NASCAR changing of guard underway
Maybe 2017 should be declared the year of the NASCAR retirement. After all, several big names will be absent from Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race starting grids that we were accustomed to hearing and seeing on a weekly basis, just last season. Tony Stewart — retired. Brian Scott — retired. Carl Edwards — yep, he’s retired, too. So is John Wes Townley, but we’ll stick to the Cup Series, here.
We may as well at Greg Biffle to the mix. Biffle didn’t exactly announce a retirement, but when he left Roush Fenway Racing, he made it pretty clear that he wasn’t just going to take any ride, anywhere. Any ride he takes would have to be a top-flight ride in which he can win. For that reason, while we may see him pop up here and there in the Camping World Truck Series, or maybe even in the Xfinity Series, but I think it’s pretty safe to say he’s finished with the Cup Series.
We also may as well throw Jeff Gordon’s name into the discussion. Sure, he actually retired at the end of the 2015 season and didn’t run anything close to a full season in 2016, but we saw him in a handful of races as Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s fill-in driver last year. Don’t expect the same this year.
NASCAR’s going to look a lot different this season, from a driver line-up standpoint. Has there ever been a time when so many drivers stepped away simultaneously? I don’t think so, at least not in my nearly two decades of following the sport.
A changing of the guard is happening and it’s coming on quickly. Heck, it’s even evident in a new premier series sponsor.
Such big names are gone from the sport, at least as drivers, in such short time, and a few more probably will soon be joining them. I’m guessing the sport’s perennial most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., won’t be around much longer. Reigning seven-time champion, Jimmie Johnson, is also over 40, so is Kevin Harvick. I’m not trying to push these guys out the door by any means, but their time’s coming, sooner rather than later. Then, there’s Matt Kenseth, a guy in his mid-40s, and quite frankly, among the Joe Gibbs Racing camp, the driver I figured on seeing heading out the door first.
Not everyone’s leaving, though. I’m thinking we’ll still have the likes of Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and maybe even Denny Hamlin around for awhile longer. But the changing of the guard is upon is, and it looks like it’s coming quickly. I guess we have to make room for the new guys, like Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez, and others sometime. But so many gone all at once? It’s a hard pill to swallow.
No all of the aforementioned drivers are completely out of the picture. Gordon’s on TV, and Harvick looks to be eyeing a possible TV career after retirement. Then, there’s Stewart; he’ll still be around as a car owner. Maybe Gordon is the Benny Parsons or Ned Jarrett of this new era, with Harvick maybe, eventually, assuming the role of the other. Maybe Stewart’s will be today and tomorrow’s Junior Johnson. It’s a new era folks, and times they are a-changing.