Things seemed bleak this time last year in NASCAR. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was about to run what was scheduled to be his final NASCAR race as a full-time driver, and no one was quite sure if Matt Kenseth would ever slide into the driver’s seat in a national series again or not. Sure, Earnhardt had a rumored XFINITY Series start the next year, and Kenseth hadn’t explicitly retired, but the end of the year still felt like the end of an era.
In a way, it was, but fans of both Earnhardt and Kenseth didn’t have much to fret about in 2018, it turned out. In addition to Earnhardt’s Richmond Raceway start in XFINITY, he was often around as part of the NBC broadcast booth, and Kenseth made a highly publicized return to his old team Roush Fenway Racing in May and has competed part-time in the No. 6 in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series since.
That doesn’t mean that some of the familiar faces from 2017 didn’t exit stage left, though. A few dozen drivers who competed on the NASCAR national series level in 2017 have not, as of today (Nov. 8), made at least a qualifying attempt among the Cup, XFINITY or Camping World Truck series circuits this year, barring any late entry list changes for this weekend’s tripleheader at ISM Raceway or entries at next weekend’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Some of them are veterans, some rookies. A few have been active in the NASCAR garage despite not turning a lap this year, while others have either gone back to local racetracks or have moved out of the sport entirely.
As we do every year, let’s run down a list of those who didn’t return to NASCAR in 2018.
Rico Abreu: After stepping away from full-time Truck Series competition after 2016 and running just the Eldora Speedway race in 2017, Abreu stuck solely to dirt track competition for 2018.
Enrique Baca: Was rumored to be competing with NextGen Motorsports in the XFINITY Series this year, but a ride did not pan out. He did run five races in the Peak Mexico Series, with a best finish of fifth at El Dorado Speedway.
Josh Berry: Mostly competed on the CARS Late Model Stock Tour circuit this year, winning twice, at Hickory Speedway and Orange County Speedway. Also drove one ARCA Racing Series event for Chad Bryant Racing at Salem Speedway, finishing fourth.
Todd Bodine: This is the first time Bodine has not appeared in at least one NASCAR national series race since 2012. However, he remained close to the sport as an analyst on FOX Sports 1.
Charles Buchanan Jr.: Drove five races in the K&N Pro Series East, scoring his first top 10 (a ninth at South Boston Speedway), and also supplied the truck that was driven by RJ Otto at the Truck Series’ race at Eldora.
Patrick Emerling: Following a pair of Truck Series races last year, Emerling did not reemerge on the national circuit. Ran six races in the Whelen Modified Tour Series, earning three top fives.
Ernie Francis Jr.: The road course ace drove two events in K&N East on those tracks, winning the pole and finishing second at New Jersey Motorsports Park.
Mario Gosselin: His DGM Racing squad expanded to two full-time teams in the XFINITY Series this year, the Nos. 36 and 90. Gosselin, unlike previous years, did not compete in any races for his team, however.
John Graham: Did not end up competing for Rick Ware Racing in any Cup races in 2018, despite reports at the end of last season.
Drew Herring: In addition to remaining a test driver for Joe Gibbs Racing, Herring ended up in the ARCA season finale for the team, finishing eighth after winning the pole and leading 40 laps.
Caleb Holman: Became a full-time youth pastor and has not returned to the national series.
Sam Hornish Jr.: For the first time since his first foray into NASCAR in 2006, Hornish did not appear in a single race in 2018.
Trey Hutchens: Popped up in a pair of K&N East races for his family-owned team, with a best finish of 15th.
Billy Johnson: Finished 22nd in the 2018 24 Hours of LeMans but did not fill in for anyone at the NASCAR road course races this season.
Devin Jones: Competed yet again in the IMSA Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge, winning at Daytona International Speedway to open the season.
Terry Jones: Continued as part-owner of Rette-Jones Racing in the K&N Pro Series East and in ARCA but did not drive one of his cars this year.
Ben Kennedy: The general manager of the Camping World Truck Series for 2018.
Gary Klutt: Klutt drove three races in the Pinty’s Series in his home country of Canada, grabbing two top 10s.
Blake Koch: Started his own business, FilterTime, with the hope of said business being able to fund his return to NASCAR. Also worked with FOX as an XFINITY Series analyst.
Anthony Kumpen: Scored two podium finishes in the Whelen Euro 1 Elite Series but did not run the full schedule in the series for the first time in many years.
Casey Mears: Mears’ NASCAR absence marks his first time not in a car since debuting in the XFINITY Series in 2001. Did, however, compete in off-road truck racing.
Travis Pastrana: Jumped the fountains at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, so that’s gotta count for something.
Bobby Pierce: Opted not to run Eldora in the Truck Series this year but continued to compete on dirt tracks across the country.
Boris Said: After multiple years of rumored retirement, Said did not compete at the Cup road courses for the first time since he first showed up as a replacement driver for Jimmy Spencer in 1998.
Ken Schrader: Mark this down as the first time Ken Schrader didn’t appear on the national series circuit since 1983. Continues, however, to field an ARCA car (and ran one race himself at Gateway Motorsports Park).
Michael Waltrip: His retirement after the 2017 Daytona 500 held, and Waltrip appeared only as a broadcaster in 2018.
Stephen Young: The Brit drove two races in the Euro Series, finishing 19th and 11th.