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Frontstretch 5: Greatest NASCAR Drivers Without a Cup Start

Hundreds of drivers have been fortunate enough to have started a NASCAR event in their lifetimes. Even fewer drivers have had the chance to take the green flag in a NASCAR Cup Series race, let alone achieve lasting success in the series.

But there is a special club of drivers who had success in the lower NASCAR ranks, but for whatever reason, never got the opportunity to start a Cup race and possibly advance their careers. The criteria for this nomination is simple: these drivers must have never made a Cup start but been highly successful in another NASCAR division.

1. Richie Evans

The first man on the list needs no introduction. Richie Evans, with his iconic orange No. 61 livery, absolutely tore up the competition in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Series back in the day. His career comprised of hundreds of victories, nine series championships (including eight in a row) and a long-lasting legacy that’s rightfully recognized across all of motorsports.

Evans cut his teeth in these racecars beginning in his home region of Upstate New York. He scored numerous wins and track championships across the Northeast before going national with NASCAR’s Modified Series and keeping the success rolling.

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He was destined for more greatness and a longer career, but his fatal accident during practice at Martinsville Speedway on Oct. 24, 1985, prevented that. He was only 44 years old and had already clinched the 1985 championship before the accident.

Throughout his career, Evans swore his loyalty to the Modified Series, and in his honor, NASCAR retired his No. 61 from competition. It’s shocking to believe that he never made a single start in the Xfinity or Cup series. Despite his life getting cut short and never making any national series starts, his soul will always live on in the NASCAR Hall of Fame and by all who knew him.

2. Mike Stefanik

Just like Evans, another Modified ace who mastered his craft was the late Mike Stefanik.

His seven Modified championships are a formidable statistic by themselves. In 1998, he won 13 races and scored 21 top-10s in 22 races. Not only was he killing the field in the series, but he had as much devotion for the ARCA Menards Series East too, winning back-to-back championships in 1997 and 1998.

Stefanik’s first Truck Series start was an eighth-place finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 1998. In his second start, he scored a career-best second-place finish in the 1999 season opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He had one top five, nine top 10s, an average finish of 13.8 and placed 13th in the final standings, good enough for him to capture the 1999 Rookie of the Year award.

Stefanik never raced in the Truck Series after 1999, nor the Xfinity Series after 2000. He stayed loyal to the Modified Series until 2014, finishing 10th at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in his last start. Tragically, on Sept. 15, 2019, he perished in a plane crash in his home state of Connecticut at the age of 61.

Even though he was never given a chance to show the Cup Series what he was made of, Stefanik will always have a place among the greats of the entire NASCAR world.

3. James Buescher

The driving career of James Buescher is a complex one. From winning a Truck Series championship to being almost entirely gone from the sport three years later is a difficult thing to fathom.

Buescher won in his ARCA Menards Series debut as a 16-year-old in 2007. He ran part-time in the Truck and Xfinity series in 2008 before going full time in the Trucks in 2009. His most memorable season was 2012, when he scored his dramatic first Xfinity win at Daytona International Speedway and followed that up with four wins en route to the Truck Series championship at just 22 years old. He ran the 2013 season in trucks as well, scoring two additional wins, followed by a full-time Xfinity season in 2014, where he finished 10th in the standings.

The cousin of current Cup Series driver Chris Buescher only lasted three races into the 2015 Truck Series season before sponsorship woes kept him out of a ride for an indefinite amount of time. Between then and his comeback at Texas Motor Speedway last year, he worked on his career in the real estate industry. His most recent appearance in NASCAR was in the 2021 Truck Series opener at Daytona, where his Niece Motorsports machine was wiped out in a crash just 200 yards past the green flag. As of present day, he has no planned races lined up for the remainder of 2021.

It’s kind of a shame for the young Buescher, as he is just 31 years old. It’s puzzling to think that no Cup team offered him a shot when he was turning heads in NASCAR’s other two main series. Time will tell if he ends up getting that chance again. But if not, at least he can say he made plenty of noise when he was around.

4. Grant Enfinger

Alabama’s own Grant Enfinger is one of those drivers who consistently delivers when called to the task. During his racing career, he’s proved that time and time again.

Enfinger first gained recognition in the ARCA Menards Series, starting his career there in 2008. He won the series championship in 2015 with six wins. The following year, he scored a meaningful maiden Truck Series win at his home track of Talladega Superspeedway in just his 13th career start. He’s competed full-time in the series since 2017, picking up six total career wins and a best points finish of fourth in 2020.

At 36 years of age, Enfinger should have more seasons ahead of him to leave his mark on the world of NASCAR. A start in the Cup Series would be a solid addition to his resume, though that hasn’t come yet. His only attempt at a Cup race came in the 2011 Ford 400 at Homestead, but he did not make the field. It took him until May of 2021 to finally make his Xfinity debut, finishing last at Charlotte Motor Speedway after an early crash.

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But never say never on the possibility of Enfinger adding a Cup start to his career. Talladega would be an appropriate venue to make that happen (wink, wink).

5. Robert Huffman

Any of you folks remember the old NASCAR Dash Series? Now there’s a throwback series for you. Notable champions of this series include Michael Waltrip, Hut Stricklin, Dean Combs, Rodney Orr, Danny Bagwell and the fifth driver on this list, Robert Huffman.

What makes Huffman stand out from most drivers is that he was the first successful NASCAR driver to compete with Toyota, receiving support from TRD during his career. He carried his familiar yellow No. 37 Toyota Celica to five Dash Series championships (1990, 1998-00, 2003), including his dominant 1998 season when he won the title by nearly 400 points over second place.

Huffman dipped his toes into the Xfinity Series in the 1990s, only scoring a best finish of 22nd. He competed in his only full-time Truck Series season in 2004, scoring six top 10s but finishing 23rd in the standings after accumulating 11 DNFs.

Huffman has been retired from driving since his last Truck start at Memphis International Raceway in 2005, never getting a chance to start a Cup Series race. However, his son Landon Huffman makes Truck Series starts from time to time, keeping the Huffman family name on the track.

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DoninAjax

Jerry Cook?

John Dawg Chapman

Google Larry Phillips, there’s a reason he on the HOF ballot.

Race fan

Great choices. I would suggest Sam Ard, but he did make 1 start at Martinsville in 1984.

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