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 Steve Grissom’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: “The greatest driver to never win a championship”. 40 Cup Series wins. Two-time Southern 500 winner.
LAST HURRAH: After three years of steadily declining results at Hendrick Motorsports, Martin returned to a part-time schedule with Michael Waltrip Racing, splitting the 55 car between himself, Micahel Waltrip, and Brian Vickers. Martin would post four top-five finishes in 2012, followed by a third-place finish in the 2013 Daytona 500.
FINAL YEAR(S): Martin wound up driving for three teams in 2013—MWR, a one-off substitution for Denny Hamlin at Joe Gibbs Racing, and finishing out the season with Stewart-Haas Racing filling-in for an injured Tony Stewart. Despite missing eight races he still managed to finish 25th in the final season standings. Martin has since remained retired.
DID HE HANG ON TOO LONG?: No. Martin showed that with a renewed focus on a smaller number of races he was able to contend for wins and put up consistent results.