Steve Park

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.

 

April 19 in NASCAR: Lee Petty wins at Richmond as Flocks boycott race

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Today would have seen the Cup Series hold its 128th race at Richmond Raceway.

The race would have fallen on the same day that Richmond hosted its inaugural event in 1953.

Then, instead of a .750-mile paved short track, NASCAR’s pioneers competed on a half-mile dirt track at the Atlantic Rural Fairgrounds.

According to the next day’s Richmond Times-Dispatch, about 5,000 fans watched Lee Petty claim the win. He took the lead with 10 laps to go and went on to beat Dick Rathmann (after an evaluation of scoring cards resulted in Buck Baker being moved back to third).

The race also was highlighted by who wasn’t in it.

Brothers Tim and Fonty Flock boycotted the event. When it came to qualifying, the Flocks had wanted to wait for track conditions to improve before they made their attempts. But after NASCAR gave all drivers a 30-minute window in which to make their runs, the Flocks refused. NASCAR then asked them to start from the rear of the field, according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Beginning.” The Flocks objected, packed up and left.

Also on this this date:

1964: Fred Lorenzen crossed the finish to win at North Wilkesboro just in time. His engine almost immediately blew after coughing its way through the final five laps, according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Superspeedway Boom.” Lorenzen survived to beat Ned Jarrett by about 200 yards.

1997: Steve Park led the final 71 laps to win the Xfinity Series race at Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville. Park became the first driver not named Dale Earnhardt to win in the Xfinity Series for Dale Earnhardt, Inc.

1998: Ron Hornaday Jr. passed Jack Sprague with five laps to go and won a Truck Series race at Phoenix Raceway.

2010: Denny Hamlin took the lead on a restart with 12 laps to go and led the rest of the way to win at Texas Motor Speedway over Jimmie Johnson. It was Hamlin’s second of eight wins that season.

2015: Matt Kenseth won at Bristol Motor Speedway in a race named after NASCAR reporter Steve Byrnes, who would pass away two days later from cancer.

Kenny Wallace proud of ‘B driver’ career entering final NASCAR race

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Kenny Wallace is the first to admit it.

He was a punchline.

“There was an old joke one time, ‘He’s back,'” Wallace said Friday at Iowa Speedway, the day before his 904th and final NASCAR start.

That was when he was a “B driver,” called upon when an “A” driver was out of commission.

He replaced Steve Park for 12 races in 2001, which included a pole and second-place run at Rockingham. There were the seven races as Ernie Irvan’s substitute in 1994, when he qualified second at Atlanta and finished fourth at Martinsville.

The latter came during Wallace’s “sweet spot” from 1991 and 2000, the 10 seasons when the youngest of the Wallace brothers could be found competing full time in either the Sprint Cup or Xfinity Series.

Except when he wasn’t.

“I’m probably a driver that if other drivers wouldn’t have got hurt, I’d probably have been done,” Wallace says. “Every time I got in a good car, I performed. I’ve always been that ‘B’ driver and I’m proud of that.”

There were a “couple of hard spots” during his 903 starts across NASCAR’s three national touring series and his record 546 Xfinity Series starts.

But there was that sweet spot.

“That’s when I won my nine Xfinity races,” Wallace said. “That was the time I earned (the right) to keep coming back.”

The 52-year-old driver and analyst for Fox Sports will be back one final time, in today’s Xfinity Series U.S. Cellular 250, driving the No. 20 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Seven years after his last Sprint Cup start and four after his last full season on the Xfinity circuit, Wallace will make his final start in a NASCAR-sanctioned race.

Why now?

“That’s not all in one minute I can tell you that,” Wallace says, but then he does.

Hurting his back in a wreck while substituting for his brother Mike Wallace at JGL Racing in the Xfinity race at Talladega this year kicked the tires on the thought.

“I told my daughter driving home from Talladega, ‘Holy hell, what’s going on here?’”

Then came the year’s first race at Iowa, a stuck clutch and a head-on impact with the wall on the first lap.

When JGL Racing asked him to return for the July Daytona race, he surprised himself.

“I said no. It came out so fast. I was like, ‘wow,’” Wallace recalled.

But Wallace, who made his first NASCAR start in a 1988 Busch Grand National race at Martinsville Speedway for Dale Earnhardt Sr., recognizes he is one of the last “active” drivers from his generation.

“I’m looking around me and there’s nobody in this sport from my days. Jeff Gordon, that’s it,” Wallace says. Both Gordon and Wallace were Sprint Cup rookies in 1993. “There’s nobody else. They’re all gone. Mark Martin’s gone, Jeff Burton’s gone.

“All these guys are quitting in their 40s now. If you look at it, Burton just peeled out, never announced a retirement. He’s in his 40s and I’m like ‘are you going to say anything?’ I guess he’s not.

“Same thing with Bobby Labonte. Everybody’s just afraid to say they’re done. Hell, I’m just done. You know what I mean? I’m just done. It’s liking taking an orange and just squeezing it and there’s no more to come out.”

Wallace says he’s exhausted from trying to find the money to race. But his last squeeze comes with one of the winningest teams in Xfinity Series history and a national sponsor in U.S. Cellular.

“Pretty cool to run your last race with a national sponsor,” Wallace says. “It ain’t like I got Bubba’s Chicken on it.”