Every Silly Season, fans and pundits alike sit down to forecast where different drivers could go. Not every dream combination becomes a reality, but many almost did. Here are some driver/race team combinations that could have happened in NASCAR.
1994: Mark Martin to the #11 for Junior Johnson
Mark Martin had some difficulties following his second-place Championship run in 1990, and, he came close to leaving Jack Roush. As a matter of fact, according to the S1apSh0es video above, Martin was looking at the 11 car for Junior Johnson. This was arguably the most prominent ride in NASCAR with drivers like Cale Yarborough and Darrell Waltrip winning championships with the team.
However, Junior Johnson was at the beginning of their downswing in the early 1990s. The 11 car failed to win a race in 1993 with only one win in 1994 despite Bill Elliott narrowly missing out on the 1992 Cup Series Championship. Martin elected to stay with Roush, and Junior Johnson shut down his race team after the 1995 season.
1996: Dale Earnhardt to the #28 for Robert Yates Racing
As for how serious this really was, Larry McReynolds never totally said it on the Scene Vault Podcast, but what he did say is that Don Hawk, who helped manage Dale Earnhardt Incorporated, reached out to Robert Yates about the 28 Texaco Havoline car. This was an interesting time for Robert Yates Racing. Ernie Irvan was recovering from injuries suffered in a practice crash at Michigan in 1994, and Yates was in the process of starting a second race team.
According to McReynolds, Hawk gave two stipulations for Earnhardt to be considered for the team. First, Earnhardt wanted to drive the 28 car, not the second car, and he wanted to be paid $1 million to drive it. Neither of those things were things Yates was willing to budge on, so this never happened. However, this may have been an interesting pairing.
2006: Jamie McMurray to the #2 for Team Penske
Jamie McMurray was the most recent guest on the Dale Jr Download, and he told a story of how his contract at Roush Racing came about. Well, while McMurray was in the parking lot getting ready to walk in to sign the contract with Roush, Roger Penske called inquiring about the 2 car for 2006. Rusty Wallace was retiring, so the seat was open.
McMurray had already agreed to the deal with Roush, so, he turned it down. However, McMurray’s time at Roush did not end the way he hoped as he won only two races with no Playoff appearances. One can only wonder if things could have been different for McMurray should he have joined Penske instead of Roush.
2009: Greg Biffle to the #20 for Joe Gibbs Racing
Greg Biffle spent his entire full-time Cup Series career with Roush Racing, but he had an opportunity to jump ship early in his career. In 2008, Tony Stewart was leaving Joe Gibbs Racing to become an owner-driver at Stewart-Haas Racing. Biffle was in the midst of his fourth season at Roush.
Biffle said on the Dale Jr. Download that he was offered to drive the 20 car, but, Biffle was in the midst of a Championship run in 2008. He did not want that announcement to distract from his title run, so he turned the ride down. Well, the ride went to Logano, and, ironically enough, in 2013, the 20 car was piloted by Biffle’s former Roush Racing teammate, Matt Kenseth.
2021: Kyle Larson to the #14 for Stewart-Haas Racing
Tony Stewart and Kyle Larson feel like a perfect team owner-driver combination. Both love to race dirt and are good friends off the track. Well, according to Stewart, Larson almost signed to drive the 14-car after Clint Bowyer retired in 2020. This was as Larson was coming back from his suspension in 2021.
Shane Walters of Racing News documented an Instagram comment Tony Stewart made regarding signing Kyle Larson that went as follows:
“Trust me, I tried. Learn all of the details before you bash me. I tried for the last 4 years. Ford wouldn’t approve it. I TRIED”Tony Stewart.
So, it was Ford that would not allow Larson to be signed. Obviously, things worked out for Larson as he has won a Championship with Hendrick Motorsports, and he is set to compete for another one at Phoenix this weekend. For SHR, they have been on a slow decline, and 2023 could be their first winless season since Stewart joined the ownership group in 2009.
What other driver/race team combinations did not happen that could have? Who knows how different the sport would look today if these things happened?