A smaller crop of drivers who raced on the national NASCAR stage in 2020, largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic, equals an altogether more diminutive list of racers who didn’t return to a NASCAR national series in 2021.
And of those who didn’t return, some were, as always, expected. Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer, Matt Kenseth and Brendan Gaughan stayed true to their retirement announcements (from NASCAR, that is), with Johnson in particular shifting to different racing dispositions — something that looks set to continue in 2022.
Others, meanwhile, were one-race wonders who stepped in at new tracks to the 2020 schedule (chiefly the Daytona International Speedway road course), making their lack of starts in 2021 not exactly shocking.
And still more could be found in the sport most weekends, whether at your local track or in a different role entirely, whether it be broadcaster, spotter or more.
For reference, check out the navigation bar below for past editions of this article, which date back to 2015.
Jairo Avila Jr.
Earl Bamber: Earl Bamber ran a diminished schedule in the WeatherTech Sports Car Championship in 2021, running the first two events of the season with Team Hardpoint EBM and finishing 10th both times.
Bryant Barnhill: After three straight years of starts in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Barnhill still kept busy, including a start in the CARS Late Model Tour at South Boston Speedway.
Stanton Barrett: For the first time since 2001, Stanton Barrett appeared in an ARCA Menards Series race, finishing sixth at Sonoma Raceway.
Trevor Bayne: Bayne’s Mahalo Coffee Roasters business has expanded since last year, and he was also heard in the ARCA broadcast booth at Watkins Glen International while competing locally otherwise.
TJ Bell: Though he didn’t make a start in a NASCAR national series in 2021, Bell has remained in the sport as a spotter.
Ray Black Jr.
Clint Bowyer: Unlike occasional retirees before him, Bowyer’s retirement once he moved to the broadcast booth actually stuck, with his NASCAR presence confined almost exclusively to his appearances on FOX race broadcasts.
Mason Diaz: Diaz, who’d competed in at least one Xfinity or Truck race since 2017, didn’t go national in 2021, but he was a full-timer for the second straight year in the ARCA Menards Series East, finishing sixth in points.
David Gravel: Following a pair of Truck starts in 2020, Gravel focused exclusively on dirt racing, winning races around the country.
Jeff Green: The former Xfinity champion ended a staggering streak of 30 years (1990-2020) with at least one national series start. He’s still around the garage, though, assisting as a crew chief with RSS Racing’s Xfinity and ARCA efforts.
Ryan Huff: A planned stint with CMI Motorsports in the Truck Series didn’t pan out for Ryan Huff, who eventually ran a pair of ARCA races for his family team, grabbing a top 10 at Pocono Raceway.
Jimmie Johnson: Time away from NASCAR didn’t equal full retirement for Johnson. As expected, he drove a 12-race bout in the NTT IndyCar Series, with a best finish of 17th twice, and also competed a few times in WeatherTech. In 2022, he’ll look to make his first Indianapolis 500.
Scott Lagasse Jr.: Lagasse operates Team SLR in sports car racing, with its drivers including Connor Mosack, a part-time ARCA competitor this year.
Carl Long: 2021 marked the first time since he debuted in the Truck Series in 1998 that Long didn’t at least attempt a NASCAR national series race. He remained part of the sport, of course, at the helm of MBM Motorsports, which fielded full-time Xfinity cars and returned for a part-time Cup schedule.
Vinnie Miller: Despite being announced for three Xfinity races with BJ McLeod Motorsports in 2021, Miller didn’t compete in any of his planned events.
Stan Mullis: Mullis at least seemed to have some plans for a NASCAR appearance in 2021, as the occasional MBM driver was listed on the Xfinity points report throughout the season.
Travis Pastrana: Pastrana has continued his racing exploits, most often in rally racing.
Mark Smith: Smith, like Gravel, has continued dirt racing around the country.
Reed Sorenson: Like Bell above, Sorenson is still part of NASCAR many weekends as a spotter.
Alex Tagliani: Tagliani was a full-time presence in the NASCAR Pinty’s Series in Canada, winning one race and finishing fourth in the standings.
Donald Theetge: The Canadian competed part time in Pinty’s, with two top 10s.
Kody Vanderwal: After running full time for Jimmy Means Racing in Xfinity in 2020, Vanderwal largely went back to racing locally as well as in the ARCA Midwest Tour.
Mike Wallace: Wallace was reinstated by NASCAR in March after a suspension for a behavioral violation but did not return to the track.
About the author
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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