By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
It was 25 years ago when NASCAR saw a changing of the guard, and today will be no different. ‘The King,’ Richard Petty ran his final race at Atlanta Motor Speedway in the Hooters 500, and a young Jeff Gordon made his debut. After an epic battle for the Championship, Bill Elliott won the race and Alan Kulwicki became one of the last owner-drivers to win the then-Winston Cup Series Championship. This is something that I am calling “The ’92 Effect.”
Like the 1992 season, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship is wide open, with four drivers having a chance to win. Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, and Kyle Busch look to earn their second title, while Martin Truex Jr. fights for his first title. This looks as if it will have the same spotlight the 1992 season finale had with multiple storylines, veterans retiring, and rising stars looking to prove themselves.
Later today, NASCAR will see its’ Most Popular Driver, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., 2003 Champion and two-time Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth, and 2013 Daytona 500 pole sitter Danica Patrick make their final starts as full-time drivers. Drivers such as Chase Elliott, Darrell ‘Bubba’ Wallace Jr., Ryan Blaney, and William Byron, among others, seem poised to pick up the mantle. This is not the first time, nor will it be the last that NASCAR has seen its’ star power retire, but it is one of the largest groups in recent memory.
Petty’s team, Richard Petty Motorsports, Tweeted his remarks about today’s race,
— Richard Petty Motorsports (@RPMotorsports) November 19, 2017
In the past three years, stars including Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle, Gordon, and Tony Stewart have all hung up their NASCAR helmets. Some, like Gordon and Stewart still compete in dirt racing or sports cars, but that is far from the limelight that NASCAR has shined on its’ drivers.
The changing of the guard seems as if will continue with Kurt Busch still has yet to commit to a new contract with Stewart Haas Racing. NASCAR Xfinity Series veteran and fan favorite Brendan Gaughan appears to be withdrawing from full-time competition, with only a partial schedule in 2018. Young drivers like 2017 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Champion Christopher Bell, and rising stars Harrison Burton and Todd Gilliland look to be positioned to one day reach the summit in NASCAR, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
There may be questions about the health of the sport or whether NASCAR will survive such a loss of star power, but personally, I think a look into the past just could be the answer to NASCAR’s future.