by Liz Allison, LizAllison.com
For the past three years, NASCAR has said goodbye to some of its biggest names.
Jeff Gordon retired in 2015 after 23 years on the circuit and four championships. Tony Stewart, a two-time Cup Series champion, raced his final Cup Series event in November 2016. Then came 37-year-old Carl Edwards, who was (arguably) the most unlikely candidate to announce his immediate retirement in January of 2017.
The most recent retirement has been the hardest hit yet, as Dale Earnhardt, Jr. announced in April of his plans to retire at the end of the 2017 season.
With some of NASCAR’s finest crossing the 40-something mark, one might wonder how much longer Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray and Ryan Newman will continue the grind of a 36-week schedule that starts in mid-February and doesn’t tap out until mid-November.
While some fans are concerned for what might become of NASCAR as they lose many of the sports most popular drivers, the answer is quite simply: NASCAR will be just fine. It’s the natural transition of one era to another and one we simply refer to in NASCAR as “The Changing of the Guard.”
As you span the history of NASCAR, every ten or so years the sport naturally goes through this aging process. One group of drivers hangs up the helmet and another group of young hopefuls carries on the dream of becoming a NASCAR champion.
King Richard Petty, who once had a sea of rabid fans, transitioned out in 1992. His last race at Atlanta was also a young up-and-comer’s first crack at the big leagues—a young driver named Jeff Gordon. 1989 Cup Series champion, Rusty Wallace, made 2005 his final year. That same year, Brad Keselowski was making his truck series debut in a family-owned Ford entry. He would eventually become the driver of the Penske Miller Lite Ford, once filled by Wallace. In the late ’80s, NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Allison was forced in to retirement after a career-ending accident in the same year that his 28-year-old son, Davey, was bursting onto the scene.
The biggest challenge for fans is finding a current driver to replace their beloved driver. The young talent we have at the Cup Series level now is arguably some of the strongest the series has ever had. Drivers like Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Eric Jones, Daniel Suarez, and William Byron are all part the wave of new faces blazing the trails of where Gordon, Stewart and Edwards have left off. Even Junior’s retirement will be accepted in time.
There shouldn’t be any concern for the future of NASCAR. The young guns have what it takes to carry the sport….until their day comes to pass the baton.
The constant in NASCAR, as with any sport, is that one career may end…but another begins.