As Martin Truex Jr. savored his decisive win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, his revelation to the media was probably more surprising than expected.
Think about it: After enduring a winless 2022 season, Truex came back with grit and determination, tying Kyle Busch for a third win in 2023 and reclaiming the lead in regular season points.
At 43, that performance should signal a comeback in 2024, right?
“I don’t know if running well and winning makes a difference,” Truex told media of his plans for 2024. “It would be pretty awesome to win a championship and go into the sunset, but I don’t know Really.”
That doesn’t give much confidence in a Truex return, does it? There’s also the point he made about buying a saltwater fishing boat, which he delayed due to the demands of the racing schedule.
Either way, we already have a household name in Kevin Harvick who is retiring at the end of the season, moving into the FOX Sports broadcast booth next season. It’s hard to imagine an era without Harvick, Truex, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, and more, especially if you grew up watching NASCAR in the 2000s.
Yet here we are.
Although there has been a well-documented youth movement over the past six to seven years, as we live in Cars 3there are still a handful of veterans making waves in the sport.
With Harvick set to leave and Truex contemplating retirement, it got me thinking: what does the future hold for other veterans?
Let’s establish a foundation here. We’re going to look at drivers aged 33 or older, and how long we can have them in the sport. Of course, several variables impact what happens in a career, so none of this is taken for granted.
The first is defending NASCAR Cup Series champion Joey Logano. Yes, I promise you he’s only 33, even though he feels like he’s been around forever (which he has).
Logano is only a few years older than “youth movement” drivers such as Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, Daniel Suarez and Bubba Wallace.
Considering his reliability, aggressiveness, and the average age of a NASCAR driver of around 38, you have to think Logano has at least seven years more in him. However, if he continues to enjoy the success he’s been enjoying for a decade, Logano could easily have another 10 years in the tank, which could mean more titles.
At the same age of 33 is Austin Dillon, who is in his 10th season of Cup competition.
Dillon is an interesting case. As someone who has won both the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series title, he has the unique opportunity to become the first driver to win the crown in all three series. However, he never smelled the Cup title, with a career points high of 11th.
In 356 Cup starts, Dillon has four victories. In 2023, he sits 29th in the standings while his Richard Childress Racing team-mate Busch has already gone down the road to victory three times. If Dillon is unable to find a consistent winning path or compete for the title, could he walk away from Cup competition sooner than most drivers?
Next up is Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 35. 2023 was a career year for Stenhouse, who opened it in the best way possible: by winning the Daytona 500. He then proved he was no fluke, earning his most top 10 finishes. since 2017 already and on track for a career-high average result. Regardless that his past aggression got him in trouble, Stenhouse is a talent that never had a big opportunity to show it.
The two-time Xfinity champion could easily hang around another five years at least, but that could certainly depend on his opportunities going forward.
After Stenhouse, you climb up to a group of riders pushing 40. Two may not have set the world on fire in their careers so far, but they’ve both had respectable moments. At 38, Michael McDowell is living the best years of his Cup career. He won the Daytona 500 in 2021, had a career year in 2022, and is currently on his way to the playoffs, which was perhaps unthinkable for Front Row Motorsports a few years ago.
McDowell’s contract situation at FRM usually sees the driver in a year-to-year contract situation and they are usually among the last to set their plans ahead of next season. But with McDowell finally showing what he’s capable of, as well as his age, it’s not crazy to think he might look elsewhere for a better opportunity if FRM doesn’t re-sign him.
The other driver is Aric Almirola, who announced his retirement in 2022 to decide to return. Certainly, the 39-year-old would like to go out on a higher note. He missed the playoffs in 2022 and is in a position to do so again in 2023, with only one top 10 so far. Almirola’s latest plans for 2024 are pretty much the same as he could return but hasn’t decided yet. Anyway, you have to imagine that we are in Almirola’s last years as a full-time Cup driver.
This brings us to two future Hall of Famers. Busch is another driver who seems ageless, finding great success in his 19th season and his first with RCR. For Busch, he’s a driver who doesn’t look close to retirement. But every pilot must ultimately have a plan, and Busch detailed in an interview. SiriusXM Radio:
“I would say in a perfect world – I kind of imagined that a bit – in a perfect world I would retire from Cup racing when Brexton turns 15,” Busch said. “And I would go race a truck year, I would go race a full truck series season to see if I can win a truck series championship because that, I would be the first to win all three NASCAR series , you know, the championship, where I’ve won the most races in those three divisions, than anybody else. So I’ll do that and then when Brexton turns 16 he and I can share that truck where he can run the shorter track races and I can run the bigger track races.
It sounds like LeBron James’ dream scenario, but a lot more can go wrong in a short time in NASCAR.
Busch’s legendary rival Brad Keselowski is also in the prime of his career. In his second year as owner of RFK Racing, his future is likely far beyond racing. But how long will he be there?
When he announced his move to RFK in 2021, he and RFK President Steve Newmark both hinted at the former’s future, with Keselowski expressing a desire to race until he’s gone. competitive. Newmark echoed that sentiment and, for the next few years, it looks like Keselowski will continue to hold the seat. Considering the team has improved in 2023, I find it hard to see Keselowksi not winning more races at least, maybe this season too. And when he calls it a career, he won’t go away either.
Finally, we have two other full-time drivers in their 40s in addition to Harvick and Truex. The first is the driver who completed a full stint this year: AJ Allmendinger. At 41, the reservoir is no longer as full as before for The Dinger. However, since joining Kaulig Racing he has acknowledged that he is having fun, something he couldn’t say back when he was full time in the Cup. Allmendinger is in the hunt for the playoffs this year, and given he’s on a multi-year contract at Kaulig, don’t expect him to go anywhere for at least a year or two.
That brings us to a driver trying to avoid the Kyle Busch smash of 2022: Denny Hamlin. With longtime partner FedEx as the main sponsor less and less on the car, there was merit in assuming that Hamlin might leave Joe Gibbs Racing after this season. However, Sports Business Journal also reported FedEx is close to a deal, and Hamlin himself showed confidence last weekend to strike a deal.
Since Hamlin co-founded 23XI Racing, speculation has abounded that he will eventually join the team. Hamlin has expressed interest in racing for the team for a season before hanging up his helmet, but it doesn’t seem imminent. And given that the 42-year-old is still a perennial title contender, retirement could wait a few more years.
Eventually, time catches up with these athletes, and that means a future without them. With that in mind, it’s up to the next generation to pick up the slack and NASCAR to market new faces effectively. The sport has lost some of its identity as a star. With a new generation taking over, time is running out.
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