Race Weekend Central

NASCAR 101: Who Didn’t Return to NASCAR in 2020?

This is the sixth year this column has tackled the roster of drivers who didn’t race in at least one of NASCAR’s three national series in 2020, and somehow the list seems longer this year.

That’s probably due in part to the ever-present elephant in the room, the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only were multiple drivers’ national series debuts, such as the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series premieres for Howie DiSavino III and Jett Noland (barring a Noland start at Phoenix Raceway; DiSavino has explicitly said his debut is pushed back to 2021), it’s also likely that racers who planned to make an appearance in some capacity this year ended up unable to make it to the track, either due to monetary constraints, sponsorship issues or otherwise.

Others, of course, were expected; Jamie McMurray and Paul Menard explicitly retired, as did Elliott Sadler. A few other racers who came up around the same time as them were also nowhere to be found, and due to age (and in some cases other duties, such as running a team), it wasn’t necessarily a surprise. The lack of a Truck Series dirt race due to the cancellation of Eldora Speedway’s annual event also boots the list, with some of the usual ringers not returning in any capacity this year.

Still, that isn’t to say that the drivers below are gone for good. Look at Trevor Bayne, Cody Erickson, James Buescher and Mike Wallace, among others, who returned to the national series in 2020 after some time away. (Well, now it’s looking like Wallace won’t be back for a bit again, but hey, something to check in on if this column returns in 2021.)

Here’s the rundown for 2020, with some updates thrown in here and there when applicable (and barring, of course, someone coming out of the woodwork at Phoenix next weekend, like Stan Mullis has done on the preliminary Xfinity Series entry list). For previous editions, click here:

2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015

Jeffrey Abbey

Lawson Aschenbach: After two straight seasons making at least one Xfinity road course start for JD Motorsports with Gary Keller, Lawson Aschenbach didn’t return to the team in 2020. He’s remained a full-time competitor in the WeatherTech Sports Car Championship, with one podium finish this year.

Kyle Benjamin

Dan Corcoran

Tyler Dippel

Devin Dodson: No national series events for Dodson this year, but an ARCA Menards Series West start was his at Irwindale Speedway, finishing fifth in the No. 7.

Chris Dyson

Bobby Dale Earnhardt: Earnhardt was one of multiple drivers an MBM Motorsports social media post early in 2020 cited as a potential competitor for the team in Xfinity this year, but none came to fruition for Dale Earnhardt’s grandson after three straight seasons making two or three starts in the series.

Ryan Ellis: An eight-season run in NASCAR came to a close for Ellis in 2020, but it looks like it’s not over just yet; last week, Ellis revealed he’s got sponsorship to run at least one event in one of the top series in 2021.

Chad Finley: Back to racing on a local level after a brief foray in the Truck Series.

Chris Fontaine: A lengthy Truck streak ended in 2020 for Fontaine; after the chassis nicknamed Freak finally bit the dust in 2018, he returned at Daytona International Speedway last year with a different truck but wrecked again, and he hasn’t been seen there since.

Patrick Gallagher: The Ohio-born road racer did a one-off with BJ McLeod Motorsports in 2019 and has continued to compete elsewhere in ’20, including in the 8 Hours of Indianapolis earlier this month.

Bobby Gerhart: A heart attack nearly a year ago sidelined Gerhart not only from NASCAR, where he’d made at least one Xfinity or Truck attempt since 2015, but also in the ARCA Menards Series, where the driver who was once near-unbeatable at Daytona had made a start every year since 1988. A Truck run at Daytona as an owner didn’t materialize.

Colt Gilliam

David Gilliland: Despite running two races in the Truck Series for his DGR-Crosley team last year, Gilliland stuck solely to running the team in the Trucks in 2020, with his son Todd Gilliland a full-time driver (in a partnership with Front Row Motorsports) alongside Tanner Gray. The elder Gilliland did, however, compete in a single ARCA Menards Series East event at Dover International Speedway, finishing second.

Lou Goss

Nicolas Hammann

Jack Hawksworth: Like Aschenbach, Jack Hawksworth maintained a WeatherTech career in 2020, currently sitting second in points with three wins.

Drew Herring

Loris Hezemans

Landon Huffman

Justin Johnson

Blake Jones

Dick Karth

DJ Kennington: The Canadian’s streak of four straight years with at least one Cup start ended this year, but Kennington isn’t out of the sport. He returned for a full-season run in the COVID-shortened NASCAR Pinty’s Series season, winning one race and finishing third in points.

Gary Klutt

Travis Kvapil: The 2003 Truck champion hung up his helmet on the national level in 2020, his first time not in the Truck Series since 2006 and his first year away in general since debuting in 2001. That may be due in part to the move of Beaver Motorsports, generally his primary team, to NHRA.

Shane Lee

Mike Marlar

Tyler Matthews: Like Earnhardt, a driver mentioned as a possible entrant for MBM in Xfinity who did not make it to the national series in 2020. He did, however, compete on the CARS Late Model Stock Tour for his family-owned team.

Cody McMahan

Jamie McMurray: McMurray’s retirement after the 2019 Daytona 500 proved final; in 2020, he maintained his job as a FOX analyst.

Casey Mears: Following a surprise return in the 2019 Daytona 500 after a 2018 spent away from the track, Mears was nowhere to be found in 2020; now 42, don’t be surprised if the one-time Cup winner is out for good.

Paul Menard: A streak of over a decade-and-a-half in NASCAR going back to 2003 ended this year with Menard’s retirement from full-time competition. The original announcement seemed to leave the possibility of some one-offs open (smart money would’ve been on starts in Team Penske’s Xfinity Series No. 12), but nothing materialized (nor did, in general, Penske’s Xfinity No. 12).

Mark Meunier

Ted Minor

Tony Mrakovich

Darwin Peters Jr.

Kyle Plott: Still driving; ran a CARS event at Jennerstown Speedway for his own team, finishing 11th.

Aaron Quine

Ryan Reed: The two-time Xfinity winner took a coaching job in 2020 instead as ARCA West part-timer Jack Wood’s driver coach.

Ryan Repko: No national series starts for Ryan Repko in 2020, but he was an occasional competitor in the ARCA Menards Series, running a part-time schedule for Venturini Motorsports with a runner-up finish at Talladega Superspeedway.

Will Rodgers: It’s somewhat surprising that, with all the road courses in 2020 on Xfinity’s schedule, Will Rodgers didn’t make a single appearance in the series. We’ll see if that persists in 2021, with Cup — and likely the other two circuits as a result — upping their right-turn game. In the meantime, Rodgers could be found part time in ARCA, finishing fifth in its Daytona road course run and scoring two top 10s in ARCA West’s doubleheader at Utah Motorsports Campus.

Elliott Sadler: Sadler held true to retirement after two Xfinity starts in 2019, snapping a streak of a start in every year since 1995.

Hermie Sadler: Neither Sadler brother drove in NASCAR in 2020, with Hermie’s career seemingly also coming to a close. He also departed FOX after last year.

Daniel Sasnett

Andy Seuss: Andy Seuss is a bit of a weird one. When the team for which he drove in ARCA, Our Motorsports, announced a move to Xfinity, Seuss was named one of its drivers as well as its director of operations. But after just one ARCA start at Daytona, Seuss left the team in July, with his statement seeming to indicate that he was not getting the starts he was initially going to.

Morgan Shepherd: This is a big deal; for the first time since 1980, Morgan Shepherd didn’t make a single NASCAR start. Some of that’s likely due to age; he recently turned 79. But his Shepherd Racing Ventures organization also largely took a backseat in 2020, starting just four Xfinity races with Landon Cassill in the season’s first five events before succumbing to woes brought on by the pandemic, citing the lack of qualifying (which expands the field, dropping prize money for the lowest part of the field).

Justin Shipley: The loss of the Eldora Truck race likely hurt Shipley, who’d competed every season at the track since 2016.

Regan Smith: Smith first joined the national series in 2002 with Xfinity and Truck starts, kicking off a streak of at least two races a season across all three series that ends this year. He remains part of the sport as a reporter for FOX.

Scott Stenzel

Kyle Strickler

Max Tullman: Another driver mentioned as a potential racer for MBM in 2020 who did not make it to the track.

Austin Theriault: Despite rumblings about getting a ride in any of NASCAR’s national series, 2017 ARCA champion Theriault didn’t make it back to NASCAR in 2020.

Matt Tifft: Health issues sidelined Tifft, a 2019 Cup rookie, at the end of last year, and despite being an active voice on social media, he didn’t strap in this year. But even if he remains out of the driver’s seat, you’ll see Tifft at the track more in 2021, as he went in with BJ McLeod on Go FAS Racing’s Cup charter, vaulting him into team ownership. A driver for that team has not been announced yet, but its two owners are, indeed, drivers, so stay tuned.

Tim Ward

Reid Wilson

About the author

Rutherford is the managing editor of Frontstretch, a position he gained in 2015 after serving on the editing staff for two years. At his day job, he's a journalist covering music and rock charts at Billboard. He lives in New York City, but his heart is in Ohio -- you know, like that Hawthorne Heights song.

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You didn’t mention Brian, who seems to have returned in spirit if not at the office.

Michael Finley

Paul Menard is the biggest name on this list by far

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