NASCAR team owners like to think that they know how to spot talent. Not a season goes by without hearing about the next wave of Jeff Gordons and Dale Earnhardts that are coming up through the ranks and will take the NASCAR world by storm.
It rarely plays out that way though. For every successful NASCAR driver, there at least ten complete busts - drivers who are over-hyped and under-talented. These guys usually get fired and they fade into obscurity, never to be heard from again.
Then there are those drivers who really do possess the talent to win it all and achieve incredible success, but they often sabotage themselves and manage to get fired in the process. We've compiled a list of NASCAR drivers who got fired for various on- and off-track mistakes.
20 Daniel Suarez - Handed Out Free Donuts
Suarez wasn't fired by his team or NASCAR, but by his sponsor Subway. They reportedly terminated its sponsorship agreement with the driver after he had been handing out Dunkin' Donuts to fans at an event in New Hampshire. Several drivers expressed their displeasure with Subway on Twitter in the aftermath.
19 Kurt Busch - Acted Like A Child
Busch’s departure from the Penske team was the result of a 1 minute, 53-second video taken by a fan in the garage area of Homestead-Miami Speedway. ESPN pit reporter Jerry Punch was preparing to interview Busch live on TV. But the video captured a petulant, profane Busch cursing, pouting, and generally making an ass of himself before Punch finally walks away.
18 Carl Long - Engine Too Big, Never Paid Fine
The most brutal penalty ever by NASCAR may have been the one they hit low-budget racer Carl Long with. After practice for the Sprint Showdown, Long's engine was found to be 0.17 cubic inches too large. He was fined $200,000 and 200 points, a fortune for the struggling racer. While technically not fired, Long is still not allowed inside the Sprint Cup garage at any track because he hasn't paid the fine.
17 Tim Richmond - Flamboyant Lifestyle
A former playboy and hell-raiser who inspired the Tom Cruise movie Days of Thunder. Tim Richmond was known for his flamboyant personality and racing style, and was a larger than life figure in the world of NASCAR during the 1980s. He was diagnosed with AIDS in 1986 and NASCAR officials demanded he released all of his medical records before being cleared to compete - he was never heard from again.
16 Curtis Turner & Tim Flock - Unionizing
Drivers Curtis Turner and Tim Flock were banned from NASCAR by Bill France in 1961 after attempting to unionize their fellow drivers. Trying to get their colleagues to join the Federation of Professional Athletes prompted France to oppose the movement, stating: “After the race tonight, no known union member can compete in a NASCAR race. And if this isn’t tough enough, I’ll use a pistol to enforce it.”
15 Robby Gordon - Attitude Problems
One of the most unlikely combinations in NASCAR Winston Cup racing ended after just five races - they had a five-year contract - when team owner Larry McClure fired Robby Gordon as the driver of the Kodak Chevrolet. Because of his "I know best" attitude, Gordon has never lasted with the same team for a significant period of time.
14 Buckshot Jones - Lacking Performance
Buckshot Jones was fired by Petty Enterprises and replaced in the NASCAR Winston Cup ride by Steve Grissom. "We have not performed to our expectations, and we felt like it was time to make a change," said Kyle Petty, CEO of Petty Enterprises. "Sometimes you change the coach, and sometimes you change the quarterback. This time we decided to shake up the chemistry by changing the quarterback."
13 Randy LaJoie - Banned Substances
Randy LaJoie is a former NASCAR Busch Series (now Nationwide) series champion, winning the title in 1996 and 1997. He tested positive for banned substances in 2010. LaJoie did admit to smoking marijuana following the Coca-Cola 600 with some race fans, and he was later reinstated by NASCAR following a treatment program. He hasn't raced since.
12 Aaron Fike - Arrested
Aaron Fike is the younger brother of driver A.J. Fike, he's a former NASCAR and USAC driver and the youngest driver ever to win a Silver Crown race. He ran 52 Nationwide Series races before he and his girlfriend got arrested in the parking lot of the amusement park of King's Island and were charged with several drug-related offenses in 2007. He was banned by NASCAR following his arrest.
11 Jack C. Smith - Arrested
Jack C. Smith is a former Truck Series driver who was suspended by NASCAR twice. First, in 2010 he was suspended after getting arrested for attempting to obtain a controlled substance under false pretenses. He was then suspended once again in November of 2011, and has not been racing in NASCAR ever since.
10 Mike Harmon - Pride
Harmon made his NASCAR debut in 1996 at South Boston Speedway, but a sponsorship struggle caused his team to close down. He was returning to NASCAR in 1999, after signing with Donlavey Racing to compete for NASCAR Winston Cup Rookie of the Year honors. Harmon was fired from the team during preparation for that year's Daytona 500 for refusing to let another driver try to get more speed out of the car.
9 Jeremy Mayfield - Self-Destructive Behavior
The Jeremy Mayfield case is a sad one. A talented NASCAR driver, he was undone by ego and controlled substances. During his fairly brief career, he was known for fighting with teammates, burning bridges, hopping from team-to-team, and generally leaving a wake of destruction behind him everywhere that he went.
8 A.J Foyt IV - Failed To Qualify
Pretty much no one thought A.J. Foyt IV would succeed in NASCAR... and he didn’t. Naturally, there was some hype surrounding him, considering he is a member of the Foyt family and practically racing royalty. But he never came close to living up to the family name. He signed on for the full season in 2006 and lasted just seven races before he was fired after failing to qualify.
7 Patrick Carpentier - Failed To Qualify
After Juan Pablo Montoya saw success in NASCAR in 2007, everyone who drove an open-wheel car thought they could perform in NASCAR too. Carpentier was just another victim of the fallacy. Carpentier’s 2008 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 and was fired with six races left in the 2008 season.
6 Shane Hmiel - Substance
Shane Hmiel had a boatload of racing potential but ended up throwing it away due to poor off-track decisions. In 2005, he looked like a challenger for the series' championship behind the wheel for Braun Racing. He won pole at Texas and had three top-five finishes in 13 races before being caught violating the series’ substance abuse policy. Hmiel is considered one of the sports’ worst cases of wasted talent.
5 J.J. Yeley - Failed To Improve
In 2006, Joe Gibbs Racing, moved Yeley up to their No. 18 Cup series car. For the 2008 season, Yeley had an absolutely brutal year. He was fired after just 21 races and just one top-ten finish. It’s hard to excuse his failures, as he spent two seasons driving top-of-the-line equipment for one of NASCAR’s best teams.
4 Casey Atwood - Overrated
Casey Atwood was poised to be the next great NASCAR young gun. Hired by Ray Evernham to drive in the Cup series in 2001 he’d have a dismal season and was moved to the Evernham Motorsports affiliate Ultra Motorsports for 2002. He was fired by Ultra Motorsports before the end of the year. In 2004 he was hired by Fitz-Bradshaw Racing but was fired before the end of the season.
3 Scott Riggs - Poor Finishes
Scott Riggs showed a lot of promise early in his NASCAR career. He was hired by MB2 Motorsports to run in the Cup series in 2004. After two dismal years, Riggs would jump ship to Evernham Motorsports for 2006 and 2007. He’d eventually be fired by Evernham before the end of the 2007 season after a string of poor finishes.
2 David Stremme - Moved To The NASCAR Premier Series Too Soon
David Stremme is best known for being the king of causing accidents that he himself wasn’t involved in. He 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 two road course races of the series and replaced by a more experienced driver.
1 Kevin Conway - Not Ready For NASCAR
Kevin Conway wasn't a bad driver, he was a terrible driver! He did win Rookie Of The Year in 2010 though - because he was the only rookie in the series. His team Front Row Motorsports fired him due to his lack of performance, then they sued him along with his sponsor Extenze over alleged non-payment of part of a 5.4 million sponsorship.