NASCAR: Best substitute drivers of the 2010s

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Kyle Larson, Chip Ganassi Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

Here’s a look at some of the notable substitute drivers from the last decade in the NASCAR Cup Series, including Regan Smith, Erik Jones, David Ragan and Alex Bowman.

There have been several notable drivers who missed NASCAR Cup Series races in the last decade. Whether it was for injury, suspension or personal reasons, drivers including Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth spent time away from their full-time rides.

In their place, series veterans and unproven youngsters jumped behind the wheel, trying to adjust quickly to last-minute opportunities with a new team.

Who are some of the notable substitute drivers from the last decade?

Regan Smith

When you think substitute driver, the name Regan Smith probably comes to mind. No, we’re not talking about his recent appearance in the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series, where he took the place of Clint Bowyer.

Smith filled in for 20 races across six different rides between 2012 and 2018, bringing home a pair of top 10 finishes and an average finish of 22.8.

The start of his substitute stretch came in October of 2012, when he moved from his full-time ride in the #78 Chevrolet at Furniture Row Racing to the #88 Chevrolet at Hendrick Motorsports, with Dale Earnhardt Jr. sidelined by a concussion. Smith’s engine blew at Charlotte Motor Speedway before he took the #88 Chevrolet to a seventh place finish at Kansas Speedway.

Kurt Busch was already scheduled to switch rides from the #51 Chevrolet at Phoenix Racing to replace Smith in the #78 Chevrolet for the final six races, so the need of a replacement for Earnhardt was good timing for the new free agent. Following his two races in the #88 Chevrolet, he sat out two events before driving the #51 Chevrolet to close out the season (not counting this as a substitute role).

Smith was without a Cup Series ride in 2014 when Tony Stewart stepped aside for personal reasons ahead of the race at Watkins Glen International. Stewart was involved in an on-track incident in a sprint car race the night before, where fellow driver Kevin Ward Jr. was killed. Smith finished in 37th place in his only race of the season, which ended in a crash for the #14 Chevrolet.

Tying two of his other substitute roles together, Smith returned to Stewart-Haas Racing to start the 2015 season for a suspended Kurt Busch, stringing together three straight top 20 finishes in the #41 Chevrolet.

Then in race number six at Martinsville Speedway, Smith took over the #42 Chevrolet at Chip Ganassi Racing and finished in 16th place for Kyle Larson, who missed the event for medical reasons.

In 2017, Aric Almirola was injured in a crash at Kansas Speedway, prompting a call for the super-sub. Smith took over for two events behind the wheel of the #43 Ford at Richard Petty Motorsports, finishing in 22nd and 34th place.

Smith’s most recent time in the Cup Series came in 2018, when Kasey Kahne’s final season came to an early end due to medical reasons. Smith took over the #95 Chevrolet at Leavine Family Racing for the final 11 races and recorded a top finish of 10th place at Talladega Superspeedway.

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