With many aging veterans in NASCAR right now, the dreaded retirement topic is starting to come to the surface. While many are still extremely competitive, there are still some persistent rumors that a few of the sport’s superstars are hanging it up in the next year or two.
Who do you think will be hanging up the helmet in 2020 or 2021? How soon do we start seeing this happen? Will the new car in 2021 entice those drivers to want to stick around and take it on as a new challenge in their career?
Meanwhile, after the first race of the second round, many drivers found themselves in a big hole. One driver in a bigger hole than others is Ryan Blaney. A mechanical issue led to him not being able to finish the race, giving him a slim chance of recovering in the next two races. This weekend’s race at Talladega could wind up being his saving grace.
Does Blaney have a chance at the Championship 4 if he performs the way he has at times this season? Is he the biggest underdog right now or is there another driver who takes that title? Will he have to win to make it in?
Q: I have seen rumors about a few big-name drivers retiring after next season. Who do you think is the most likely? Alex T., Tempe, AZ
A: With as many shocking retirements as we have seen in the past few years, it is truly hard to predict who may hang the helmet up soon. Drivers like Carl Edwards and Kasey Kahne both had many years left in them and they retired out of the blue, while Hall of Famers Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart knew it was time to go.
If you look at the veterans of the series right now, there are so many of them who have plenty of years of stardom left. Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch are the four longest tenured (and oldest) current drivers. All four have the potential to win races every single week and they really have not missed a beat.
Many have said Johnson could be the first of the group to go, but he has made it clear that he will drive as long as he wants to. Harvick is still at the peak of his career, even in his 40s, and is still winning races and contending for championships without any signs of slowing down.
Busch is an interesting one, though. He signed a one-year deal with Chip Ganassi Racing and is rumored to be coming back next year. He is another driver who can definitely still win races and compete at an extremely high level.
Newman has not won in over two years but has helped Roush Fenway Racing progress in a big way this season. He still has the potential to win races as well.
As previously mentioned, there have been shocking retirements from drivers we did not expect to see go. I really do not believe that anyone hangs it up after next season. Honestly, with a new car coming out and a revamped schedule, it is going to be a fresh, new time in the sport. Everyone will be excited for 2021, and drivers may like what they see. If that is the case, these veterans are going to be around for a while.
Q: Who is the biggest underdog left in the playoffs and can that driver make a run towards the Championship 4? Bryan G., Fairfax, VA
A: While there are a few drivers who could be considered championship underdogs, one driver to look at is Blaney.
Blaney has had a quietly solid year with Team Penske, but his playoff run has been mediocre so far. He barely made the Round of 12, and now after his problems at Dover, faces an uphill battle to continue on to the Round of 8. Blaney will need to step it up as the series heads to Talladega, a track where Team Penske has had a lot of success in the past.
With his teammate Joey Logano right on the cutoff line as well, both drivers will need a big race at Talladega. Blaney has run well on the superspeedways, but as is always the case, things can go wrong in a heartbeat.
Can he make a run at the Championship 4? If I had to base it off current performance, I would have to say no. While he has shown in the past that he is capable of clicking off a few good finishes, he has been inconsistent as of late. Unless that team limits their mistakes, they could very well be done after Kansas in two weeks.
No matter how Blaney performs, we know he is very talented and will be in this sport for many years to come. This is his fourth full season, and even though he only has two wins, he has had even more victories slip through his fingers.
In order for him to be considered as an underdog to make a run to Homestead, he is going to have to show some speed starting this weekend in Talladega. Right now, he is the biggest underdog remaining in the playoffs. You could make an argument for William Byron, Alex Bowman and even Clint Bowyer. However, all three have shown speed recently and have had great runs to show for that. Blaney will have to run very well to be considered a part of that group.
The No. 12 team faces a huge uphill climb to make it to the next round, but with two of Team Penske’s better tracks coming up, there is still a chance.