Journeyman athletes are always some of the best stories in sports. They bounce around from team-to-team doing a serviceable job, but are never quite good enough to be kept around for more than a few years or reach a high level of fame. Many players have made a career out of being a quick fix for a team. The same is true in all types of auto racing, but especially in NASCAR.
Over the years there have been a unique group of drivers that achieved some moderate level of success but were never able to catch on with a team long-term. They’ve driven one-off races for various teams, bounced between NASCAR’s three top series, and never won more than handful of races (at the most). These are the 20 greatest NASCAR journeymen.
20. Jason Leffler
Jason Leffler is best known for being a regular driver in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. He was a mainstay in the series throughout his career, but he did attempt to move up to the Cup Series numerous times which led to an up-and-down career. Leffler made a name for himself driving in the Xfinity Series for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2000.
In 2001, Chip Ganassi hired him to race in the Cup Series, a level of competition he clearly wasn’t ready for. He failed to qualify for several races and had just a lone top-ten finish. He’d be without a ride for 2002, so he signed with Ultra Motorsports in the Truck Series. In 2004, he returned to the Xfinity Series with Haas CNC Racing, winning his first race. In 2005 he attempted another run at the Cup Series, this time with Joe Gibbs Racing. But it didn’t go well, he would be released mid-season and return to the Xfinity Series.
Beginning in 2005, Leffler started an eight year relationship with Braun Racing (Later Turner Motorsports) in the Xfinity Series. He would win the first race for new manufacturer Toyota in 2007, the final win of his career. In 2012, he returned to the Truck Series with Kyle Busch Motorsports but would be released mid-season (again). After a brief hiatus, Leffler made the final NASCAR start of his career in the Cup Series race at Pocono in 2013, finishing in last place. Unfortunately Leffler would be killed in a racing accident a few days later, ending the career of one of NASCAR’s greatest Journeymen.
19. Regan Smith
You could do an entire article just on the number of times Regan Smith has served as a fill-in driver due to injury or suspension. But before he was a fill-in guy, Smith had quite the journeyman career. In the early 2000s, he worked his way up through the Xfinity Series ranks with several different teams, finally landing a full-time ride in 2006. In 2007, Ginn Racing would sign him to share a Cup Series car with veteran driver Mark Martin. In 2008, he would go full-time in the Cup Series with Dale Earnhardt Inc. He’d be released at the end of the season and sign with Furniture Row Racing.
He’s spend the next four seasons with Furniture Row, earning an upset win at Darlington in 2011, the only Cup Series win of his career. In 2013, he returned to race full-time in the Xfinity Series with JR Motorsports while also serving as a substitute driver for a myriad of Cup Series teams.
Following the 2015 season, Smith was released by JR Motorsports and he signed a full-time deal in the Cup Series to drive for Tommy Baldwin Racing. At the end of the 2016 season, Smith became a reporter for NASCAR broadcasts… and still also served as a substitute driver on a number of occasions.
18. Johnny Sauter
Like a lot of drivers on this list, Johnny Sauter had an up-and-down career before finally finding consistent success in NASCAR’s Truck Series. Sauter debuted in NASCAR in the Xfinity Series in 2001 running just a few races for Richard Childress Racing, but he impressed the team enough to be offered a full-time ride in 2002. He’d win one race in 2002 but finish 15th in points. For 2003, Childress would only retain him for a partial season and he would be forced to share a car with Kevin Harvick.
Sauter ended up running the full season between two different teams, winning at Richmond and helping Richard Childress Racing win the 2003 owner’s championship. Sauter was then promoted to the Cup Series by Childress in 2004 but was released mid season. For 2005 and 2006, he returned to the Xfinity Series with two different teams. In 2007, he was promoted back up to the Cup Series with Haas CNC Racing but he found limited success and was released at the end of the year.
When the 2008 season rolled around, it looked like Sauter’s career may be over. He ran just a handful of races that season before signing to drive in the truck series with Thorsport Racing for 2009. Sauter has been in the truck series ever since and has won 21 races and captured the 2016 series championship with GMS Racing. Sauter’s career may have been rough and tumble at the start, but once he found his niche, the success followed.
17. Ron Hornaday
Ron Hornaday was a late comer to NASCAR, as he didn’t run his first full season until he was 36-years-old. Hornaday was originally a mainstay in NASCAR’s Truck Series beginning in its inaugural season in 1995. He would run five season in the Trucks for Dale Earnhardt Incorporated and win two titles in 1996 and 1998. He would move up to the Xfinity series in 2000 winning two races.
In 2001, he ran full-time in the Cup Series for AJ Foyt Racing but he’d have just one top-ten finish and would be released before the end of the season. He would be without a ride in 2002 but eventually found employment back in the Xfinity Series for two different teams. In 2003, he would be hired by Richard Childress Racing to run full-time in the Xfinity Series schedule. He’d run two seasons for Childress before returning to the Truck Series in 2005.
After returning to the Truck Series, Hornaday would win 25 races and two more championships driving for Kevin Harvick Incorporated. He would attempt a return to the Cup Series in 2015 but qualified for just one of the four races he attempted before finally retiring from NASCAR.
16. Tony Raines
Tony Raines had a roller coaster career in NASCAR. He cut his teeth in the Truck Series in the late 1990s before being moved up to the Xfinity Series in 1999 with BACE Motorsports. After four seasons, he was promoted to BACE’s Cup Series ride in 2003. He’d have just one top-ten finish before being released by the team. He would spend most of 2004 without a ride, running just a few races for a variety of teams.
In 2005, he signed on with Kevin Harvick Inc to run most of the Xfinity Series schedule. For 2006, he was hired by the new Hall of Fame Racing team in the Cup Series. He’d spend two years with the team before being released. He’d spend 2008 driving for several underfunded teams in the Cup Series. In 2009, Front Row Motorsports hired him to drive their Xfinity car and he’d earn three top-ten finishes. He’d race for TriStar Motorsports in 2010, earning just two top-ten finishes.
The final years of Raines’ career saw him run a bunch of races with dozens of different underfunded teams before finally retiring during the 2013 season. Even though Raines never won a Cup or an Xfinity Series race, he was always seen by teams as a serviceable driver who could fill in for a few races and he parlayed that into a long NASCAR career.
15. John Andretti
Throughout his career, John Andretti drove for 12 different NASCAR Cup Series teams. He also drove in CART, IMSA, Indycar, The Rolex Sportscar Series, and raced in the Indy 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 in the same day. So yeah, he’s been in quite a few race cars. But we’ll focus on his NASCAR career.
After leaving CART in 1994, Andretti decided to give NASCAR a try and signed with Hagan Racing. After a dismal start to 1994 season, he moved to Petty Enterprises to finish out the year. In 1995 he moved to Kranfuss-Haas Racing for two seasons and then to Cale Yarborough Motorsports where he’d win his first race in 1997. In 1998, he began a six year run with Petty Enterprises. He would win just one race with Petty (in 1999) and was released from the team part way through the 2002 season.
From 2003 to 2005, he would make a few one-off starts for several teams and in 2006 he moved down to the Xfinity Series with PPC Racing. He actually qualified as a rookie for that year as he had only driven in one prior Xfinity Series race in his career. Following a 12th place points finish, he was released from the team. He would spend the next few seasons racing unsuccessfully in the Cup Series for Front Row Motorsports, finally opting to retire in 2010.
14. Dave Blaney
Dave Blaney is probably the most likeable driver on our list. It was always a feel good story when you saw Blaney get a good finish. He never won a Cup Series race in his entire career but still managed to capture the hearts of fans everywhere with his underdog performances.
Blaney’s career began racing sprint cars and he moved up to NASCAR’s second-tier Xfinity Series in 1998. After a seventh place points finish in 1999, his car owner Bill Davis moved him up to the Cup Series full time. Blaney would have two very mediocre seasons in 2000 and 2001 and he’d leave for Jasper Motorsports in 2002. In 2003, he would earn his best career finish of third place driving for Jasper at Darlington. Blaney lost his Jasper ride at the end of 2003 and spent 2004 as a fill-in driver before returning to full-time racing with Richard Childress Racing in 2005. Blaney would then return to Bill Davis Racing for the next three seasons before he became a true journeyman.
Following the 2008 season, Blaney began racing for several start-and-park teams before landing at Tommy Baldwin racing in 2010. In 2011, Blaney would have a mostly down year but would still have a third place finish at Talladega, matching his career best and shocking the NASCAR community. Following two more years with Tommy Baldwin Racing, Blaney retired from racing to focus on his son Ryan’s racing career.
13. Johnny Benson
Johnny Benson is the only driver on our list that managed to win championships in two of NASCAR top three national touring series. But these championships came at opposite ends of a rollercoaster journeyman career.
Benson started out in NASCAR’s Xfinity series in 1994 with BACE Motorsports and would win the series title in 1995. In 1996, he moved up to the Cup Series and spent two seasons with Bahari Racing with moderate success. In 1998 he moved over to Roush Racing and had an up and down year. Benson would eventually move over to MB2 Motorsports in 2000 and spend four seasons with the team. He’d win the only Cup race of his career at Rockingham in 2002 and would be released by MB2 after the 2003 season. Left without a Cup Series ride, Benson returned to the Xfinity Series for 2004 with Phoenix Racing but was released mid-season following poor results.
Just when it looked like Benson’s career would come to an end, he was picked up by Bill Davis Racing to run in the Truck Series. He would spend five seasons with BDR in the Truck Series and would win the championship in 2008. Unfortunately BDR shut it’s doors following the 2008 season which left Benson without a ride once again. After making a few sporadic starts the next couple seasons, Benson retired from racing in 2010.
12. Bobby Hamilton
Sidebar: Bobby Hamilton drove one of the “movie cars” during the filming of the classic Tom Cruise NASCAR thriller Days of Thunder. Pretty cool, right? Now that we have that out of the way…
Bobby Hamilton took the usual route through NASCAR by starting in the Xfinity Series and then moving up to the Cup Series in 1991. He’d spend three season with Tri-Star Motorsports before heading to SABCO Racing in 1994. This began a nine-season stretch of Hamilton switching teams every three years. He went from SABCO to Petty Enterprises, to Morgan-McClure Motorsports, and finally to Andy Petree Racing.
In 2003, he decided to move down to the Truck Series and drive for his own team. He would win the 2004 Truck Series championship before stepping away from racing in 2006 due to a cancer diagnosis. Unfortunately he would lose that battle with cancer and passed away in early 2007.
11. Jeff Green
There are several Series champions on our list and Jeff Green is one of them. He won the 2000 Busch (now Xfinity) Series title with PPC Racing, and won 16 Busch Series races — easily the highlight of his career. But before he reached this pinnacle, Green spent several seasons toiling in the Busch and Cup series. After two successful years with Dale Earnhardt Incorporated in the Busch series, he moved up to the Cup Series with Diamond Ridge Motorsports in 1997. After a failed season there, he moved to TEAM SABCO for 1998 but then returned to the Busch Series in 1999.
Following his championship, Green moved up to the Cup Series again, this time with Richard Childress Racing. After a season and a half he would be effectively “traded” to Dale Earnhardt Incorporated in 2003. He spent 2004-05 with Petty Enterprises and 2006-07 with Haas CNC Racing. He would make just a few more Cup starts following the 2007 season. Since 2007, Green has raced for dozens of NASCAR Xfinity Series teams and currently runs full-time for RSS Racing as mostly a start-and-park entry.
10. Jimmy Spencer
I think it’s safe to say that few drivers could do what Jimmy Spencer could do in a bad race car. The guy certainly got the most out of his equipment. He didn’t win very often, but he knew how to drive a mediocre car and put it in the top-ten. Spencer drove for fifteen different Cup Series teams in his career and 21 different Xfinity Series teams.
Spencer’s most successful years came in the 1990s, particularly 1994, when he drove for Junior Johnson and Associates. He would win his only two Cup Series races that season at Daytona and Talladega. In 1995 he would enter into a long relationship with team owner Travis Carter, driving for his teams through the 2001 season. In 2002, Spencer moved to Chip Ganassi Racing. He’d have just six top-ten finishes and be released at the end of the year.
The following year, he’d drive his final full season in the Cup Series for Ultra Motorsports. Despite driving for a team with a low budget and poor equipment, Spencer had four top-ten finishes and finished 29th in points. Over the next four seasons, Spencer would drive part time in the Cup Series for six different teams and also drove a full Truck Series schedule in 2005. Spencer would retire following the 2006 season.
9. Derrike Cope
Derrike Cope is, of course, known for the being the luckiest man in NASCAR. He was running in second place in the 1990 Daytona 500 when leader Dale Earnhardt blew a tire. Cope inherited the lead and won the race in a massive upset. Other than that one bright spot, Cope spent most of his career moving from team-to-team trying to find consistency, which he rarely did.
Cope began racing in the Cup Series full-time in 1988 and in 1989 he began the only real consistent years of his career with Whitcomb Racing. He raced for Whitcomb from 1989-to-1992, winning two races and earning 15 top-ten finishes. Cope would spend the next four years with three different teams, never finishing higher than second. Following the 1998 season, Cope was without a full-time ride and began racing for various low-budget teams, never finishing higher than 19th. In the early 2000s, Cope would also spend several seasons racing in the Xfinity Series, even starting his own team on several occasions with little success. Today, Cope is team manager and part-time driver for the new Cup Series team Starcom Racing. Approaching his 60th birthday, he’s still very focused on racing.
8. Mike Wallace
The Wallaces are one of NASCAR’s most famous families. Brothers Mike, Rusty, and Kenny all had long careers in the sport, with Rusty being the most successful of the bunch. But despite Mike Wallace’s lack of a championship or really ever having a steady ride, he still managed to stay in NASCAR for a very long time.
Wallace got his first taste of NASCAR racing in the Xfinity Series in the early 1990s with several different teams. In 1994, he’d move to the Cup Series for Donlavey Racing where he’d stay for two and a half dismal seasons before leaving the team. He’d spend the first half of 1997 with LJ Racing before leaving the team to drive in the Truck Series with Ken Schrader Racing. Wallace would drive in the Trucks through the 2000 season with two different teams, winning four races. In 2001, he’d return to the Cup Series with Ultra Motorsports but would be released mid-season. Fortunately he was picked up by Penske Racing to drive a few races later in the year and he managed a second place finish at Phoenix. All in all, Wallace drove for 28 different Cup Series teams in his career.
Wallace spent the next 13 years moving up and down between NASCAR’s top three series, winning one Xfinity Race and one Truck race before retiring in 2015.
7. Kenny Wallace
The other Wallace brother who isn’t named Rusty or Mile, Kenny also had a very long career in NASCAR despite never winning a title and having just a couple of race victories. Kenny is best known for his time racing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, where he spent the majority of his career. In fact, he holds the record for all-time starts in the Series with 547 races.
Wallace first ran in the Xfinity Series for his brother Rusty’s team in 1989. After five seasons and six wins, he moved up to the Cup Series in 1995, where he’d stay through the 2003 season, racing for ten different teams and never once finding victory lane. Wallace also ran the full Xfinity Series schedule in 2001 and 2002. In 2004, he began the final stage of his career where he raced primarily in the Xfinity Series while making sporadic Cup Series starts for eight different teams. Wallace would retire following a couple of one-off races in 2015 to focus on his career as a broadcaster.
6. Mike Skinner
To me, Mike Skinner is one of NASCAR’s ultimate journeymen. He enjoyed just four years of reasonable success in the Cup Series but is best known for his time in the Truck Series. Skinner actually won the inaugural Truck Series race and won the first championship in 1995. Following the 1996 season, his owner Richard Childress moved him up to the Cup Series full-time. He spent five seasons with Childress with a best points finish of tenth and never won a race. After spending the 2002-03 seasons with Morgan-McClure Motorsports, he returned to the Truck Series in 2004 where he would stay until 2012.
Skinner went on to win 12 Truck Series races in the latter potion of his career while also racing part-time for dozens of Cup Series teams. He kind of became a hired gun for bad teams that needed to qualify for races. He always seemed to get the most out of a car during qualifying. Several teams including Michael Waltrip Racing and Red Bull Racing also used him as a fill-in driver when their regular driver was struggling.
Although Skinner never enjoyed great success at NASCAR’s highest level, he did manage to stick around for quite a while. Besides, he does always have his Truck Series championship trophy to keep him warm at night.
5. Greg Sacks
Wanna talk about journeymen? Greg Sacks raced for 27 different Cup Series teams in his career. Plus he never made more than 37 starts for one team and ran only one complete season, for U.S. Motorsports Inc. in 1994. Although Sacks bounced from team-to-team and never found a steady ride, he did manage to stick around in NASCAR for over 20 years.
Considering the longevity of his career, it’s a bit disappointing that Sacks won just a lone Cup Series race and had just 20 top-ten finishes in 263 career races. But when you take time to look at his racing record, you see that Sacks was often racing for smaller, low-budget teams. His best chance at success came in 1990 when he served as a fill-in driver for Hendrick Motorsports and had two second place finishes along with several strong runs.
Sacks’ NASCAR career came to an end in 2010 when he drove in a one-off start for JR Motorsports in the summer Xfinity Series race at Daytona. Sacks started 7th and finished 21st in the race. Sacks is hardly the most successful racer on our list, but he managed to stick around in NASCAR for a lot longer than most.
4. Morgan Shepherd
Morgan Shepherd made his first start in NASCAR back in 1970 and he’s still racing today. Yup, Shepherd is 76-years-old and he still drives race cars at irresponsible speeds for a living. He just straight up refuses to hang up his driving gloves. Shepherd’s career really has two distinct eras, his early era of success and his later era as a journeyman owner/driver.
From 1970 to 1997, Shepherd had a pretty successful 27 year Cup Series run where he won four times and had 168 top-ten finishes. The peak of his career was from 1992-to-1995 when he raced for the legendary Wood Brothers Racing team. Following the 1997 season, Shepherd was without a full-time ride and raced in one-off attempts for various teams and then started his own team. Shepherd raced exclusively for his own team from 2002 to 2006 qualifying for just 32 of 82 races he attempted with a best finish of 32nd. But this didn’t deter Shepherd, he loved racing too much to give it up. In 2007, Shepherd moved his Cup team to the lower level Xfinity Series where he still races today.
All in all, Shepherd has driven for over 30 different Cup Series teams and is still driving at age 76. Now that is what I call a true journeyman!
3. Michael Waltrip
Michael Waltrip is one of NASCAR’s greatest journeymen. Few other drivers come close and here’s why: It took him 462 races before he won his first race. When you think of Michael Waltrip you probably think of his years with Dale Earnhardt Incorporated and his dominance at super speedways including two Daytona 500 victories. But Waltrip raced for six different Cup teams before landing at DEI. He spent five fruitful years at DEI before making the controversial decision to start his own team with new manufacturer, Toyota, in 2007. But before this could happen, he had to spend the 2006 season at Bill Davis Racing where he’d enjoy a dismal season with several DNQs (did not qualify).
In 2007, he’d qualify for the Daytona 500 with his new team but then failed to qualify for 12 of the next 14 races. After two more less-than-stellar seasons with his own team, he decided to cut back to a partial schedule and to focus on running his team. No, Waltrip doesn’t have an endless list of teams below his names like other drivers do, but he earned his stripes and ran 462 races before he finally found victory lane. This makes him one of NASCAR’s greatest journeymen.
2. Todd Bodine
Few drivers have had more of an up-and-down career than Todd Bodine. He moved between the different NASCAR series multiple times and finally found marked success in the final stages of his career. After earning his stripes driving for Team 34 in the Xfinity Series in the early 1990s, Bodine moved up to the Cup Series with Butch Mock Motorsports in 1993. After limited success, he moved back to the Xfinity Series for 1996, where he would run in some capacity until 2003, driving for seven different teams over those eight seasons. Bodine also returned to the Cup Series full-time in 2001 with Haas-Carter Motorsports and he’d stay with the team through the 2003 season before they shut down.
In 2004, Bodine was without a NASCAR ride for most of the year until he signed to drive in the Truck Series with Germain Racing. He won two races but left the team at the end of the year. He remained in the truck series with Fiddle Back Racing in 2005 but left the team and returned to Germain Racing mid-season. This began a run of dominance for Bodine in the Truck series. Over the next five years, he would win two championships and 14 races. Bodine stayed in the Truck Series until 2013 and has made just a few starts in NASCAR since.
1. Mike Bliss
Mike Bliss came to NASCAR very late. He was 29 years old when he made his debut in the Truck Series. It would take him six full seasons in the Truck Series to finally be offered a ride at the next level. After winning the 2002 Truck Series championship, he was hired by Joe Gibbs Racing to drive their Xfinity car in 2003. In 2005, he would move up to the Cup Series with Haas CNC Racing but would be released at the end of the year.
He went back to the Truck Series in 2006 and then moved back to the Xfinity Series in 2007. This is when the “oh, you need a decent driver for a race or two? Just hire Mike Bliss!” stage of his career began. He would spend the next few years driving for Fitz Motorsports and Phoenix Racing before racing for Key Motorsports in 2010. Now I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that during this time he was also making dozens of starts in the Cup Series and Truck Series for dozens of different teams. Just give the guy a vehicle and he would drive it!
In 2011, Bliss began the final stretch of his career. He would race exclusively for Tristar Motorsports in the Xfinity Series from 2011 to 2016, earning just five top-ten finishes in those five seasons. During this time, Bliss also raced in the Cup Series for nine different teams and in the Truck Series for two different teams. Beyond his Truck Series successes, Bliss won just two Xfinity Series races and never won a Cup race. Despite this, Bliss raced in NASCAR for three decades, a feat that not many drivers will be able to match.