The No. 8 is back in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
Barring an unforeseen issue, Daniel Hemric will make his debut in the Cup Series Saturday night (April 21), driving a third car for Richard Childress Racing. He’ll pilot the No. 8, a number long associated with Dale Earnhardt Jr. before his move to Hendrick Motorsports (and the No. 88) but one that hasn’t been seen in the series in a long time.
How long? Nearly a decade. The number last competed in the first seven races of 2009, with Aric Almirola behind the wheel. Due to a lack of sponsorship and a subpar performance from the driver (which was later the subject of a court case between Almirola and team owner Earnhardt Ganassi Racing), the ride folded and hadn’t been heard from on the sport’s premier level, until now.
So it’s not like the No. 8 has been gone for that long, but its absence was certainly one of the longer streaks in Cup at the time of its return. And with less teams attempting Cup races these days, the amount of unused numbers continues to rise, so much so that well over half of the possible numbers for a Cup team are available and probably still will be by season’s end.
As it turns out, every potential number (at least, one- or two-digit numbers, and without letters) in Cup has been used at least once since the start of the 1990s. But the longest current streak without a Cup start currently stretches almost 26 years, with the 10th longest also sizable at nearly 17. That’s a while without seeing the number on the track, and a few are barely even presences on the XFINITY or Camping World Truck series level, either.
To better illustrate, let’s count down the 10 numbers that have gone the longest without starting a race in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
Last start: 2001 Global Crossing at the Glen, Watkins Glen International (Anthony Lazzaro)
There was a time, however brief, when Anthony Lazzaro was considered a driver with a NASCAR future. The Georgian climbed aboard PPI Motorsports’ No. 97 in the XFINITY Series in 2000, piloting a McDonald’s-sponsored sister ride to the organization’s Cup effort after Lazzaro won the 1999 Toyota Atlantic championship for owner Cal Wells’ program there. It, uh, didn’t go well. But Lazzaro did end up surfacing in two Cup races, both at Watkins Glen, in 2001 and 2005. For his Cup debut, he drove for TWC Motorsports, a sports car team that fielded the No. 68 for Lazzaro at the road courses that year.
Last start: 1999 NAPA AutoCare 500, Martinsville Speedway (Hut Stricklin)
After starting off the 1999 season ride-less in the Cup Series, Hut Stricklin found steady work halfway through the season with SBIII Motorsports’ No. 58. Doesn’t ring a bell? That’s because the team lasted just one season — well, not even that; it shut down before 1999’s final race despite having announced Stricklin as its driver through 2003, due to a bad check from one of its sponsors. Stricklin’s final start with the team yielded a 14th-place finish, but he failed to qualify for the next three races before the team’s closure.
Last start: 1996 Daytona 500, Daytona International Speedway (Dick Trickle)
Given the amount of one-off teams that tend to (or at least used to) attempt the Daytona 500 each year, it’s kind of a surprise that this is the only number on this top 10 list whose most recent start came in the Great American Race. It’s also, as far as I can tell, the only start for Schnell Motorsports, owned by Brittan Schnell, which attempted the following race with Trickle but failed to qualify. A 2015 Charlotte Observer article (in which Schnell announced plans to open a 101-acre sports complex in Lincolnton, N.C.) claims Schnell also fielded cars for Lake Speed and Phil Parsons, though that’s proven a tougher nut to crack.
Last start: 1994 Slick 50 500, ISM Raceway (Ron Hornaday Jr.)
An eventual NASCAR Hall-of-Famer gave the No. 76 its to-date final ride in Cup in Phoenix in 1994. The team? Spears Motorsports, who one might recall as one of the perennial Truck Series teams in its early days, generally fielding the No. 75 rather than the No. 76. Hornaday’s ISM result — 34th — was one of two starts for the team that year before it sold off its Cup equipment and went Truck racing in the series’ inaugural season in 1995, remaining in the sport until 2007.
Last start: 1994 Bud at the Glen, Watkins Glen International (Butch Leitzinger)
Surprise — another road course! Butch Leitzinger, a road course ringer if there ever was one on the NASCAR level, made his series debut in the No. 03 at Watkins Glen in 1994. His subsequent Cup starts all came with established teams in a fill-in capacity, but his 1994 ride? His very own Bobcat-sponsored operation. He finished 31st, falling out of the race toward the end with an oil leak.
Last start: 1994 Pepsi 400, Daytona International Speedway (Ritchie Petty)
Another Daytona-specific entry, the No. 53 was a Richard Petty Motorsports-adjacent operation in the mid-1990s (and later a Truck team) fielded by Petty Brothers Racing (Maurice Petty, Richard’s brother). Ritchie Petty himself? Maurice’s son, Richard’s nephew, Kyle’s cousin, etc. The team fielded Petty in multiple attempts between 1993-1995, mostly at restrictor plate tracks, though he failed to qualify twice for the Daytona 500.
Last start: 1993 Slick 50 500, ISM Raceway (Rich Woodland Jr.)
The No. 86 shows up occasionally in the XFINITY and Truck series, thanks mostly to Brandon Brown‘s Brandonbilt Motorsports. The Cup Series, however, has been a different story. Templeton, Calif.’s Rich Woodland Jr. competed in multiple national series races throughout the ’90s and 2000s, as well as some of the regional series of the sport, such as the K&N Pro Series West. Most of the time he strapped into a family-owned car, the No. 86, particularly in the West series, which occasionally ran combination races with Cup, giving Woodland his chance at the big leagues. The last time the No. 86 ran a race? It caught on fire!
Last start: 1993 Mello Yello 500, Charlotte Motor Speedway (Jerry O’Neil)
Two races before the No. 86’s final ride to date, the No. 65 made its most recent start, with Jerry O’Neil also being the wheel of a family-owned ride. The then-37-year-old competed in 16 Cup events between 1989-1993, his last coming at Charlotte (though he attempted a pair of races in 1994 in the No. 65).
Last start: 1993 Budweiser at the Glen, Watkins Glen International (Ed Ferree)
Hat trick! Make that three numbers in the top 10 whose final start came at Watkins Glen — this time Ed Ferree, who was a far more common competitor in the XFINITY Series. Yet another self-owned venture, too; all three of his Cup starts came under the Ferree banner, as did his 49 XFINITY starts between 1988-1994 (though those were generally in the No. 49).
Last start: 1992 Budweiser at the Glen, Watkins Glen International (Denny Wilson)