole after a lap of 67.099 mph (13.413 seconds). The four heat races will be held Sunday afternoon, followed by two last chance qualifying races and then the Busch Clash on Sunday night.

Clash qualifying results

“I feel pretty confident about where we are,” Haley said. “I’m not sure why we’re so good here.”

The top four qualifiers will start on the pole for their heat race.

Kyle Busch, who was second on the speed chart with a lap of 66.406 mph, will start on the pole for the second heat. That comes in his first race with Richard Childress Racing after having spent the past 15 seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Christopher Bell, third on the speed chart with a lap of 66.328 mph, will start on the pole for the third heat. William Byron, fourth in qualifying with a lap of 66.196 mph, will start on the pole in the fourth heat race.

The pole-sitters for each of the four heat races last year all won their heat. That included Haley, who was third fastest in qualifying last year and won the third heat from the pole.

Ty Gibbs was not allowed to qualify because of unapproved adjustments his team made while making repairs to his car after the door foam caught fire during practice. NASCAR deemed that the Joe Gibbs Racing team made adjustments to the car not directly related to the damage.

Ryan Blaney‘s fastest qualifying lap was disallowed after he stopped the car in Turn 4 and turned it around and to go back to the backstretch and build speed for his final lap. NASCAR disallowed the time from that final lap for the maneuver.

Section 7.8.F of the Cup Rule Book states: “Unless otherwise determined by the Series Managing Director, drivers who encounter a problem during Qualifying will not be permitted to travel counter Race direction.”

The top five finishers in each of the four 25-lap heat races advance to the Clash. The top three in the two 50-lap last chance races move on to the Clash. The final spot in the 27-car field is reserved for the driver highest in points not yet in the field.