Photo: Barry Cantrell/NKP

NASCAR 101: Drivers With Starts in Parts of 4 (or More) Decades

With the 2020 NASCAR season now underway, any driver who competed at Daytona International Speedway last weekend can officially say they’ve competed in a NASCAR race in the 2020s.

This season marks the first in a new decade for NASCAR, officially leaving the 2010s in the dust. The ’10s saw a sizable number of drivers join NASCAR’s ranks, some of whom — such as Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney and more — have gone on to become superstars in the NASCAR Cup Series (no championships among any of those newcomers just yet, but chances are that’ll change sometime this decade… right?).

NASCAR moving into the ’20s also means multiple drivers can boast that they’ve competed in at least part of four, sometimes five, perhaps even six decades at this point. Mind you, that doesn’t mean their NASCAR career is five or six decades old (but sometimes it does! Hiya, Morgan Shepherd, hope you climb back into the cockpit this year), just that they’re been around in the some portion of each decade, even if that means just one of one (such as one’s ’80s statistics only extending into 1989 or retiring after the 2020 season and never returning).

Longtime fans, of course, are already well aware of the veterans, oftentimes having grown up with them (I, for instance, have long associated my journey as a follower of NASCAR with Jimmie Johnson, who debuted in the Xfinity Series the year I first started intently following the sport, 1998). Others may not be as cognizant of the histories in NASCAR some of its drivers indeed have, streaks that sometimes last into the 1980s and beyond.

As such, here’s a rundown of the drivers who’ve either competed so far this season or plan to in NASCAR’s national series whose careers in those series now stretch across parts of at least four decades.

Four Decades (1990s-2020s)

Kevin HarvickSome associate the start of Harvick’s NASCAR stardom with his Atlanta Motor Speedway win in just his third Cup start in 2001, taking over at Richard Childress Racing following the death of Dale Earnhardt. But Harvick already had three wins under his belt before then in Xfinity competition, and his national series career actually began in the Gander RV & Outdoor Truck Series, driving in at least one race each season of the second half of the ’90s.

David StarrLike Harvick, Starr first arrived on the national scene with Truck Series starts in the ’90s before rising to Xfinity and eventually Cup competition. Starr begins 2020 as part of the 50-and-older crowd of the full-timers in the sport, driving for JD Motorsports with Gary Keller in the Xfinity Series at 52 years old, 53 in October.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.When he starts his yearly Xfinity Series race this season, this time at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Earnhardt will stretch his career into the ’20s. He was a two-time Xfinity champion in the late ’90s and started his first national event in 1996.

Jeff GreenThe 2000 Xfinity champion stepped out of his Daytona Xfinity ride so Ross Chastain could race, but expect to see him back for RSS Racing at the other Daytona event and Talladega Superspeedway at least. He first ran a national race in 1990, starting a pair of races in the series in which he’d go on to win a championship and, to date, 16 races.

Jimmie Johnson: No one quite knows where Johnson will end up after 2020, what he claims is his last full-time season in NASCAR; perhaps Johnson himself doesn’t even know. But if nothing else, his farewell season in 2020 means he’ll have a presence in the history books of the 2020s. Though his NASCAR career didn’t really take off until the early 2000s, he drove eight Xfinity races between 1998 and 1999.

Greg BiffleIt’s not officially announced, but it sounds like Biffle will return to the Truck Series for a handful of races this year, stretching his career into the ’20s. The Truck Series was his first point of NASCAR success, beginning in 1998, and he also nabbed a pair of Xfinity starts in 1996.

Brendan GaughanSounds like you won’t be seeing Gaughan’s name among the NASCAR ranks after 2020, with his four-race superspeedway schedule with Beard Motorsports in the Cup Series appearing to be his last. In the late ’90s, he was an infrequent competitor in the Truck Series.

Mike HarmonHarmon was a bit of a late bloomer on the national circuit, starting his first Xfinity Series race in 1996 when he was already in his late 30s. He’s been involved in either the Xfinity or Truck series in some capacity every year since 2003.

Five Decades (1980s-2020s)

Norm BenningNewly 68-year-old Benning has been around the block quite a few times, though he didn’t become a mainstay in the Truck Series until the late 2000s. He began his national series career with three Cup starts in 1989, which accounts for three quarters of his Cup starts overall, starting one other race in 1992. Technically, Benning has yet to stretch his racing career officially into the ’20s, as he failed to qualify at Daytona in the Truck Series, but chances are he’ll time his way in to something this year.

Joe NemechekAnother driver whose five-decade stat persists because of some starts during the tail end of the ’80s. Nemechek first appeared on the national scene when he drove at Rockingham Speedway in the Xfinity Series in 1989 for his own team. Little has changed nowadays, often still driving for a Nemechek-owned operation, and he now has more national series starts than any other driver in NASCAR history, a number he added to at Daytona when he drove Mike Harmon Racing’s No. 47.

Others who drove in 2019 and could keep up streaks should they return to the track in 2020: Carl Long (four; owns MBM Motorsports and has said he may compete this year), Jamie McMurray (four; retired after last year’s Daytona 500), Stanton Barrett (four), Elliott Sadler (four; reportedly has no plans to return after his final Xfinity races last year), Morgan Shepherd (six; owns Shepherd Racing Ventures but has not announced plans to drive his No. 89 yet this year), Hermie Sadler (four), Bobby Gerhart (five; still operates his own team but may not drive in 2020 due to a recent heart attack).

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Rutherford is the managing editor of Frontstretch, a position he gained in 2015 after serving on the editing staff for two years. At his day job, he's a journalist covering music and rock charts at Billboard. He lives in New York City, but his heart is in Ohio -- you know, like that Hawthorne Heights song.

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