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The WORST Final Seasons in NASCAR History

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Joshua Lipowski

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In NASCAR, some drivers go on extravagant, yet deserved retirement tours to celebrate their accomplishments and impact on the sport. Unfortunately, that does not always mean success on the race track. Which drivers had some of the worst final seasons in NASCAR history?

In NASCAR, some drivers go on extravagant, yet deserved retirement tours to celebrate their accomplishments and impact on the sport. Unfortunately, that does not always mean success on the race track. Which drivers had some of the worst final seasons in NASCAR history?

Richard Petty

Richard Petty was the first driver to truly do a “retirement tour” of sorts during the 1992 season with what he called the “Fan appreciation tour”. It was truly a great way for every fan possible to show their appreciation of Richard Petty, and Petty to show his appreciation for the fans. That was great, and it was a great way to bring down the curtain on a great career.

On the race track, however, it was not a great year for Petty. He failed to record a single top-10 finish as his best finish was 15th coming three times. Honestly, it was on par with Petty’s final few seasons, but, that does still make it one of the worst seasons of Petty’s career from a driving standpoint.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

After missing half of the 2016 season with a concussion, Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced that 2017 would be his final season in the NASCAR Cup Series. There were some bright spots including poles in his final starts at Daytona and Talladega and a front-row start in the Daytona 500. However, everything else was not great from a driving standpoint.

He only had one top-5 finish at Texas, and he failed to make the Playoffs. As a matter of fact, he didn’t even finish in the top 20 in the final points standings. It was a disappointing final season from a driving standpoint for Earnhardt Jr., but he has since moved on to a very successful career in broadcasting.

Darrell Waltrip

Darrell Waltrip just would not stop racing late in his career despite struggling to find good rides and success at NASCAR’s top level. His final season came in 2000 driving the 66 car for Travis Carter, and D.W. was just awful. He did not manage a top-10 finish, and he failed to qualify for six races.

His best race came at Indianapolis where he qualified second and finished 11th, but that was his only finish better than 20th all season long. His average finish of 31.8 was the worst of his career whether part-time or full-time. However, he moved on like Earnhardt Jr. into a successful career in broadcasting the following season.

Jimmie Johnson

Jimmie Johnson had a difficult last season, and some of it was for reasons out of his control. 2020 was the pandemic year, so he never had the retirement send-off at tracks like Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Jeff Gordon had. The pandemic also hit Johnson personally as he missed a race at Indianapolis due to a positive COVID-19 test.

That combined with lackluster performance meant that Johnson failed to make the Playoffs in his final season. He also failed to win a race in his final season, while his teammate Chase Elliott went on to win the Championship. As a result, this became a change of the guard of sorts for Hendrick Motorsports.

Matt Kenseth

Matt Kenseth stepped in to drive the 42 car for Chip Ganassi Racing when Kyle Larson was suspended. Kenseth was pushed out of Joe Gibbs Racing at the end of the 2017 season, so Chip Ganassi was a chance for Kenseth to get a true send-off and end his career on his terms. Well, the season was less than ideal.

In 32 starts, Kenseth only had two top-10s and one top-5. He also had his worst average finish in any of his full-time seasons. It just was not a great season for Kenseth, and it showed that Kenseth’s driving skills were just not what they once were.

Final seasons do not always turn out the way that drivers hope they will. Kevin Harvick is showing that with the difficult season he is having. Who will be the next driver to fall victim to this?

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Joshua Lipowski

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