Race Weekend Central

NASCAR 101: Active Drivers Who Returned to NASCAR After Long Absences

News broke this week that Greg Biffle will return to make a start in the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series at Darlington Raceway.

Biffle, who is set to wheel the No. 24 entry for GMS Racing, is seemingly repeating his 2019 driving duties, which saw him make just one Truck start at Texas Motor Speedway while driving for Kyle Busch Motorsports.

Oh, he won that event, too.

Nonetheless, Biffle’s return to competition in 2019 came after a lengthy absence. The now-50-year-old had not attempted to start a NASCAR race of any kind since parting ways with his longtime NASCAR Cup Series team, Roush Fenway Racing, at the end of 2016.

Biffle is not the only driver actively competing who has had a gap in their career. Let’s meet the other 33 (plus a 34th exception) active drivers who have had a gap of at least one season during their current careers

Kyle Busch: This might be surprising to seem him at the top of the list, but before he became a multi-time champion, Busch’s foray into NASCAR was a bit strange, having to sit out the 2002 season because of government legislation, of all things. After competing in six Truck races in 2001 as a 16-year-old, Busch was informed he was ineligible to participate in NASCAR events as a minor due to tobacco sponsorship conflicts. He waited until 2003 to compete again.

Matt DiBenedetto: After losing place as a Joe Gibbs Racing development driver in the Xfinity Series, DiBenedetto did not compete in 2011 but found a path toward a second chance the following season. However, he did compete in two ARCA Menards Series events during the 2011 calendar year to make up for the lost time.

Chris Buescher: 2020 marks a homecoming for Buescher as he reunited with his old Roush team, which happens to be the subject of his time gap. Buescher’s first two starts of any kind came for Roush’s NXS program in 2011, but he had to wait until 2013 to get called back up.

Matt Kenseth: Before he was tabbed to replace the fired Kyle Larson in the No. 42 Cup Series entry this year, Kenseth had been on the sidelines since 2018, when he drove part time for Roush. Prior to his hiatus, Kenseth spent 23 consecutive seasons (2018 included) competing in NASCAR, racking up a total of 69 wins and 37 poles.

Corey LaJoie: At the end of the 2014 season, the current driver of Go FAS Racing’s Cup ride had made starts in all three of NASCAR’s national touring series. Yet that was not enough for a ride in 2015. LaJoie returned to make 10 NXS starts in 2016, which ultimately led to his first full-time Cup seat in 2017.

Stanton Barrett: The veteran road racer and stuntman has made sporadic starts in NASCAR for nearly three decades, most recently in the inaugural Cup race at the Daytona International Speedway road course. Although he has never completed a full season in any series, he has competed in every season since 1992 except 2017.

Jeremy Clements: The NXS owner-driver made a lone and rather obscure start way back in 2003 at Pikes Peak International Raceway as an 18-year-old. His next start did not come until 2007 and he has been a fixture in the series since.

Josh Williams: Williams has worked to build his NXS program up for the last several years, but his first NASCAR start actually was in a pickup in 2014. After focusing on his ARCA team in 2015, the Floridian returned to NASCAR in 2016, when he began his NXS tenure.

Tommy Joe Martins: Another NXS owner-driver, Martins initially struggled to stay in the sport. Having made four Truck starts in 2009, Martins was absent in 2010 but made another Truck start in 2011. He then disappeared between 2012 and 2013 before reemerging in 2014, this time in Xfinity. It was not for long, as Martins could not be found in a NASCAR ride in 2015, but he finally attained stable ground in 2016.

Kyle Weatherman: Although he currently competes part time for Mike Harmon Racing in Xfinity, Weatherman was once a top competitor in ARCA. To gain more experience, his team plopped him in a truck in 2015. It wasn’t until 2017 that Weatherman was back in a national ride.

Stephen Leicht: Like Williams, Martins and Weatherman, Leicht has been known to frequent underfunded teams in Xfinity for the last several years. Without full-time sponsorship, starts often come few and far between. However, Leicht actually competed and won at the top level early in his career. When opportunities dried up, he could not be found in 2011, nor between 2013-2016.

Andy Lally: Lally was hoping to make a stock car career, but the sports car racer returned to his native discipline after his disappointing rookie Cup season in 2011. However, he has made various starts at road courses in the years since, except for 2012, 2013 and 2019.

Mike Wallace: It was somewhat of a surprise to see Wallace return to Xfinity for a few races in 2020 after a respectable 26-year career that spanned from 1990 to 2015.

Brandon GdovicGdovic competed in eight Xfinity races between 2015 and 2016 but has returned to the series for a few road course outings with Sam Hunt Racing this season.

Mike Harmon: The Harmonator has been a stalwart independent in both NASCAR and ARCA for decades. Harmon first entered seven NXS races in 1996 but did not hit a NASCAR track again until 2001.

Dexter Bean: Bean has bounced around sporadically from ride to ride since 2006, mainly in start-and-park efforts. Although he has been in NASCAR for 15 years, he has only competed in eight seasons, including three Xfinity outings so far in 2020.

Scott Heckert: Another common figure at Xfinity road courses events, Heckert has spent much of his tenure at BJ McLeod Motorsports since 2016. 2017 was the lone scratch.

Bobby Reuse: Sticking to the road course theme, Reuse has been around the left and right circuits of Xfinity and Trucks several times since 2014 but could not be found in 2016.

Roger Reuse: Although they are not twins, the elder Reuse has nearly emulated his brother’s career but instead did not race in 2017, rather than 2016.

John Jackson: The Scot has competed in lower-level Xfinity and Truck rides since 2009 but took 2013 off.

Tim Viens: Viens returned to both NXS and Trucks in 2020. Viens last attempted to qualify for an event in 2018. However, 2016 actually marked the last time the 43-year-old actually made a show prior to this season.

Grant Enfinger: He may be poised to collect his first Truck championship this season after winning two times so far in 2020, but few may realize that Enfinger’s career has a giant gap in it. The Alabaman made sporadic starts between 2010 and 2012 before returning on a more regular basis in 2016. The gap was filled by several competitive seasons in ARCA competition.

Tate Fogleman: Although he is competing for Truck rookie of the year, Fogleman actually made three starts in 2018.

Angela Ruch: The niece of 1990 Daytona 500 victor Derrike Cope, Ruch competed under her maiden name between 2010 and 2012. After getting married in 2014, Ruch returned to competition in 2017. She now competes part time in Trucks.

Chase Purdy: Purdy received a call to go back truck racing this season after last competing in 2018 for the now-defunct MDM Motorsports.

Norm Benning: The current Truck journeyman actually got his first taste of NASCAR way back in 1989, driving his own Cup car. Since then, Benning has made multiple trips up and down the ladder, including several seasons where he only competed in ARCA.

Bryan Dauzat: Like Benning, Dauzat is no stranger to ARCA, but when a single-race Truck opening came in 2014, Dauzat jumped on it. However, he waited until 2017 to get another opportunity.

Scott Lagasse Jr: Lagasse has been involved with NASCAR in some way or fashion since 2005, with the lone exception being 2011. Lagasse’s only start in 2020 came for On Point Motorsports at the inaugural Truck event at the Daytona road course.

Kevin Donahue: When MB Motorsports shut down in 2018, the part-time Donahue was left without an Truck ride. He finally returned when Reaume Brothers Racing gave him a shot at Kansas Speedway earlier this season.

Akinori OgataA near-identical story to Donahue, Ogata was also a victim of the MB closure. Although he found a one-off NXS opportunity with MBM Motorsports in 2018, Ogata was forced to sit out in 2019. He too found his way back in 2020 with none other than the Reaume team.

Travis Pastrana: The extreme sports athlete tried his hand at NASCAR between 2011 and 2013. Despite a lack of success, Pastrana returned to make guest Truck appearances in 2015, 2017 and 2020, much to the enjoyment of his large fanbase.

Mike Skeen: Since debuting in 2013, Skeen has only made three starts: one in Xfinity and two in Trucks, including his recent outing at Daytona.

Trey Hutchens: Hutchens made a Truck start in 2017 but has found more consistent track time driving for NEMCO Motorsports as well as his own team in 2019 and 2020.

Chris Cockrum (sort of): The part-time Xfinity driver has attempted to compete every year since 2011. However, Cockrum’s lone trip to the track in 2018 resulted in a DNQ.

About the author

Never at a loss for words, Zach Gillispie is a young, talented marketing professional from North Carolina who talks and writes on the side about his first love: racing! Since joining Frontstretch in 2018, Zach has served in numerous roles where he currently pens the NASCAR 101 column, a weekly piece delving into the basic nuts and bolts of the sport. Additionally, his unabashedly bold takes meshed with that trademarked dry wit of his have made Zach a fan favorite on the weekly Friday Faceoff panel. In his free time, he can be found in the great outdoors, actively involved in his church, cheering on his beloved Atlanta Braves or ruthlessly pestering his colleagues with completely useless statistics about Delma Cowart.

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