Not long after Kyle Busch was crowned NASCAR Cup Series champion for the second time in mid-November at Homestead-Miami Speedway, seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson made headlines of his own.
Johnson announced that he would finish out his current contract with Hendrick Motorsports and retire from full-time Cup Series competition following the 2020 season, slated to be his 19th full season in the sport. He hasnât missed a race since before he became the driver of the #48 Chevrolet in 2002.
Johnsonâs retirement announcement was somewhat expected for many fans, and the fact that he decided to make it official a year ahead of time made it even less surprising, especially after previously casually hinting that the 2020 season could, in fact, be his last.
But Johnsonâs impending retirement is another retirement in a long list of recent retirements, and many of the recently retired drivers are, like Johnson, big-name drivers.
Itâs no secret that NASCAR is in the midst of a youth movement. But just how much have things really changed?
Just look at Hendrick Motorsportsâ planned driver lineup for the 2021 season. It is slated to feature Chase Elliott, William Byron, probably Alex Bowman and another driver other than Johnson. Just four years ago, it featured Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Now go back two more years to the 2013 season, just six years ago. How many drivers who competed in the 2013 season are still among the sportâs full-time competitors?
Look at all the big-name drivers who have retired since then â Kahne, Gordon, Earnhardt, Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth, just to name a few.
A total of 33 drivers have been confirmed as full-time drivers for the 2020 season, with three more full-time seats (possibly four) still open. Of those 33, only 14 competed full-time in the 2013 season.
Those 14 drivers are Johnson, Kurt Busch, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Michael McDowell, Ryan Newman, Kevin Harvick, Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and J.J. Yeley.
But thatâs not everything; of the 13 other than Johnson, how many will still be competing after Johnson retires?
Kurt Buschâs contract with Chip Ganassi Racing runs through the 2021 season and is believed to be his last. Newmanâs contract with Roush Fenway Racing is believed to be similar in nature. McDowell just re-signed with Front Row Motorsports, but only for the 2020 season.
Almirola and Bowyer are both set to enter contract years with Stewart-Haas Racing, and they may very well not be back in 2021. Harvick, the oldest full-time driver aside of Johnson, is reportedly signed through the 2021 season.
Keselowskiâs contract with Team Penske expires at 2020, but itâs hard to see him without a ride in 2021. Logano is under contract with the team through 2023. Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Truex are all under contract for at least another two seasons, although both Hamlin and Truex are likely in or nearing their final few seasons, as both are 39 years old.
As for Yeley, he will be fortunate if his deal with Rick Ware Racing turns out to yield a full-time ride. At 43 years old, he is set to compete full-time for the first time since the 2015 season, but if Rick Ware Racingâs history is any indication (i.e. Ray Black Jr. in 2018), he may end up sharing his ride.
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As much as the NASCAR Cup Series driver lineup has changed over the years with big-name drivers retiring and young drivers being moved into their seats, that change is still ongoing. How many veterans will still be in the series in 2021 or 2022 and beyond?