Race Weekend Central

What’s Next for NASCAR’s Veterans With Martin Truex Jr’s Decision Looming?

As Martin Truex Jr. relished his breakthrough win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, his revelation to the media was likely more surprising than anticipated.

Think about it: After enduring a winless 2022 season, Truex has stormed back with grit and determination, tying Kyle Busch for a third win of 2023 and reclaiming the regular season points lead.

At 43 years old, that performance should signal a return in 2024, right?

Not exactly.

“I don’t know that running good and winning makes a difference,” Truex told the media about his 2024 plans. “It would be pretty awesome to win a championship and walk off into the sunset, but I just don’t really know.”

That doesn’t give a lot of confidence in a Truex return, does it? There is also the point he made about buying a saltwater fishing boat, which he has held off on due to the demands of the racing schedule.

Either way, we already have one household name in Kevin Harvick retiring at the end of the season, moving into the FOX Sports broadcast booth next season. It’s hard to imagine an era without Harvick, Truex, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, and so on, especially if you grew up watching NASCAR in the 2000s.

Yet, here we are.

While there has been a well-documented youth movement over the past six to seven years like we’re living in Cars 3, there are still a handful of veterans who are making waves in the sport.

With Harvick on his way out and Truex mulling retirement, it got me thinking: what does the future hold for the other veterans?

Let’s establish a foundation here. We’re going to look at drivers who are 33 years old or older, and how much longer we may have them in the sport. Of course, several variables impact what happens in a career, so none of this is a given.

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First up is reigning NASCAR Cup Series champion, Joey Logano. Yes, I promise he is only 33, even if it feels like he has been around forever (which he has).

Logano is just a couple of years older than “youth movement” drivers such as Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, Daniel Suarez, and Bubba Wallace.

Given his reliability, aggression, and the average age of a NASCAR driver’s prime being around 38, you have to think Logano has at least seven more years in him. However, if he continues to experience the success he has relished for a decade, Logano could easily have another 10 years left in the tank, which could mean more titles.

At the same age of 33 is Austin Dillon, who is in his 10th season of Cup competition.

Dillon is an interesting case. As someone who has won both the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series title, he has the unique opportunity to become the first driver to win the crown in all three series. However, he has never gotten a sniff of the Cup title, with a career-high points finish of 11th.

In 356 Cup starts, Dillon has four wins. In 2023, he sits 29th in the standings while his Richard Childress Racing teammate Busch has visited victory lane three times already. If Dillon is unable to find victory lane on a consistent basis or compete for the title, could he move away from Cup competition earlier than most drivers?

Next up is 35-year-old Ricky Stenhouse Jr. 2023 has been a career year for Stenhouse, who opened it up in the best way possible: winning the Daytona 500. He has followed that up by proving he is no fluke, earning his most top 10s since 2017 already and on pace for a career-high average finish. No matter his past aggression getting him into trouble, Stenhouse is a talent who has never had a great opportunity to display it.

The two-time Xfinity champion could easily hang around another five years at least, but it certainly could hang on what his opportunities are in the future.

After Stenhouse, you climb up to a group of drivers pushing 40. Two may not have set the world on fire in their careers thus far, but they have both had respectable moments. At 38, Michael McDowell is experiencing the best years of his Cup career. He won the Daytona 500 in 2021, had a career year in 2022, and is currently on the cusp of pointing his way into the playoffs, something that was perhaps unthinkable for Front Row Motorsports a couple of years ago.

McDowell’s contract situation at FRM usually sees the driver in a year-to-year contract situation and they are usually among the last to nail down their plans ahead of the next season. But with McDowell finally showing what he is capable of, as well as his age, it isn’t wild to think that he could look elsewhere for a better opportunity if FRM doesn’t re-sign him.

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The other driver is Aric Almirola, who announced his retirement in 2022 only to decide to come back. Certainly, the 39-year-old would like to exit on a better note. He missed the playoffs in 2022 and is in position to do so again in 2023, with only one top 10 thus far. The latest on Almirola’s 2024 plans is about the same, as he could return but hasn’t decided yet. Either way, you have to imagine we are in the last years of Almirola as a full-time Cup driver.

That brings us to two future Hall of Famers. Busch is another driver who seems ageless, finding much success in his 19th season and first with RCR. For Busch, he is a driver who doesn’t look anywhere near retirement. But every driver eventually has to have plan, and Busch detailed in and interview SiriusXM Radio:

“I would say in a perfect world – I’ve kind of dreamt this up a little bit – in a perfect world, I would retire from Cup racing when Brexton is 15-years-old,” Busch said. “And I would go run a year of truck, I’d go run a full truck series season to see if I can win a truck series championship because that, I would be the first one to have ever won an all three series of NASCAR, you know, the championship, which I’ve won the most races across all three of those divisions, than anybody combined. So I would do that and then when Brexton turns 16, him and I can split that truck where he can run the shorter track races and I can run the bigger track races.”

It feels like the LeBron James dream scenario, but a lot more can go awry in a short time in NASCAR.

Busch’s storied rival in Brad Keselowski is also in the prime age of his career. In his second year as the owner of RFK Racing, his future is likely set well beyond racing. But how long will he be around?

When he announced his move to RFK in 2021, both he and RFK president Steve Newmark both alluded to the former’s future, with Keselowski expressing desire to race until he is no longer competitive. Newmark echoed that sentiment, and as for the next few years, it appears Keselowski will continue to be in the seat. Given that the team has improved in 2023, I have a hard time seeing Keselowksi not winning more races at least, maybe this season too. And when he does call it a career, he won’t disappear either.

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Finally, we have two other full-time drivers in their 40s in addition to Harvick and Truex. First is the driver who returned to a full stint this year: AJ Allmendinger. At 41, the tank is not near as full as it used to be for The Dinger. However, since he joined Kaulig Racing, he has admittedly said he is having fun, something he couldn’t say in his former full-time Cup days. Allmendinger is in the playoff hunt this year, and given that he’s on a multi-year deal at Kaulig, don’t expect him to go anywhere for at least another year or two.

That brings us to a driver trying to avoid the Kyle Busch fracas of 2022: Denny Hamlin. With longtime partner FedEx as the primary sponsor less and less on the car, there was merit to assume Hamlin could be leaving Joe Gibbs Racing after this season. However, Sports Business Journal also reported FedEx is close to a deal, and Hamlin himself showed confidence this past weekend in getting a deal done.

Since Hamlin co-founded 23XI Racing, speculation has abounded that he would join the team eventually. Hamlin has expressed interest in racing for the team for one season before he hangs his helmet, but it doesn’t look imminent. And given that the 42-year-old is still a perennial title contender, retirement may be waiting a few more years.

Eventually, time does catch up with these athletes, and that spells a future without them. With that in mind, it is up to the next generation to take the mantle and for NASCAR to market new faces in an effective way. The sport has lost some of its identity as far as star power. With a new generation taking over, time is ticking.

About the author

Luken Glover joined the Frontstretch team in 2020 as a contributor, furthering a love for racing that traces back to his earliest memories. Glover inherited his passion for racing from his grandfather, who used to help former NASCAR team owner Junie Donlavey in his Richmond, Va. garage. A 2023 graduate from the University of the Cumberlands, Glover is the author of "The Underdog House," contributes to commentary pieces, and does occasional at-track reporting. Additionally, Glover enjoys working in ministry, coaching basketball, playing sports, and karting.

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Tony

Busch is certainly quick to remind the readers how great he thinks he is.

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