Race Weekend Central

2-Headed Monster: When to Retire?

This week’s Fronstretch debate question: Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced he will retire at the conclusion of the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season. He also once said he planned on talking with team owner Rick Hendrick about a contract extension past 2017, but told Mr. Hendrick of his decision on March 29.

Should drivers ultimately choose when to retire from racing or should they stay behind the wheel until their health or lack of a ride dictates otherwise?

Follow Your Heart

If your heart isn’t in something 100 percent, you don’t give 100 percent effort. That goes for anything and everything in life. From something so simple as studying for an exam to something so complex as driving a NASCAR race car, effort and what’s in between your ears (your brain) is most important.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. has announced his retirement, effective at the end of the 2017 season. He cited it as being the right time in his life to step away from the sport he has loved, grown up in and raced in for the better part of 18 years. Sure, he has something left in the tank, but he’s done and going out on his own terms.

And that’s OK. In fact, that’s more than OK. That should be admired, celebrated and replicated.

Earnhardt Jr.’s announcement continued a trend that has been emerging in the past two years or so: drivers retiring when they want to, rather than when they need to or when their contract is up.

One major reason for drivers stepping away in their mid-40s rather than their late 40s/early 50s is money. Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. have been three of the biggest names in the sport’s history, and they’ve all stepped away since the end of 2015. When you ask a casual or a non-NASCAR fan about the sport, odds are they’ll mention one of those three names. Stewart and Gordon have seven championships combined. Couple that with millions of dollars in endorsements, and you have a pretty solid living situation and quality of life, financially speaking.

Earnhardt Jr. doesn’t have a championship, but he blows every driver out of the water in sponsorship endorsements and merchandise sales. To say he’s set financially would be an understatement.

But health issues for Earnhardt Jr., specifically concussions, have also had an impact on his decision to step away. He wants to start a family with his new wife, Amy and focus on his XFINITY Series team, JR Motorsports among the things. And again, that’s just fine.

Who are we to tell drivers when to retire? Sure, we want our favorite drivers around until the end of time. Sure, we want the big names that attract attention to the sport. Sure, we want A-list drivers that perform well and put on a show week after week on the race track for the fans.

But in life, you can’t always get what you want. The one thing the driver can control when it comes to the bigger picture of their career is when they step away. Some are sooner than others, some are unexpected and some seem to never come.

Look at Derrike Cope and Morgan Shepherd. Cope is 58 years old and still racing on a part-time basis in the MENCS. Is he competitive? Hell no. He can barely finish inside the top 35. And Shepherd is a young 75 years of age. Will he ever win a race or finish in the top 10 ever again? Absolutely not.

But they keep racing for one reason and one reason only: they love it.

Carl Edwards stepped away and Dale Earnhardt Jr. is stepping away relatively prematurely for one reason and one reason only: they don’t love it as much as they once did.

Did Carl Edwards start a new trend of retiring early? (Photo: Nigel Kinrade/NKP)

Earnhardt Jr. talked in his press conference about having something he wasn’t used to: time. He used that time to reflect back on his career and think about what would come next in his storied career. There will be a portion of JR Nation that is upset that he isn’t continuing to race every week in competitive equipment capable of winning a championship. But they need to understand something.

This is what Dale Earnhardt Jr. wanted to do. Carl Edwards did what he wanted to do. So did Jeff Gordon, so did Tony Stewart, and so will countless other drivers as their careers come to a close in the next decade or so. And that’s fine by me.

– Davey Segal

Make Them Pry That Steering Wheel Out of Your Hands

I think that every driver should stay in the sport until they are asked to leave, whether it be that the owner does not want them anymore or the sponsorship money has dried up.

Now, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s situation is unique––he sustained a pretty serious injury last season that forced him to miss half of the year.

When your health starts getting in the way, then a driver should absolutely get out of the car. Ernie Irvan was a driver whose horrendous injuries forced him to retire early, and I have all the respect in the world for him that he knew when to say when. I feel likewise about Earnhardt Jr.

If health were not an issue, though, then why would you get out of the car?

For every NASCAR driver, racing is two things: their life and their livelihood. Drivers in the sport have driven a race car since the days of their youth––it is all they know. I am sure that many drivers have a hard time grasping with life once they no longer compete.

Additionally, they all use this passion to pay the bills. Making it in NASCAR is the surest sign that you can quit your day job. If you are getting paid to do what you love, then why would you quit just because you are not as good at it as you used to be?

Richard Petty, Darrell Waltrip, Terry Labonte, Bobby Labonte and Bill Elliott are all former champions that continued to drive long after their “primes.” Did that tarnish their legacy at all? The NASCAR Hall of Fame committee did not reject The King, Jaws, Texas Terry or Awesome Bill because they rode around in junk equipment in their final years in the sport.

We don’t remember them for those years. We remember them for the amazing talent they displayed in their younger years.  At least those drivers retired with the known fact that they left the sport with nothing left in the tank.

Recently, Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart retired while they were still “on top.” All three made the playoffs and won at least one race in their final full time seasons. What that tells me is that all three could have left some in the tank––all three could potentially won more races and competed for more championships, and most importantly, added to their already-rich legacies.

The perfect example of what I am talking about is Rusty Wallace’s retirement vs. Mark Martin’s retirement. At the end of the 2004 season, Wallace and Martin both announced that 2005 would be their last in the sport. Both drivers made the playoffs that season and essentially went out on top.

Wallace stayed true to his word and never raced in NASCAR again. Martin, however, came back for eight more seasons, four part time years and four full time.

If not for that then, Martin would not have had one of the best seasons of his career. In 2009, four years after Martin was supposed to retire, he won five races and finished runner-up in the point standings for the fifth time in his career.

Wallace, on the other hand, has said in recent years that he felt that he gave up driving too early, and that he should have stayed in the driver’s seat for a couple more years.

The bottom line is, there is more to gain from staying out there past your prime then there is to lose. Whenever I think of drivers retiring, I always think of Ken Schrader, whose philosophy was to drive until the phone calls quit coming.

So drivers, if you think that it is time for you to hang up the driver suit and walk away from your greatest passion in life, then my advice to you is to drive for a couple more years before you seriously consider the “R” word. Drive that car until your talent tank is way past empty.

– Michael Massie

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I think retirement, from any endeavor, be it work or sport, is a strictly personal decision based on a multitude of factors. I respect Dale’s decision and applaud him for having the wisdom to know when the time is right. Whether or not it’s right for the fans is really, after all, a moot point. Of course there is disappointment, but did we really think he was going to stick around forever?

I am probably less affected by Dale’s departure than a long time fan. I am a relatively new fan to NASCAR with a newbies perspective, having been a casual fan for awhile and only becoming seriously interested a few years ago when Danica joined Cup (yes, when Danica joined Cup). As a woman, I was very intrigued and curious to see how a woman would perform in a male dominated sport. As a result I became interested in the drivers, their back stories, the track stories, the rivalries, the cars, the science and engineering that goes into the sport, etc.; before I knew it, I was devouring it; I was hooked. Now I follow the trucks, Xfinity, even sometimes K&N and Whelen – and dream of someday attending a Cup or Xfinity race.

I guess my point being, that I think there is so much to be excited for in NASCAR today; it distresses me to see so many sounding the death knell for the sport because a veteran is retiring, that is just so wrong. As a fairly newly minted fan, it’s disheartening to hear all the negativity that I see routinely expressed in article comments; Dale’s retirement is just another example of the fan glass being half full. I think to myself, should I remain a fan? Many seem to think it’s time to abandon ship; it’s really discouraging.

Well, I refuse to have my excitement snuffed out. I intend to brush off the negativity and embrace the new talent that has the opportunity to make their mark in NASCAR; the likes of Blaney, Elliott, Jones, Suarez, Larson – these guys are exciting to watch and create a great mix of raw talent vs experienced drivers on the track. I will continue to enjoy the veterans of the sport, until they determine to make their departure, and I will applaud them when they do, knowing that changes is inevitable. I guess that’s my 2 cents worth of opinion, and I am sure many will disagree, and that’s just fine with me. I really wanted to express how I feel, as I have been thinking about this for awhile. Yes, Dale will be missed, but I hope everyone will give the new guys a chance; it will be worth it! And, BTW, I like stage racing too. : )


Hey Lynne –
I think the challenge is – there are a lot of fans who are at this point sticking around for their drivers, and less for the intensity of the racing. For all NASCAR attempts to do with racing and “Creating moments.” We didn’t expect that Dale Jr would be here forever – but it’s just another changing of the guard, we had it with Dale Sr.- hard working local country boy who became a superstar (and – remember the avg workign man / country boy (no offense anyone)) could relate to him, Jeff Gordon – non southerner, open wheeler – able to make the transition with no problem, and an instant rival to Dale Sr. Then Tony Stewart – hard nosed, take no s**t kind of guy (who doesn’t like that) and of course Dale Jr, who brought more fans to the track than many before him – the girls loved him, people saw him wearing his hat backwards and thought it was the coolest thing, and of course sponsored by Bud. We know there are others, Darrell Waltrip, Texas Terry, and others mentioned above. I think the shift happened when JJ came on, won a lot, and was more corporate than most others. It moved the sport into diff regions and broadened sponsorship – unfortunately – it moved away from the core fan base – and this is why you hear the commentary you here. He’s one of the “last” from that breed. Yeah, guys like Johnson and Harvick come from humble upbringing, but they’re from Cali – automatically seen as different. And then with all these new guys, all their new technology, and methods of connecting (or in some cases – lack thereof) – it’s hard to see where it’ll go. The product on the track takes one step forward and 2 steps back (let air under teh cars – then we’ll see real racing).

I don’t know – i’m rambling alot! I think the new guys are great – i think tho, they need to “Connect” and maybe the broadcast heads need to talk about them more, and maybe they need to be ok with showing a bit more fire – and while they won’t be able to relate to some of those longing for the old days – the governing bodies do need to find a way to get them to connect, and get racing and let rivialries happen, and get some of the nonsense out of the booth, go back to calling a race – show more of the racing, reduce ticket fees, and go back to what brought people to the sport. Less manufactured moments, more of letting the racing play out – in general – that’s all people are asking for, and when they don’t get that, you tend to only stick around for the racer you like. When that goes…then you hear the sentiment you hear about all the doom and gloom…

HAAHAH _ did any of that make ANY sense?


dh, nice post. I agree.

I think fans connect far more with the other drivers than the media gives them credit for. They (media) are just sickly wired to look at the “elders” as they feel that is the guiding beacon or particular drivers, JR being one of them! Not so. They (media) also get a directive to focus on a particular driver, propping them up, pumping them up, at the expense of others. Just look at how they call a race and who does what, fascinatingly biased. Who they interview, who they don’t.

Their narrative seems to be handed down from their bosses and Castle Daytona, but there are plenty of drivers that fans go nuts for. The narrative that the tracks are going to close because JR. isn’t around anymore, is just insulting at best..to the drivers, sponsors and fans. Hot damnum, we must be idiots cause we are not curious what Junior ate for breakfast this morning and we did not say a prayer for his father when he (JR) woke up this morning. Ergo, we are not “NASCAR FANS”!!!! The narrative is going to do them in and NASCAR, they need to get beyond the few they covet, INCLUDING ALL THINGS EARNHARDT and expand!

NASCAR will survive or fail because of NASCAR, not because of some driver. T
NASCAR history has proven this……

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