NASCAR team owners like to think that they can spot talent. Every season we hear of the next wave of Jeff Gordons and Dale Earnhardts coming up through the ranks that will take the NASCAR world by storm. But of course, it never really plays out that way. For every successful NASCAR driver, there at least ten complete busts. Drivers that are over-hyped and under-talented.
Some showed promise early in their careers, but end up fizzling out after mediocre performances. Others are just plain bad from day one and leave fans scratching their heads saying “How’d that driver ever get a ride?” As much as it’s fun to sit around and reminisce about great NASCAR champions, be honest with yourself –it’s even more fun to kick back and reminisce about the absolute bevy of NASCAR busts.
20. Brian Scott
Brian Scott is a tough one. Yes, he had moderate success in NASCAR’s Xfinity series but he never dominated or won anything in the series. Scott is yet another example of a driver who has a career in racing due to family money. Scott was consistently sponsored by companies owned by his family, which allowed him to buy a ride with some of NASCAR’s most competitive teams. Scott came out of nowhere in 2009 to win the Truck series race at Dover and would finish the season seventh in the points standings.
He’d move up to the Xfinity series for the next five seasons. To be fair, he did post decent results and finished fourth in the points standings in 2014. In 2016, Scott would finally move up to the Cup series with Richard Petty Motorsports but he’d have an absolutely shameful season. He would have just one top-ten finish (a second at Talladega) but spent most of the season finishing 20th or worse. After 2016, Scott finally said enough was enough and called it quits in NASCAR.
19. Michael Annett
Michael Annett is still a mainstay in NASCAR but unfortunately it isn’t due to success on the track. Annett’s career exists due to constant sponsorship dollars provided by his family-owned business. In 2007, Michael Annett was a little-known development driver for Bill Davis Racing. He made an instant name for himself by winning the 2007 ARCA series race at Talladega, and then winning the 2008 season opening ARCA race at Daytona as well. Many members of the racing media thought he could be the next big thing in NASCAR.
Bill Davis immediately moved Annett up to a limited schedule in the Truck Series and he’d perform admirably. He would sign to drive for Germain Racing in the Xfinity series in 2009 and he’d have a string of bad finishes and just four top-tens. The next year would be even worse, ending the season with just two top-ten finishes. He’d spend the next few seasons with various teams and would have his best year in 2012 with Richard Petty Motorsports, finishing 5th in series points.
In 2014 Annett would begin racing in the Cup series and would spend three seasons racing for two different teams with an overall best finish of 13th in 106 career races. In 2017, he’d return to the Xfinity series with JR Motorsports, one of the series most competitive teams. He’d have a mostly disappointing season capped off by a second place finish at Road America. If it wasn’t for Annett’s family money, he’d have been out of racing years ago.
18. Casey Mears
Casey Mears had the spotlight cast on him from a young age as the nephew of perennial Indy 500 winner Rick Mears. After a short and ultimately failed attempt at an Indycar career, Mears went to NASCAR to salvage a career in racing. He began racing in the Xfinity series in 2002 for Team Jesel. Overall, it was a down year and he had just one top-ten finish, a fifth at Talladega in a race where almost every single car crashed out.
In a shocking move, Mears was hired by Chip Ganassi to race in the Cup Series full time in 2003. He would end up having a best finish of 15th that year and finished 35th in points. He’d spend three more seasons with Ganassi and would steadily improve each season. In 2007 he jumped over to NASCAR’s premier team, Hendrick Motorsports and achived his only career win, at Charlotte on a late-race fuel mileage gamble.
Mears would would end up driving for several different teams over the next few seasons and would eventually land at Germain Racing where he would garner just five top-ten finishes in six seasons. Overall, Mears had a mediocre career but his 51 Top-Ten finishes in nearly 500 career starts don’t look great on a resume.
17. Bill Lester
Bill Lester holds the distinction of being one of the few black drivers to ever compete in NASCAR. In fact, he was the only black driver in the series during his career. Lester began racing in NASCAR in the Truck series in 2002 for Bobby Hamilton Racing. He wouldn’t really impress and mostly just rode around mid-pack. In 2003, he’d get his first top ten finish and show a bit of improvement. Lester would sign with Bill Davis Racing in 2004 and would spend three seasons with the team. He’d go on to have just five top-tens in those three seasons, but he never showed the success that many thought he would.
After a partial season in 2007, Lester would return to his roots and race sports cars in the Grand-Am series. Lester unfortunately had a lot of hype around him due to the fact that he’s African-American. There was always a spotlight on him during his races, whether he was doing well or not. But despite the pressure put on Lester to make a name for African-Americans in NASCAR, he spent several years in top-tier equipment and never showed consistent success.
16. A.J. Foyt IV
So to be frank, pretty much NO ONE thought A.J. Foyt IV would ever succeed in NASCAR… and he didn’t. Foyt gets the award for having the shortest NASCAR career of anyone on this list. Naturally, there was a bit of hype surrounding him, considering he is a member of the Foyt family and practically royalty in the racing world. But he would never come close to living up to the family name. Before he was a failure in NASCAR, Foyt IV was also a failure in Indycar. After seeing that he didn’t have much of a career in Indycar, he signed a driver development contract with Evernham Motorsports to drive in NASCAR.
Evernham placed him with one of its affiliate teams (Akins Motorsports) and Foyt immediately began racing in the Xfinity series. He would race the last four races of the 2005 season and did rather poorly. He would sign on for the full season in 2006 and lasted just seven races, with a best finish of 21st on the road course at Mexico City. Foyt was immediately fired and Evernham scrambled to find another car for him to drive.
Foyt’s career in NASCAR ended after failing qualify a Fitz-Bradshaw Racing car at Richmond in 2006. Foyt would return to Indycars and continue to have disappointing seasons. Eventually Foyt would admit that racing wasn’t for him and leave the sport altogether. He now works for the Indianapolis Colts in their scouting department.
15. Christian Fittipaldi
So this one also goes in the category of “hard to be a bust when no one thought you would succeed anyway.” Christian Fittipaldi is one of the world’s premier sports car racers and also spent time in Indycar and Formula One. So when the racing media found out he wanted to try his hand in NASCAR, the intrigue was real. In 2001, Fittipaldi entered his first NASCAR event, an Xfinity series race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He would finish 39th in the event, but that didn’t put a dampener on his NASCAR dream.
In 2002, Richard Petty would hire him to run a Cup series race at Phoenix and once again Fittipaldi would have a poor showing, finishing 41st. He would return for several races with Petty in 2003, but would have a best finish of 24th at Pocono and failed to qualify three times. After this brief stint in NASCAR, Fittipaldi seemed to realize it wasn’t for him and headed back to the safety of sports car racing.
14. Justin Labonte
The Labonte family name carries a lot of weight in NASCAR. Brothers Terry and Bobby have both won NASCAR Cup series championships. Terry’s son Justin unfortunately would always be standing in the shadow cast by his father. Being a Labonte meant the expectations were set quite high. Justin began his career in NASCAR in the Xfinity series in 1999, driving for his father’s team. He would run a partial schedule in 99 and never do much to impress. In 2000, he would attempt 22 races and fail to qualify for eight for them, a whopping disappointment.
He’d spend 2001 out of NASCAR and then attempt another four races over the 2002 and 2003 seasons and fail to qualify for three of them. In 2004, he’d run another partial schedule for his father’s team and managed to pull off one of the biggest upsets in NASCAR history by winning the Xfinity series race at Chicagoland Speedway. This would prove to be the only bright spot in Justin’s career. In 2005, he’d run his only complete season in the Xfinity series and have just two top-ten finishes before fading into NASCAR obscurity. Unfortunately for Justin, the Labonte family racing gene doesn’t seem to be hereditary.
13. Patrick Carpentier
After the success of Juan Pablo Montoya in NASCAR in 2007, everyone and their brother that drove an open-wheel car thought they could go to NASCAR too. Many fans and members of the media bought into the idea. Carpentier was just another victim of the fallacy.
Carpentier ran his first NASCAR race at the inaugural Xfinity race on Montreal’s Circuit Gilles Villeneuve road course in 2007. He would qualify on the pole position for the event and would go on to finish second. I guess this made Carpentier think he had a career in NASCAR, as it was announced a few weeks later that he would drive full time in the Cup series for Gillette-Evernham Motorsports in 2008.
Carpentier’s season started on a low note by failing to qualify for the Daytona 500. He’d go on to have five more DNQs (did not qualify) that season. Somehow he’d manage to win the pole position at New Hampshire, but would ultimately finish 31st in the race. Carpentier would end up being fired with six races left in the 2008 season. Carpentier would spend the next eight seasons as a ringer, driving at NASCAR’s road course races for various teams.
12. Shane Hmiel
Shane Hmiel is likely the saddest story on this list. He had a boatload of racing potential but ended up throwing it away due to poor off-track decisions. Hmiel got his start in the Xfinity series in 2002 driving for Innovative Motorsports. In two seasons with the team, he showed promise and had several top-ten finishes. In 2004, he’d move to the Truck series and win his first NASCAR race at Las Vegas.
For 2005, he’d move back to the Xfinity series with Braun Racing and immediately looked like a challenger for the series’ championship. He would win a pole at Texas and have three top-five finishes before being suspended by NASCAR after 13 races for violating the series’ substance abuse policy. Hmiel would never return to NASCAR after being suspended and is considered one of the sports’ worst cases of wasted talent.
11. Dario Franchitti
Dario Franchitti’s career in NASCAR is one of the weirder scenarios in motorsports history. There were a few years in the mid-2000s when a bunch of Indycar and open-wheel series drivers felt that they needed to go race in NASCAR. I’m not sure what started it, but many big names like Paul Tracy, Sam Hornish, Max Papis, Juan Pablo Montoya, and many others decided to go race cars they had never driven before. For some, like Montoya, it worked out. For Dario Franchitti, it did not.
In 2007, Franchitti won the Indy 500 and would go on to win the Indycar championship. So naturally, he did what no one expected and left the series in which he thrived to go try something new in NASCAR. Franchitti immediately began racing in NASCAR’s premier Cup series for Chip Ganassi Racing. It became clear almost immediately that it wasn’t going to work out. Franchitti had a best finish of 22nd after his first seven starts and would end up missing several races due to an injury sustained during a crash at Talladega. He would return for just three more races that season before turning tail and heading back to Indycars, where he’d win two more Indy 500s and three more championships.
10. Steve Wallace
Steve Wallace was the first driver in the second generation of NASCAR’s legendary Wallace family. His father Rusty won the 1989 Cup Series championship, his uncle Kenny holds the NASCAR Xfinity series record for all-time starts, and his other uncle Mike has won races in two of NASCAR’s three premier series. Naturally the hype train left the station very early on for Steve Wallace.
His NASCAR career began in the Xfinity series in 2005, running a lone race at Memphis for his family-owned team. He would return for a limited schedule in 2006 which would be filled with crashes and poor finishes. He’d run his first full season in 2007 but would fail to record a top ten finish. In fact, in took Steven 61 career races to get a top-ten finish… a tenth-place outing at Mexico in 2008.
To add insult to injury, it’s not like Steven wasn’t racing junk cars — his family race team had great equipment and top quality engines. Steven would run full-time the next three seasons and actual have a decent career but he’d never win a race. He’d retire with 34 top-tens finiahes in 193 career Xfinity series races and would finish 20th in his only career Cup Series start, the 2011 Daytona 500.
9. J.J. Yeley
J.J. Yeley’s career in NASCAR was a classic example of “Right Place, Right Time.” Yeley began racing in the NASCAR Xfinity series in 2004 on a limited basis with Joe Gibbs Racing and had moderate success. He’d run his first full season in 2005 and showed marked improvement. At the end of the year, former Cup series champion Bobby Labonte would leave Joe Gibbs Racing, prompting Gibbs to move Yeley up to their No. 18 Cup series car despite Yeley’s obvious lack of experience.
There were many other more experienced, veteran drivers available on the free agent market, but Yeley cashed in and moved to the Cup series because he was already working for Joe Gibbs. In 2006, Yeley would have just three top-tens and finish 29th in series points. In 2007, he’d improve to 21st in points, but have just two top-ten finishes. For the 2008 season, Yeley moved to Hall of Fame Racing and had an absolutely brutal year. He was fired after just 21 races and just one top-ten finish.
Since his release in 2008, Yeley has spent his time driving for many of NASCAR’s sub-par teams and has most recently raced in the Xfinity series for Tri-Star Motorsports. It’s hard to hold Yeley’s failures against him, considering he was moved up to the Cup series long before he was ready. But it’s also hard to excuse his failures, as he spent two seasons driving top-of-the-line equipment for one of NASCAR’s best teams.
8. Casey Atwood
Casey Atwood was poised to be the next great NASCAR young gun, but of course it didn’t work out that way, or he wouldn’t be here on this list. Atwood’s career began in 1998 in the Xfinity series at Nashville. He would win the pole position for the race and finish second. This immediately catapulted Atwood into the public eye and many media members though he’d be the next Jeff Gordon. Atwood would win two Xfinity series races over the 1999 and 2000 seasons and was then hired by Ray Evernham to drive in the Cup series in 2001.
He’d have a dismal season, finishing with just three top-tens and was moved to the Evernham Motorsports affiliate Ultra Motorsports for 2002. Once again, Atwood had a dismal season and was fired by Ultra Motorsports before the end of the year. Atwood wouldn’t return to full-time racing until 2004 when he was hired by Fitz-Bradshaw Racing to run in the Xfinity series. Atwood would have a mostly disappointing year, with the high point being a second place finish at Richmond. Atwood would be fired from the team before the end of the 2004 season, effectively ending his career, apart from the occasional race over the next few years.
7. Scott Riggs
Scott Riggs showed a lot of promise early in his NASCAR career. He started out in the Truck Series in 2001 and had an incredible five wins. He’d move up to the Xfinity series the next two years, finishing in the top ten in points both seasons with four race wins. Due to this impressive three-year run, he’d be hired by MB2 Motorsports to run in the Cup series in 2004.
Riggs would have a dismal year, with just two top-ten finishes and ended up 29th in points. In 2005, he’d slightly improve to four top-tens, but fell to 34th in points. Riggs would jump ship to Evernham Motorsports for 2006 and 2007 and have limited success. He’d eventually be fired by Evernham before the end of the 2007 season after a string of poor finishes.
In 2008, he’d move to Haas-CNC Racing and have only one top-ten finish, ending the season 31st in points. Riggs would spend the next few years in obscurity, racing mostly for underfunded teams until 2013.
6. David Stremme
Oh, did you just hear a crash? It was probably caused by David Stremme. Best known for being the king of causing accidents that he himself wasn’t involved in, David Stremme burst on to the NASCAR scene in the Xfinity series in 2003. He would finish seventh in his first race and immediately gain notoriety. He’d go full-time in 2004 and 2005 with decent results and was eventually hired by Chip Ganassi Racing to race in the Cup series in 2006.
Stremme immediately showed signs of being moved to NASCAR’s premier series too early in his career. He struggled immensely and was even pulled from the car for the series’ two road course races and replaced by a more experienced driver. Stremme would somehow be granted a second full season in 2007, in which he’d have only three top-tens but improved several positions in the points standings.
In 2008, Stremme returned to the lower-level Xfinity series and actually had a great year, impressive enough for legendary team owner Roger Penske to give him a second chance in the Cup Series for 2009. Stremme, of course, was dreadful in his return to the Cup series and was fired by Penske with three races remaining in the season. Stremme spent the next few seasons bouncing around between different smaller teams and has been out of NASCAR since 2014. Stremme however does hold the distinction of having just three top-ten finishes in 200 career races, an average of a top-ten every 66 races.
5. Scott Speed
Scott Speed is the only driver on our list that enjoys the title of “bust” in both Formula One and NASCAR. With a last-name like “Speed,” you’d think he’d be fast… he was not. Speed would spend two unsuccessful seasons in Formula One driving for Red Bull’s B-Team, Toro Rosso. In 2008, he’d turn to NASCAR for a chance at success. He began racing on a limited basis in the Truck series and would actually win the race at Dover, shocking fans and media alike.
Speed look poised to silence his critics and finally find success in racing. In 2009, he’d go full time for Red Bull Racing in the cup series, but success was hard to come by. He’d have just one top-ten finish and would fail to qualify for three races. He’d return in 2009 to double his top-ten total, but finish 30th in points. Speed would spend the next four seasons driving limited schedules for several smaller teams and would eventually leave NASCAR for a career in rally racing.
4. Todd Kluever
It isn’t often you earn your first ride in NASCAR as part of a reality show, but that’s exactly what Todd Kluever did. Kluever participated in Roush Racing: Driver X on The Discovery Channel and ended up winning, which earned him a full-time ride for Roush Racing in NASCAR’s truck series. After winning the show, expectations were set pretty high for Kluever and initially he would deliver.
In 2005, Kluever would have 12 top-ten finishes and finish a respectable 11th place in the Truck series point standings, an overall performance that seemed on-par with an above-average rookie. Roush would immediately name Kluever the heir-apparent to NASCAR legend Mark Martin in the Cup series and Kluever was moved up to the Xfinity series in 2006 to help prep him for a full-time cup ride.
Kluever had an awful season in 2006, with an average finish of 23rd, and 17th place finish in points. Ultimately, Mark Martin’s cup ride was given to another Roush Racing driver (David Ragan) and Kluever would disappear from NASCAR after a limited schedule in 2007.
3. Erin Crocker
In 2005, Erin Crocker was set to be NASCAR’s newest female trailblazer, smashing the gender barrier and gaining respect for women racers everywhere. But it didn’t really work out that way. Crocker got her start racing World of Outlaw cars on dirt tracks and eventually signed a driver development deal with NASCAR team Evernham Motorsports in 2005. She made six starts in the ARCA stock car series and had an incredible four top-five finishes.
Naturally, the hype surrounding Crocker reached epic proportions and in NASCAR circles she quickly became the best thing since sliced bread. In 2006, she competed full time in NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series and had a disappointing season, with the high point being a 16th place finish. Crocker immediately plummeted from the tower of hype built by the media and fans.
In 2007, she returned to the less competitive ARCA series and actually had success, with six top-five finishes in her limited schedule. In 2008, Crocker would return to the Truck Series and run the first two races of the season before suddenly retiring from racing. Crocker would however return to the public eye when her relationship with former boss Ray Evernham (several decades her senior) was announced. In fact, Crocker credits her failure in racing to the negative press received when her relationship with Evernham went public. Whether that’s true or not, we’ll never know, as Crocker has never returned to the racetrack.
2. Danica Patrick
Danica Patrick is NASCAR’s original marketing machine. She is always in the top-ten of merchandise sold and is mentioned in every race broadcast, despite how poorly she’s doing. Patrick is easily one of the most over-hyped drivers in NASCAR’s history. She had a mediocre career in Indycar, with one race win before deciding to take her talents to NASCAR. She ran the full Xfinity series schedule in 2012 and had just four top-tens and finished 10th in points. But this lack of success meant nothing to car owners, because of Danica’s marketability to sponsors and fans.
She was immediately moved up to the Cup series full-time in 2013 and would spend five full seasons driving for Stewart-Haas Racing. Patrick would have just seven top-tens in her first 190 races and a best points finish of 24th. Patrick would do nothing to silence critics, or to live up to all of the hype, by crashing more often than not and then publicly complaining about her team’s performance.
Sure, Patrick is a hero to female race fans and I’m sure that every young girl in racing idolizes her. But Patrick is the most frustrating story in NASCAR — five seasons in top-of-the-line equipment and very little to show for it, despite being dubbed a trailblazer for women in the sport. Patrick spent five seasons taking up a spot that could have been driven by a much more talented driver. Patrick’s career really shows that NASCAR is all business. You’ll always have a ride if you’re marketable, regardless of whether you can actually drive or not. Next time you’re out on the town, remember to stop and take a drink in honor of all of those poor, innocent race cars wrecked by Danica Patrick.
1. David Gilliland
David Gilliland is one of NASCAR’s greatest underdogs. He pulled off what is widely regarded as NASCAR’s biggest upset win. At Kentucky in 2006, his under-funded Xfinity series team Clay Andrews Racing won the race and cemented their place in NASCAR history. No one had ever heard of David Gilliland at the time and the win made him NASCAR’s newest superstar. The way the media were spinning it, it was as if Gilliland descended from the heavens and climbed into a racecar, ready to begin a new world order in NASCAR.
Just weeks after the win, Gilliland was hired by Robert Yates Racing to take over their No. 38 car in the Cup series, despite having less than 20 career races under his belt. Gilliland struggled mightily due to his inexperience and it was clear that he had been moved up the NASCAR ranks too quickly.
In 2007, things were looking up, as he would win the pole for the Daytona 500 but that would be the highlight of his season. In two season with Yates, he would have just four top-ten finishes and would end up driving for several under-funded teams the next few years before landing at Front Row Motorsports. Gilliland raced unsuccessfully for five seasons with Front Row before taking a step back from NASCAR to focus on his son’s career in racing. Gilliland owns just eight top-ten finishes in 332 career Cup series races and the distinction of being NASCAR’s most memorable bust.