Homestead, Fla – We already knew in the spring that the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season would be Dale Earnhardt Jr’s swan song. He revealed that he was stepping away from NASCAR’s premiere series after this year. But, a few weeks ago, Matt Kenseth also announced that he too is walking away from the Cup Series for 2018. While he didn’t call it a “retirement” per say, he did say that he’s no longer actively pursuing a ride in NASCAR’s premiere series next year.
Now, Danica Patrick also made her emotional “retirement” known too. Patrick, while fighting off tears, told reporters on Friday at the Homestead-Miami Speedway that this season would be her last full-time effort in racing in general. While she will still race in the 2018 Daytona 500 as well as the 2018 Indianapolis 500, she won’t be competing on a full-time basis anymore, in any series.
Think about this, when the checkered flag flew on the Cup season finale last year at Homestead, it was the final one that Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards would take in NASCAR’s premiere series. When the checkered flag drops in Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 (3 p.m. ET/NBC/MRN) it would be the final one for Earnhardt, Kenseth and Patrick.
A sport that is seeing a decline in ratings and attendance is going to see drivers like Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Danica Patrick, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards all call it quits in a span of two years. That’s a lot of star power to be lost. Arguably, Gordon, Stewart, Earnhardt and Danica were the top names in the sport since the start of the 1990s.
You had Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Jeff Gordon really dominating the entire 90s decade. Then, Gordon, Stewart and Earnhardt Jr. taking over the reigns in the 2000s. Danica came around in 2013 and took the sport by storm. All the while, Kenseth and Edwards were there winning races and contending for championships with them.
Now, they’re all gone.
Jimmie Johnson is still around, but for some reason he never struck the global curve in NASCAR like Gordon, Stewart, Earnhardt and Danica did. While there are some really talented young drivers in the series for 2018 and beyond, the sport has to market larger than life because they’ve just lost a ton of popularity and star power in 12 months.