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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.

 

NASCAR’s top 5 moments from Talladega Superspeedway

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Talladega.

You either love or hate the track in Alabama.

As we’ve done with with Miami, Texas, Bristol, former NASCAR tracks and Richmond, we’re taking a look at the top five NASCAR moments from the track.

You’ll either love them or hate them.

Here they are.

 1. 18th to first (2000)

With four laps left in the 2000 Winston 500, Dale Earnhardt was nowhere near the front.

He was 18th.

Over the last four circuits of the 2.66-mile superspeedway, the seven-time Cup champion would put on one last show at the track he’d won nine previous times.

Earnhardt deftly navigated the draft and the field, rubbing fenders when he needed to, and eventually picked up help from Kenny Wallace with three laps to go. That allowed him to move into third on the backstretch behind his teammate, Mike Skinner, and his son, Dale Earnhardt Jr.

As they took the white flag, the elder Earnhardt narrowly led Skinner and Earnhardt Jr. across the finish line.

By the time they reached Turn 3, Earnhardt led Wallace and Joe Nemechek as they broke away from the chaos of the pack behind them.

Earnhardt kept the lead and crossed the finish line for his 76th and final Cup Series win.

 2. Gordon win angers Dale Jr. fans (2004)

From fall 2001 to spring 2003, Dale Earnhardt Jr. claimed four straight wins on NASCAR’s biggest oval. After his teammate Michael Waltrip won the fall 2003 race, he aimed for win No. 5 in April 2004.

He came very close.

Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon were battling for the lead with five laps to go when a Brian Vickers incident in Turn 3 brought out the caution and froze the field.

When the field raced through the tri-oval back to the finish line, Earnhardt led Gordon.

Cue controversy.

As the field crept around the track with four laps to go, NASCAR ruled Gordon had been the leader when the caution was issued.

The race never resumed and Gordon took the win.

As the checkered and yellow flags flew, so did cups and cans of beer, as angry fans pelted the track and a celebrating Gordon to show their disapproval in the race not resuming and the outcome.

The creation of the green-white-checkered finish wasn’t far behind.

 3. Brad Keselowski gets first win in a part-time role (2009)

In 2009, Brad Keselowski was driving part-time for James Finch. The spring race at Talladega was his fifth Cup Series start and his third of 15 starts that season.

Entering the race, Keselowski had yet to lead a lap. Exiting the race, he had one lap led on his record. How he led that lap is notable.

The tandem racing era on superspeedways was just getting underway and it was on display during a four-lap shootout to the finish.

When the white flag was displayed, Carl Edwards, with Keselowski hooked to his bumper, sped by Ryan Newman and Dale Earnhardt Jr. for the lead and second place.

As they raced through the tri-oval for the final time, Keselowski went to Edwards’ inside. They made contact and Edwards went into a spin, the momentum of which caused him to collide with Newman and get airborne into the catch fence. He was unharmed.

By the end of the season Keselowski would be driving for Team Penske. He’d go full-time in 2010 and two years later would win his first Cup title. In the spring 2010 Atlanta race, Edwards would get payback when he intentionally spun Keselowski, causing him to flip onto his roof.

 4. Dawn of the restrictor plates (1987)

Every era of auto racing has to start somewhere.

NASCAR’s restrictor-plate era began in 1988 and lasted through the 2019 Daytona 500.

But its origins are in the May 1987 Winston 500 and a scary Bobby Allison wreck, days after Bill Elliott established the track’s qualifying record at 212.809 mph.

Twenty-one laps into the event, Allison was racing through the tri-oval when his engine blew. Debris from it cut a tire, causing Allison to lose control. He lifted up into the catch fence, where his car ripped a large section of it down right before the flag stand.

Allison was unharmed in the crash.

After a lengthy red flag to repair the fence, the race resumed. It ended with Davey Allison, Bobby’s son, earning his first Cup Series win.

That year was the last year of unrestricted racing on superspeedways.

 5. ‘Sorry we couldn’t crash more cars today’ (2012)

While Daytona and Talladega provide plenty of spectacle, they also provide really big crashes.

In the May 2012 Cup race, one of those wrecks unfolded on a restart with four laps to go.

Among those involved in the nine-car wreck was Tony Stewart.

Afterward, an unhappy Stewart showed his displeasure in a sarcastic interview.

“Sorry we couldn’t crash more cars today. We didn’t fill the quota for today for Talladega and NASCAR,” Stewart deadpanned. “If we haven’t crashed at least 50% of the field by the end of the race we need to extend the race until we crash at least 50% of the cars. ‘Cause it’s not fair to these fans for them to not see any more wrecks than that and more tore up cars.”

April 22 in NASCAR: Brett Bodine claims lone Cup win amid controversy

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Brett Bodine, one of the three Bodine brothers who competed in the NASCAR Cup Series, made 480 career starts in Cup between 1986-03.

In that time, the New York native visited Victory Lane once.

And it wasn’t boring.

It came on April 22, 1990 at North Wilkesboro Speedway as Bodine, making his 80th career start, drove the No. 26 Quaker State Buick owned by NHRA legend Kenny Bernstein.

Bodine led 146 of 400 laps and won over Darrell Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt, but not without some controversy.

The confusion began after a round of green flag pit stops that occurred from Lap 280-318. Bodine, who stopped on Lap 301, became the leader on Lap 318 when Waltrip was the last driver among the leaders to pit.

Then Kenny Wallace brought out the caution on Lap 321 when he spun in Turn 1.

But when the pace car pulled onto the track to pick up the field, he pulled in front of Earnhardt, not Bodine, who was running just ahead of Earnhardt.

NASCAR kept the race under caution for 18 laps as they attempted to sort out the scoring. They eventually told Earnhardt, Waltrip and other drivers who stayed out under the caution to get behind Bodine, who had pitted during the caution with other drivers.

Bodine would lead the final 62 green flag laps and take the checkered flag. Waltrip would protest, but NASCAR ruled Bodine the winner. The next day’s Charlotte Observer cited sources that said NASCAR officials admitted they made a “judgement call … one that can’t be changed.”

“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Bodine said according to the Observer. “I didn’t think it would take this long and I got impatient. … Now I can say I know I can beat them ’cause I did it once before.”

Years later, Waltrip recalled petitioning Bill France Jr. to rule in his favor.

“I walk over to Bill and I’m almost on my knees,” Waltrip said. “‘Bill, he did not win this race and everybody in this garage area knows that.’ And Mr. France in his divine wisdom, took his cigarette out of his mouth, put his arm around me and he said, ‘DW, leave that boy alone. That’s the first race he’s ever won and you’re going to win a lot more races.”

Waltrip would fail to win in 1990, his first full-time season without a victory.

Also on this date:

1951: Marshall Teague won a race at the Arizona State Fairgrounds in Phoenix. In time trials for the race, driver Allen Heath flipped his car and suffered three broken ribs, a punctured lung and head injuries, resulting in him being taken to the hospital. According to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Beginning,” relief driver Chuck Meekins flipped on the second lap in almost the same spot as Heath and ended up in the same hospital room with Heath.

1962: Richard Petty won at Martinsville after leading 145 of 500 laps. The race marked the first start by Lee Petty since he suffered serious injuries in a crash in his Daytona 500 qualifying race in February 1961. He started and finished fifth. He would only make five more starts.

1979:  Richard Petty won at Martinsville, beating Buddy Baker for his first short-track win since 1975 at Bristol

2001: Bobby Hamilton won at Talladega for his fourth and final Cup Series victory. It was also the first Cup win for Andy Petree as an owner. Both his wins came in 2001.

March 24 in NASCAR History: Buddy Baker breaks 200 mph barrier

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Earlier this year, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won the pole for the Daytona 500 with a qualifying speed of 194.582 mph.

That’s fast.

But that’s how fast today’s Cup Series cars go on superspeedways with tapered spacers restricting engines.

On this day 50 years ago, Buddy Baker got to go really fast.

On Tuesday, March 24, 1970, Baker strapped into a blue Dodge Daytona during a tire test at Talladega Superspeedway, the largest oval track in NASCAR. During the test, Baker became the first driver to break the 200 mph barrier on a closed circuit.

His fastest lap around the 2.66-mile oval was recorded at 200.447 mph.

“Gosh, it’s the most wonderful feeling I’ve had in a long, long time,” Baker said after the test. “This is something nobody can ever take from you, being the first guy to run 200 mph on a close course circuit. Gosh, I’m just tickled to death.”

Baker said when you’re going 200 mph, the track’s high-banked turns “feels just like it’s flat. Because it takes every bit of the banking to run this speed. ”

Of course, stock cars would only get faster over the ensuing decades.

By 1987, Bill Elliott would establish the qualifying speed records at Daytona (210.364 mph) and Talladega (212.809 mph).

In 1988, following a violent Bobby Allison wreck at Talladega in 1987, NASCAR instituted restrictor plates for races at Daytona and Talladega. They’d be used through the 2019 Daytona 500 before being replaced by tapered spacers.

Other tracks have seen the 200 mph qualifying barrier broken since then, but we’ll likely never see it again at Daytona and Talladega.

UPDATE: According to allpar.com, Larry Rathgeb, the Chrysler engineer who led the test session to reach the 200 mph barrier, died Sunday as a result of the coronavirus.

Also on this date:

1991: Kenny Wallace, the younger brother to Rusty and Mike Wallace, won his first career Xfinity Series race at Volusia County Speedway in Barberville, Florida. The series would make its fourth and final visit to the half-mile track the next year.

2002: Kurt Busch executed a bump-and-run on Jimmy Spencer with 56 laps to go to take the lead in the spring race at Bristol Motor Speedway. Busch led the rest of the way, surviving a restart with 15 laps to go, and scored his first Cup Series win. Busch would win three of the next four Cup races at Bristol.

Kyle Larson wins, advances to tonight’s Gateway Dirt Nationals finale

Gateway Dirt Nationals
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NASCAR Cup star Kyle Larson captured Friday night’s Main A feature in the second night of the three-night Gateway Dirt Nationals at The Dome at America’s Center in downtown St. Louis.

After winning his heat race earlier in the evening, Larson powered on to take the checkered flag again in the main event, holding off Cannon McIntosh, Michael Pickens, Tanner Thorson and Cole Bodine.

NBC Sports’ reporter Dillon Welch finished sixth, Gio Scelzi (son of four-time NHRA drag racing champ Gary Scelzi) was seventh, followed by Jonathan Beason, Sean McClellan and Robert Digby.

Two other NASCAR notables, Chase Briscoe and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., finished 12th and 16th, respectively.

Larson took home a $5,000 prize and advances to Saturday’s main event.

Joining Larson, Welch, Briscoe and Stenhouse in tonight’s midgets main event will be Ryan Newman and Christopher Bell, who both competed in Thursday night’s Main A, finishing 11th and 15th, respectively.

 

In the evening’s late model Main A event, Tyler Carpenter won a close battle with Tanner English by .02 of a second to take home the $5,000 winner’s prize and advance to Saturday’s big showdown.

 

Lastly, veteran NASCAR driver and St. Louis native Kenny Wallace finished 15th in the Modified class Main A feature due to a blown motor.

 

The main event for all three categories – midgets, modifieds and super late models – begins Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET. The winner of each race will take home $10,000 apiece.

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