“What will you do when Jeff Gordon retires?”
The question has been bandied around this year, mostly asked by those who are not die-hard Gordon fans. What will we do? It’s like there’s supposed to be a national crisis when the man we have cheered for since 1993 will no longer compete on a weekly basis. Answer: ummm, find somebody new to cheer for. We’re fans. That’s what we do.
Well, who will receive our adulation? I imagine in 1992 there was a similar feeling of loss and slight panic among the NASCAR fans who had been pulling for the No. 43 since…well, since forever. But NASCAR was changing and we did have new faces appear on the stage, and we applauded for them. Yes, there was Jeff Gordon, but the 90’s also heralded the arrival of Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth and even Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Rising stars dotted the proverbial NASCAR heavens.
Now it is 2015, and our sport has held on tight to some of those faces for two decades. Now, they are leaving. Is there somebody to replace them?
As far back as 2001, we saw the introduction of the millennial generation in NASCAR. Remember a young Kyle Busch taking to the track in a Craftsman Truck? Oh, I do. It was a glorious day. The booth could not stop chattering about the sibling to the already hot and feisty Kurt Busch. Yes, it has taken him fourteen years to reach the ultimate goal in NASCAR, and it feels more like an eternity, but the truth is that 30 is not such an old age to have won your first Cup. Whether we like the Shrub or not, it was made extremely clear to everyone this year that he has finally figured out how to put emotion aside and just drive his Toyota Camry like nobody else can. So, there’s one member of the post-Gordon NASCAR era. Who else will we be adding to the roster?
You need look no farther than the other two champions we crowned this past weekend. Like the M&M’s driver, both Erik Jones and Chris Buescher have been working the national circuits since the age of 16. Other young guns named Kyle Larson, the Dillon brothers and new comers such as Brett Moffitt are eager to continue to fill out the Sprint Cup fields on a regular basis. Even Joey Logano ought to be added to this new list of the future of NASCAR—he is only 25, even though he has been running the Cup series for years and years.
Jeff Gordon may have competed as our sport morphed from the shade-tree mechanic’s heaven to corporate America’s favorite billboard, but the Gen-6 drivers are the ones who will be here while NASCAR looks at franchising and creating a sport that fills seats every single week. We shouldn’t worry that there will be nobody exciting and fun to cheer for, we just have to accept that they won’t be sporting puffy jackets from 1993.
What will I do? Well, I’m already putting words to action. I’ve added a couple Chase Elliott T-shirts to my wardrobe. There’s an Austin Theriault car displayed in my tire table. I’ve patronized JR Motorsports in order to add Austin Dillon’s No. 3 truck to the collection. I did purchase a collector’s coin celebrating Gordon’s Iron Man record setting start—that is the last Gordon No. 24 item going on the shelf.
There have been 23 fantastic years to shout over. It was an amazing ride. I undoubtedly would never have become the NASCAR fan I am today if Jeff Gordon never showed up. He is my generation’s stock car superhero. However, just like the retiring gentleman, I’m hardly ready to hang up my hat. There are another few decades left in my future as a fan. There will be races run in February. 43 drivers will hop behind the wheel. Some of them I love, some I adore to boo, to some I am indifferent, but they are still NASCAR.
Sunday may have been the last ride for the Rainbow Warriors, but it was most definitely not the end of NASCAR. Good times are coming. I can’t wait for them to arrive.
One last tribute for Jeff Gordon. If you didn’t see your fill of them in the last couple weeks, here’s one to savor. I love the snippet between him and Senior!
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