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The Most Iconic Numbers No Longer Competing In The NASCAR Cup Series

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Cody Williams

Cody Williams is the author of BUNNY BOY and THE FIFTH LINE. He lives near Bristol, TN.
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Car numbers are nearly everything when it comes to a driver’s image. It’s the primary form of marketing for the team and the driver alike. Nobody can honestly look at the Richard Childress Racing #3 and not think of Dale Earnhardt (sorry to Austin Dillon and his fans). You’d likewise be hard-pressed to find somebody who looks at the #43 and doesn’t think of Richard Petty or the #24 and doesn’t think of Jeff Gordon (again, sorry to William Byron and his fans) or even the #48 and doesn’t think of Jimmie Johnson.

Car numbers, along with their unique fonts from team to team, go hand in hand in creating a driver’s image and persona. But, in the year 2024, there are several iconic numbers that are no longer in use. Here are the most iconic car numbers that no longer compete (full-time, at least) in the NASCAR Cup Series. They’re listed in numerical order.

#18

Dale Jerrett (1992-1994)

The first big, recognizable number on this list is the #18. The #18 has a long history in the sport of NASCAR dating all the way back to the sport’s Strictly Stock Division, a precursor to the modern-day NASCAR Cup Series. But it didn’t become an iconic number until it debuted in 1992 with second-generation driver Dale Jerrett behind the wheel. Jarrett piloted the #18 for three seasons between 1992 and 1994 and won twice, including the 1993 Daytona 500, dubbed then as the Dale ‘N Dale Show as he battled Dale Earnhardt for the win.

Bobby Labonte (1995-2005)

For the 1995 season, Dale Jerrett left JGR for the greener pastures of Robert Yates Racing. Replacing Jerrett in the iconic #18 was none other than Bobby Labonte, who would compete for the team from 1995-2005. Driving the number 18, Labonte won a total of 17 times and even scored the first-ever NASCAR Cup Series title for Joe Gibbs in the year 2000, just edging out Dale Earnhardt.

J. J. Yeley (2005-2007)

After a couple of seasons of lackluster finishes, Labonte and JGR parted ways, opening the door for J. J. Yeley. Yeley drove for the team from 2005-2007 but actually ran worse than Labonte in his last couple of years with the team. This opened the door for the biggest signing in team history, other than Tony Stewart—Kyle Busch.

Kyle Busch (2008-2022)

In 2008, Kyle Busch was viewed as a talented driver, but his rowdiness didn’t fit the mold of Hendrick Motorsports. So, in 2008, Busch made the jump over JGR and the Toyota camp and absolutely lit the world on fire. If you ask any random fan what driver comes to mind when they think of the #18, most likely they’re going to say Kyle Busch. Busch remained with the team from 2008 all the way until 2022. With Busch’s departure of the team, the number was temporarily retired in favor of Ty Gibbs’ number, 54.

While driving the number 18, Kyle Busch became a legend of the sport and also guaranteed a first-ballot hall-of-famer status. Kyle Busch visited victory lane 56 times with the team and won two Cup Series Championships (2015 and 2019).

Today, the number 18 does not compete in the NASCAR Cup Series. But don’t fret. Joe Gibbs himself teased an eventual return of the number to the team. So, it’s really not a matter of if but when and who.

#25

When fans think of Hendrick Motorsports, they typically envision the numbers 24 or 48, and for good reason. Jeff Gordon piloted the number 24 every season throughout his hall-of-fame Cup Series career, and Jimmie Johnson won a record-tying seven Cup Series titles piloting the number 48. But the actual flagship number for Hendrick Motorsports is the number 5. It was the first to be introduced in 1984.

Tim Richmond (1986-1987)

However, HMS became one of (if not the) first teams to expand into a multi-car operation when it debuted the number 25 car in 1986. Hands down, the most iconic driver to ever get behind the wheel of the number 25 for HMS was their first full-time driver for the entry, Tim Richmond. In his first (and only) full-time season with the iconic car number, Richmond won 7 races and finished 3rd in the Cup Series standings that season.

He missed the first 11 races of the 1987 season. Rumors swirled around that Richmond had contracted the AIDS virus, and there was even word going around that he was abusing drugs. Despite all the negativity, Tim Richmond returned to the team in 1987, winning instantly upon his return at Pocono and Riverside. He was unfortunately pulled from the ride prior to the fall Bristol race. He never raced in NASCAR again and sadly passed on August 13th, 1989, at the young age of 34.

Ken Schrader (1988-1996)

The next driver to take over full-time driving duties of the number 25 Budweiser Chevy of Hendrick Motorsports was journeyman driver Ken Schrader, who piloted the number from 1988 through the end of the 1996 season. Schrader enjoyed some modest success with the team, visiting victory lane 4 times and ending the 1989 season 5th in the overall points standings. Unfortunately, though, he went winless his last 5 years with the team, which led to his departure.

Jerry Nadeau and Joe Nemechek (2000-2003)

After Schrader’s tenure with the team, there were a plethora of drivers who drove the number 25 and we’ll talk about them in just a minute. However, the next time the team found a stable driver was in 2000, with the promising up and comer Jerry Nadeau. Like so many others before him, Nadeau showed speed at times in the ride and even scored a single victory in 2000 at the season finale at Atlanta. He ran top-5 at times but was never really a superstar driver. So, at 11 races into the 2002 season, Nadeau was replaced with veteran driver Joe Nemechek.

Like Nadeau, Nemechek was able to score a single victory with the number in 2003 at Richmond but he wasn’t anywhere near as consistent. HMS let him go later that year for rookie Brian Vickers.

Brian Vickers and Casey Mears (2003-2007)

The last two drivers to drive the number 25 full-time in the NASCAR Cup Series were Brian Vickers and Casey Mears. Vickers took over for a struggling Joe Nemechek towards the end of the 2003 season and went full-time in 2004. He remained with the team through the 2006 season. He scored his only win for the team in 2006 at Talladega after wrecking his teammate Jimmie Johnson and NASCAR’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr. He departed the team following the ’06 season for the upstart team of Red Bull Racing.

Casey Mears ran the number in 2007 and even scored the number’s final win (so far) that season in the Coca-Cola 600. Following 2007, Mears stayed with the team, but it was renumbered to the flagship #5 as that team was replaced by Dale Jr.’s #88.

The Research & Development Years

Following Dale Jr.’s joining HMS in 2008, the number was reserved for developmental drivers to make part-time starts in the NASCAR Cup Series. In 2008 and ’09, then-JR Motorsports driver Brad Keselowski, down in the Xfinity Series, made a handful of starts driving the Go-Daddy.com #25 Chevy. His best finish in the ride came at Darlington in 2009, where he finished 7th.

The team number returned once more in 2015 with Chase Elliott behind the wheel as he prepared to replace Jeff Gordon in the 24 car the following year. He made a total of 4 starts in the number and scored a best finish of 16th at Richmond that season.

As of 2024, the number is not being used. At this time, we don’t know if or when the number will ever return to the NASCAR ranks.

#28

Davey Allison (1988-1993)

Like the number 25, the most iconic time for the number 28 was in its first years with the team of Yates Racing and Davey Allison. Allison was a second-generation talent, the son of Bobby Allison, and a member of the famous Alabama Gang. He made his debut in the number in the 25th race of the 1988 season at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He went on to finish 19th. However, in the final two races of the year at Phoenix and Atlanta, respectively, he scored finishes of 3rd and 2nd. Needless to say, the hype around young Davey Allison was real.

During his first full-time season in 1989, Allison picked up the first two wins of his tragically shortened career at Talladega and the summer Daytona race, respectively. He finished that season 11th in the points standings. In 1990, he was two positions worse, ending the year 13th in the points, but he did score two additional wins at the spring Bristol race and the fall Charlotte race.

By 1991, though, he was a championship favorite. In ’91 alone, he scored five victories and 12 top-5’s. He finished 3rd in the standings. In 1992, he took part in what is largely considered to be the best championship battle of all time. He won the season-opening Daytona 500 and went on to win a total of 5 races that season. He was leading the points heading into the final race of the year at Atlanta but was within striking distance of 4 other drivers (eventual champion Alan Kulwicki, eventual race winner Bill Elliott, Harry Gant, and Kyle Petty). A crash early, unfortunately, took him out of the championship running.

In 1993, Allison scored his final Cup Series win at Richmond in the spring. He sadly passed away in a helicopter crash at Talladega Superspeedway after finishing 3rd at New Hampshire.

Ernie Irvan (1993-1994; 1996-1997)

Though a handful of drivers took over the number 28 Yates Racing Ford following Allison’s death, they wouldn’t find their long-term solution until late 1993 when Ernie Irvan left Morgan McClure Racing for Yates. In the last handful of races of the 1993 season, Irvan won 2 races at Martinsville and Charlotte respectively.

In 1994, the intention was for Irvan to go full-time and he started off with a bang. He won 3 races early in the season and was consistently competing for top-5 finishes. That was until a practice crash at Michigan later that season put him on the shelf indefinitely.

In 1995, Dale Jarrett took over the reins of the number 28, scoring a single victory at Pocono that year.

Irvan returned for the 1996 and 1997 seasons and even triumphed by winning Michigan in 1997, the track that nearly claimed his life. After ’97, Irvan retired from NASCAR racing.

Kenny Irwin Jr. (1998-1999)

After Irvan departed Yates Racing, there was a clear fall-off in terms of performance. Kenny Irwin Jr. took over the number 28 ride and ran mostly mid-pack. He was able to score a couple of top-10s in his two-year tenure with the team. However, he scored no victories and only 3 top-5 finishes in his 2-year stint as driver.

Ricky Rudd (2000-2002)

After deciding that he no longer wanted the responsibility of being an owner-driver, Ricky Rudd signed with Yates Racing to take over the number 28 for the 2000 season. He scored the number its final victories at Pocono and Richmond in 2001 and Sonoma in 2002. Though he went winless his first year with the team, he did show a little more consistency than Irwin, scoring a handful of top-5 finishes.

When Rudd left the team following the 2002 season, so did the number 28. It didn’t return to the NASCAR Cup Series until the 2008 season.

Travis Kvapil (2008-2009)

The final years the number 28 was run in NASCAR was 2008 when Robert Yates brought it back. Dale Jr. can be the one to thank for the number’s return as he contacted Yates and asked to run the number 28 when he moved over the Hendrick Motorsports. Yates was less than thrilled about the concept and offered to give him the number 88 instead. The rest, as they say, is history.

Unfortunately, though, the 2008 and 2009 seasons with Travis Kvapil behind the wheel of the Yates Racing number 28 is relatively forgettable. In 2008, Kvapil scored only 4 top-10 finishes and ran mid-pack more often than not. After the first 5 races of the 2009 season, the number 28 was outside the top-35 in owner’s points. The team, citing sponsorship issues, was subsequently shut down.

Following the team’s closure, the 28 never returned to the ranks of NASCAR…thus far.

#29

Kevin Harvick (2001-2013)

We’ll cut to the chase with this one. As with many numbers in NASCAR, the history of the number 29 can go all the way back to the sport’s beginning. But the number never was as iconic as it was when it was driven by Kevin “Happy” Harvick for Richard Childress Racing from the early 2000s to the early 2010s.

The number 29 in RCR’s history came about through tragic circumstances. On the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt was tragically killed in his iconic number 3 Goodwrench Chevy. Once the dust had finally settled, Childress decided that he would continue on with the sport. He changed the car’s number from 3 to 29 and named Harvick the driver. From there, he started to build a legacy of his own.

In 2001, as the team was still recovering from Big E’s death, Harvick helped the team along the healing process by scoring wins at Atlanta and Chicagoland, ending the year 9th in the overall standings. In 2002, he experienced his worst year of the career, finishing 21st in the points. But he was able to get a repeat win at Chicagoland, so that was something.

From 2003 onward, the number 29 team started to be built around Harvick rather than clinging onto the past with Dale Earnhardt. Harvick competed for championships a number of times while driving the number 29 for RCR but was never able quite to break through.

In the number, Harvick won a total of 23 times and finished top-5 in the points on six occasions. He also edged out Mark Martin to win the 2007 Daytona 500. In his final year in 2023, Harvick ran the number one final time at the All-Star Race at North Wilkesboro. The number is not currently used in the NASCAR Cup Series as, after Harvick’s departure for SHR in 2014, RCR elected to bring back the number 3.

#40

Sterling Marlin (1998-2005)

The most iconic years of the number 40 in NASCAR’s history came when the number was under control of the Team SABCO and then, subsequently, Chip Ganassi Racing. When Team SABCO was founded in 1993, a number of drivers drove the car, from Kenny Wallace to Bobby Hamilton. But they found their first real long-term driver in Sterling Marlin while gearing up for the 1998 season.

Marlin had the reputation of being a journeyman driver, having won two back-to-back Daytona 500s in the mid-’90s with Morgan McClure Racing. He made the jump for Team SABCO’s number 40 ride in 1998. For his first three years with the team, the number 40 was a mid-pack Chevrolet team. However, heading into the 2001 season, IndyCar owner Chip Ganassi bought into the team as a part of Dodge’s reintroduction into the sport.

In 2001, Chip Ganassi Racing, specifically the number 40 team, was easily the best Dodge team. In ’01, they finished 3rd in the points standings with Marlin as he won races at Michigan and Charlotte in the second half of that year.

By the end of the season, it seemed that Marlin had finally made it and was generally considered a championship threat heading into 2002. They started ’02 off strong, finishing 8th in the Daytona 500, 2nd at Rockingham, and winning at both Las Vegas and Darlington in the first 5 races of the year. Marlin was constantly in contention for the points lead until a mid-season collapse which saw Marlin injure his neck at Kansas in the fall.

The team scored one more win in 2002 with Jamie McMurry behind the wheel of the number 50 at the fall Charlotte race. In 2003, Marlin returned with the team but was a shell of his former self. During his last 3 seasons with Chip Ganassi Racing, Marlin finished 18th, 21st, and 30th in the points, respectively.

David Stremme and Various Drivers

In 2006, David Stremme took over the number 40 CGR ride, save for 2 races (Sonoma and Watkins Glen) which saw Scott Pruett behind the wheel. That lasted until the 2008 season, which saw the team’s performance continue to decline.

In 2008, IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti tried his hand at NASCAR. However, he failed to make much of a splash as he DNQed at Texas that season. Following Phoenix in the spring, Franchitti was relegated to part-time, with a number of other drivers attempting races in the number 40 car. None of them fared much better.

Following the 2008 season, Chip Ganassi Racing merged with and eventually enveloped Dale Earnhardt Incorporated. As a part of this deal, the number 40 team was shut down.

#78

Regan Smith (2010-2012) and Kurt Busch (2012-2013)

The number 78 for Furniture Row Racing is largely remembered amongst NASCAR fans as the little engine that could. In its early years, it was a start-and-park operation. They didn’t start running full-time until 2010 with driver Regan Smith. And even then, they were largely considered a backmarker team. Though they did score a win with Smith in 2011 at the Southern 500, they mostly ran mid-pack.

That was until 2012 when Kurt Busch took over. Busch only ran one full-time year with the team and that came in 2013. Though he never won with the team, he did elevate their performance as they were more consistently able to contend for top-10s and top-5s.

Martin Truex Jr. (2014-2018)

The team didn’t fully realize their potential until Martin Truex Jr. came aboard. For the first two years of his tenure with the team, Truex ran mostly in the top half of the pack in a Chevrolet, competing for top-10 finishes every now and then. However, once the team switched to Toyota in 2016 and began their alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing, they turned on all of their jets.

Truex scored his first win with the team in 2015 at Pocono. But that was a one-off. He was consistently competing for wins come 2016. In ’16, he won 4 races and followed that up with 8 wins and a championship in 2017. The success continued in 2018 with 4 more victories and a runner-up points finish. Following the 2018 season, however, Furniture Row Racing shut down. Truex went over to continue his success at JGR, but the number 78 was off the track, at least for a while.

Live Fast Motorsports (2021-2023)

The number 78 returned briefly with the team known as Live Fast Motorsports in 2021. The team never ran a single full-time driver though B. J. McLeod was a consistent driver for the team. He still runs on a part-time basis under the Live Fast banner after the team sold its charter following the 2023 season. A clear highlight for the team was running this beautiful paint scheme at Darlington last year.

#88

Darrell Waltrip (1975-1980)

Perhaps the first driver to really put the number 88 on the map was Darrell Waltrip. Back in the 1970s, DW drove the number 88 Gatorade car for DiGard Motorsports. With the team, he saw a great deal of success, scoring 26 wins in the number. During his 5-year stint with the team, Waltrip scored a high-points finish of 2nd in 1979. Waltrip left the team following the 1980 season in favor of Junior Johnson and Associates.

Dale Jerrett (1996-2006)

Moving forward in the timeline, the next really iconic driver for the number 88 in the NASCAR Cup Series was Dale Jerrett. Jarrett sported the number starting in 1996 after a season of filling in for an injured Ernie Irvan. When Irvan returned to the number 28 ride, Yates Racing expanded into a 2-car operation with Jarrett driving the number 88. And they started off hot. In 1996, Jarrett won his second Daytona 500 in the number and went onto win three more times that season.

Jarrett won a third and final Daytona 500 in 2000 and also won the Cup title in the number in 1999. With the number 88, Dale Jerrett scored a total of 28 wins. Like with many drivers, his performance fell off as he aged. Following the 2006 season, he left the team for Michael Waltrip Racing where he ended his career in 2008.

Ricky Rudd took over the 88 for the 2007 season before Yates traded it to Hendrick Motorsports and Dale Jr. in favor of running the iconic number 28.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2008-2017)

Any number Dale Earnhardt Jr. sports is bound to be iconic. In 2008, with his move to Hendrick Motorsports, Junebug made a play for the number 28, but Yates offered him the number 88 instead. Considering that JR Motorsports, at the time, fielded the number 88 full-time in the Xfinity Series, it just made sense.

Junior opened the 2008 season strong with wins in both the Clash and his Duel race to kick off Speedweeks. Junebug started off the 2008 season strong, keeping pace with his teammates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon. But performance started to peter off late in the year. Still, he was able to win a single points-paying race on fuel mileage at Michigan that year.

2009 and 2010 were simply the worst seasons of Dale Jr.’s career. He finished those years 21st and 25th in points, respectively. There’s not a whole lot of good to talk about from those years, so we’ll move on.

The HMS number 88 crew started to turn things around in 2011, though. While they didn’t score a victory, they did finish runner-up twice and made the post-season. They ended the year 7th in the overall standings. 2012 saw their return to victory lane at Michigan, four years to the day of Junior’s last win. He again made the post-season, but he missed two races due to a concussion, ending the year 12th in points.

He went winless again in 2013 but the team continued to improve. He finished 2nd five times in 2013 before fully retuning to form in 2014. 2014 saw Junior return to victory lane by winning his second Daytona 500. He followed that up by sweeping the Pocono races and winning a grandfather clock at the fall race in Martinsville.

In 2015, he continued his success in the number 88 by winning three more times at Daytona, Talladega, and Phoenix respectively. He finished 2013, 2014, and 2015 5th, 8th, and 12th in the points respectively. He started 2016 off strong as well, finishing runner-up 4 times by the 18th race of the season. However, a brutal hit at Kentucky had him sidelined as he dealt with concussion-like symptoms. He didn’t return for the remainder of the 2016 season.

In 2017, Junebug embarked on his final season as a full-time driver in NASCAR. It was largely a season to forget but he did have a strong run at Texas which saw him finish 5th.

Dale Jr. continues to run part-time in a number 88 Chevy but in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.

Alex Bowman (2018-2020)

The final driver the run the 88 in the NASCAR Cup Series is Alex Bowman. He ran the number following Dale Jr.’s retirement from 2018 until 2020 when the team was rebranded to the 48. In the number, he was able to score two victories at Chicagoland (2019) and California (2020). He finished 2020 in the 6th position in points.

We don’t know when the 88 will return to the NASCAR Cup Series ranks. But, with Dale Jr. teasing moving JR Motorsports up the Cup Series, could it come sooner rather than later?

Conclusion

What do you think, NASCAR fans? What are some more iconic numbers that could cease running in the NASCAR Cup Series in the near future? What number might come back? With the closure of Stewart-Haas Racing at the end of 2024, could possibly the numbers 4, 10, 14, and 41 be added to that list? Let us know what you think. And continue to keep it right here at DailyDownforce.com for all the latest news and fan discussions in the world of NASCAR.

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Cody Williams

Cody Williams is the author of BUNNY BOY and THE FIFTH LINE. He lives near Bristol, TN.
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