As one Reddit user pointed out, ever handful of years, there is a leader-type figure in the NASCAR garage; one that has earned the respect of his fellow drivers and speaks his mind with some authority that many of the younger drivers just don’t have.
When I was first getting into NASCAR back in the early 2000s, it was drivers like Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin. Then drivers like Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon took the reigns in the twilight years of their respective careers. Then it was ole seven-time, Jimmie Johnson.
As the original poster of the Reddit thread below points out, now it’s pretty much universally recognized to be Kevin Harvick. But “Happy” is in the midst of his final season. This begs the question: just who will ultimately take his place as the next “old man” of NASCAR?
In conjunction with that, what defines an “old man” in NASCAR? My take on that second question is this: and “old man” in the NASCAR garage is someone who speaks up and advocates for his fellow competitors, typically looking out for their safety and the overall health of the on-track product. This individual may or may not have a championship to their credit but I think they have to be successful in some ways with multiple wins and championship contending seasons. Most of all, though, they have to have an attitude about them that screams that they are indeed the authority of the garage.
With Harvick on his way out, who does that leave to fill his shoes? Let’s talk about it.
The drivers who have been racing the longest are Kyle Busch (amidst his 19th year) and Martin Truex Jr. (in the middle of his 18th season). If longevity is the only criteria, yeah, I think epzik8 has a point.
I don’t want to take away anything from MTJ. He’s had an amazing career. He won a championship, he won a lot of races. He’s HOF worthy for sure. The reason I hesitate to label him the “old man” of the sport is simply due to his attitude. He just doesn’t have that authoritative voice that a handful of his peers have.
I see him leaving the sport in a similar way a driver of the No. 19 Gibbs car did before him. When Carl Edwards left NASCAR, he was out. He didn’t do a flashy farewell tour or anything like that. He just decided he was done and he left. He never came back. I see Truex doing the same considering the nature of his contract.
During the off season, he didn’t know if he wanted to return or not. Ultimately, he signed a 1-year deal. His 2024 is uncertain and he probably hasn’t made up his mind what he wants to do yet. But, when he does make that decision, I think that’ll be it and we won’t really see him around anymore. At least not at the extent other retired drivers had lingered around the sport in their post-retirement years.
Kyle Busch, though…he has a lot invested in this sport. He has always been one of the more outspoken drivers and, with all the drama over his contract with Joe Gibbs last year, I think he’s been humbled a little bit. The Kyle Busch we see in 2023 is not the same KFB we saw even three years ago. He is walking and talking like a garage leader…like an “old man” of NASCAR.
wtb2612 echoes Truex. I won’t go over it again why I disagree with that but I once again agree with the suggestion that KFB is the next “old man”. Hamlin would be a good fit, too. He, like KFB, has a lot invested into the future of this sport and he’s now the top-dog at JGR after over a decade of living in KFB’s shadow.
mattbubb hopes MTJ leaves JGR and joins his old team owner and close friend, Dale Earnhardt Jr., for JR Motorsports’ Cup Serie iteration. Yeah, I hope that happens, too. Maybe as a part-time driver in 2024? I wouldn’t bet money on it but hey, last year we thought KFB was definitely going to resign with JGR or at least stay with Toyota. Anything can happen.
SmellsLikeTat3 advocates for JJ Yeley. Yeah, no. He just did not have a good enough career to be in consideration as next “old man” of NASCAR…in any series.
Chicahgeaux echoes that MTJ, Hamlin, and KFB are popular go-to’s but also adds a few names. Logano is only 33 but has been in the sport for 15-years. That’s astounding. My problem with Logano, though, is while he is clearly one of the best drivers in the sport at the moment, he just doesn’t have the advocacy receipts to warrant him being the next “old man”.
Keselowski does and will most likely be the next, next “old man” after KFB retires. And of course, yes, Jimmie Johnson can claim the title if he wants it.
Lex1982 agrees that JJ is the obvious choice. They also say that Hamlin will never get the respect he believes he deserves. Kind of a funny way to end that comment. I smirked.
Gydafud believes that drivers will start retiring earlier and soon it will be a rarity to see Cup drivers continue to race well into their 40s. Maybe they have a point?
Like it was said above, Logano is only 33 and yet he’s been in the sport for 15 years. If he races to the same age as Harvick, that means that his career would end up being over 28 years long. In modern NASCAR, that’s almost unheard of. A TimmyHillFan disputes the claim, though, pointing out that the only drivers to retire before 40 were Carl Edwards and Kasey Kahne. Point taken.
Both of those retirements were due to extraordinary circumstances.
Boot-E-Sweat says that the decision to retire has to do with the mental states of the drivers/athletes. I think there’s something to be said about that, sure. I remember thinking Gordon’s retirement felt premature. If he had won the 2014 championship, maybe he would have stayed a couple of more years. Dale Jr. retired because of an injury, yes, but he had also just gotten married and was starting a family. The risk just wasn’t worth it to him anymore so he stepped away. I get it. Good point.
What do you think, NASCAR fans and Daily Downforce readers? Who do you think will be the next “old man” in the NASCAR garage? Let us know and follow our racing coverage on Twitter and Instagram for all your latest NASCAR news and discussion pieces!