Unlike other sports, Nascar can see drivers compete well into their 50’s. While this allows for some pretty cool stories and added fan memories, it also can lend itself to some drivers staying active well past their prime.
With Jimmie Johnson being just the latest driver to announce his retirement from Nascar (effective the end of the 2020 season), I wanted to take a look at drivers who voluntarily retired from the sport to see if they hung on too long or left at just the right time (or maybe even a little too soon). By “voluntary retirement” that means I’m not including anyone who was killed or seriously injured while driving.
Instead of looking at EVERY driver (even though interest in an analysis of Paul Menard’s latter years could be quite high) I’m limiting it to Hall of Fame inductees—for now.
(Drivers listed in order of their Hall of Fame induction)
NOTE: Those inducted primarily or exclusively for achievements outside of driving (team ownership, crew chiefing, etc.) will not be considered. Cup performance is all that’s considered for this piece. Also, the more modern term “Cup Series” will be used instead of Grand National, Winston Cup, etc.
DRIVING ACCOMPLISHMENTS: Three-time Nascar Cup champion. 49 Cup Series wins. Two-time Brickyard 400 winner.
LAST HURRAH: After winning the 2011 Cup championship in dramatic fashion, “Smoke” defended his title in 2012 with a ninth-place finish in points and multiple wins.
FINAL YEAR(S): Stewart’s last four seasons were marred by injuries and legal issues, resulting in two race wins over that period. However, did show flashes of brilliance, including a seven-race run in his final season of 2016 that saw him post his final race win and four other top-fives in just seven races. Stewart then retired from Nascar to re-focus his energies on sprint car racing and running his Nascar team.
DID HE HANG ON TOO LONG?: Possibly. Its impossible to plan for injuries and outside interference, so it remains a mystery how many races Stewart could have won had he remained healthy for his final few years.