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The (recent) History of Injuries and Relief Drivers in 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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With Chase Elliott being indefinitely benched due to injury, Josh Berry will pilot his No. 9 Napa Camero as he is lined up to roll off of the grid 32nd in his third Cup Series start. The circumstances around the situation are grim, yes, but fear not, Chase Elliott fans! NASCAR actually has a long history of relief drivers and, in recent years, the driver sitting out was granted a playoff waiver heading into the postseason.

Because of this, there is no reason to believe the same won’t be true for NASCAR’s 5-time Most Popular Driver. In the meantime, this is a golden opportunity for Chase’s fill-in, Josh Berry, as he will race in Las Vegas some of the best equipment in the field.

Considering the odd circumstance regarding Engine Engine Number 9 and the Hendrick Motorsports organization, we at the Daily Downforce thought it would be fun to look back at some of the more recent times a driver had to step out of the car and hand the wheel over to someone else.

Kyle Busch (2015)

2015 was a storybook year for Kyle Busch. It was the year of his first championship. But what makes that story such an example of the enduring human spirit is that he actually missed 11 races that season before going on to claim his first title, including that year’s Great American Race.

This happened due to an injury Busch received during the Xfinity race on the eve of the Daytona 500 when he was involved in one of the big ones. Racing in the pack, his car took off into the infield and plowed into the inside wall at an awkward angle. The injury he received was a broken leg and he missed about a third of the season.

Nevertheless, he came back and showed the NASCAR garage who’s the boss, winning a total of 5 races and the 2015 NASCAR Cup Series Championship.

Kyle Busch gave his thoughts with SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on the Chase Elliott situation as he feels empathic for the young driver. Here he states that everyone should be able to have a life outside of the sport.

While Busch was out, NASCAR veteran and journeyman driver, David Ragan, filled in for the injured KFB. It was a refresh button his for his seemingly dead NASCAR career. Brian Berg Jr. shared his hopes for a Ragan Revival in 2015.

Tony Stewart (2016)

Heading into the 2016 season, Tony Stewart was having a similar start as Kyle Busch had the year before. There were a few key differences, however. For starters, Stewart wasn’t injured in a racing incident, he suffered a back injury during a terrain vehicle crash.

Also, it was his swan song season as he had already announced his intended retirement following the conclusion of the 2016 championship race in Homestead. He sat out a total of 8 races. The No. 14 car was split between a returning Brian Vickers and a hopeful Ty Dillon, respectively.

Upon his return to NASCAR, many were speculating, wondering if he would on the same tear as KFB the year before. While that didn’t happen, he would return to victory lane just 8 weeks after his return to win his final race at Sonoma, a track he had so much success at.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (2016)

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is no stranger to injury. Over the course of his 18-year career, he is believed to have had over 20 concussions, all of which caught up to him in 2016, thus ending his career prematurely. It was a crash at Kentucky mid-season that handed Junebug his career-altering head injury and he would sit out the rest of the season.

It would be current NASCAR driver for Hendrick Motorsports, Alex Bowman, and a returning Jeff Gordon who would fill in for the injured Dale Jr. The NASCAR Hall of Famer would wheel the No. 88 Nationwide Insurance Chevy to 6th place finish at Martinsville, the site of his final career victory, while Alex Bowman would land his first pole at Pheonix later in the year.

This would lead to Dale Jr.’s open endorsement for Bowman to be his successor when he stepped away from full-time racing at the conclusion of the 2017 season.

Michael Annett (2021)

Josh Berry is not stranger himself to subbing for injured drivers. Following a part-time stint in the No. 8 Camero for the first half of the season (which included his first Xfinity Series win at Martinsville, Berry was tapped to fill in for an injured Michael Annett in Jr. Motorsports No. 1 Pilot Chevy. Annett broke his foot in a non-racing related incident.

As if the win at Martinsville wasn’t enough to land Berry a full-time ride for JRM in 2022, he also went on to win in the No. 1 car at, funny enough, Las Vegas that year.

Here, Berry talks with Bob Pockrass about the decision to put in in that No. 1 car.

Alex Bowman (2022)

The most recent injury reserve driver on this list is Alex Bowman. Following a crash at Texas, Bowman received a concussion that would end up sidelining him for a total of 5 races. This took him out of playoff contention. He was able to return in time for the season finale in Pheonix.

Because of the injury, a lot of shifting in the NASCAR garage had to take place. Noah Gragson, who was scheduled to drive the No. 62 for Beard Motorsports in a handful of races at the end of the year, hopped into Bowman’s Ally No. 48 while his JRM teammate from the Xfinity Series, Justin Allgier, hopped into the No. 62.

It will be interesting to see how Josh Berry does subbing for Elliott in the No. 9 Napa ride. Who knows? Maybe he’ll have the same experience at Vegas as he did in 2021…

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Picture of Cody Williams

Cody Williams

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