|Photo permision by Creative Commons/credit Darryl W. Moran Photography|
Drivers are loath to need a sub as they want to continue to accrue points toward the championship, but there are times when one is desperately needed. It is important to note that a driver must start a race to earn "driver" points. If he or she does not start the race, those points count toward the Owner's Championship, but the points awarded for the car's finish go to the replacement driver.
In the past, even those racers who seemed to be immune from any kind of need have called upon the use of a fill-in driver.
Early in Dale Earnhardt’s Cup career, while driving for Rod Osterlund, he had a horrific crash at Pocono Raceway. In that July 1979 crash, Earnhardt broke both of his collarbones and suffered a concussion that rendered him unable to drive the car for subsequent races. Earnhardt’s substitute was David Pearson, the Silver Fox himself, who drove the car to victory at Darlington. Fearing for his ride, Earnhardt willed himself well enough to drive and four weeks after being sidelined was back in Osterlund’s car.
From that point forward, Earnhardt did not miss a race until his wreck at Talladega in July 1996. A wreck that looked not only disastrous but possibly fatal only proved to Earnhardt’s fans that he was “immortal” when he climbed out and waved to the crowd, refusing to be loaded onto a stretcher despite his injuries.
The broken collarbone, sternum, and shoulder blade he suffered caused many to believe his season was over. The Intimidator disagreed, however, and started the next race, the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis, but relinquished the car to Mike Skinner at the first pit stop. Earnhardt was quoted as saying that getting out of the No. 3 car was the hardest thing he'd ever done.
The following weekend at Watkins Glen, as if to erase any doubt as to whose car it was, Earnhardt put the No. 3 on the pole for The Bud at the Glen.
As the cherry on the sundae of his recovery, he ended up finishing fourth in points that season.
Another time Earnhardt had to relinquish his car was during the Southern 500 at Darlington in September of 1997. It was never diagnosed why, but Earnhardt blacked out early in the race, hit the wall and ended up with a case of double vision that led to him missing his pits and running erratically. Mike Dillon, son-in-law of team owner Richard Childress was pressed into service to drive the rest of the race. By the next weekend Earnhardt was cleared to drive.
But Earnhardt’s substitute situations are not the only newsworthy ones.
October, 2002. Jamie McMurray, in his second Cup start ever, won as a substitute for an injured Sterling Marlin in the Chip Ganassi No. 40 Dodge. With the victory, McMurray set the record for wins in the fewest starts by a Cup rookie.
More recently, Dale Earnhardt Jr. realized that he had suffered a concussion during a crash at Talladega during last season's Chase. He called upon Regan Smith to pilot his Cup car and while Smith did a decent job, Earnhardt Jr.’s Cup chance was over for the season.
Last week, the Joe Gibbs Racing team faced finding a substitute - or substitutes - for Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 Fed Ex Toyota. Left with a fractured back after a hard hit to the wall at the end of the Auto Club 400 in California, Hamlin needs a replacement for at least the next five Cup races.
Mark Martin, a strong veteran in the sport, will fill the cockpit of Hamlin’s car in Martinsville next Sunday. Following that event, Brian Vickers will fill in starting on April 13th at Texas Motor Speedway.
Time will tell what these substitutions will mean for Hamlin and his JGR No. 11 team.
As rare as they are, the stories behind driver substitutions are yet another reason why I love NASCAR.
Chief 187™ is a writer, columnist, and blogger as well as creator of the widely popular Chief 187™Chatter. Her column “Why I Love NASCAR” and other articles are featured on Skirts and Scuffs. She can be reached via Twitter by following @Chief187s. To find out more please visit http://Chief187.com.