NASCAR: 5 Drivers Who Need to Retire and the Drivers to Replace Them

Jonathan HoweContributor IJune 8, 2011

NASCAR: 5 Drivers Who Need to Retire and the Drivers to Replace Them

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    Jeff Gordon is one of five drivers who need to consider retirement
    Jeff Gordon is one of five drivers who need to consider retirementJared C. Tilton/Getty Images

    Last week, the sports world was turned on its ear by the retirement of Shaquille O'Neal.

    It's said that all good things must come to an end.

    For these five drivers, that time is has arrived.

    **Note: Contract terms and current sponsor arrangements play a much more vital role in NASCAR and a driver's retirement than they do in other major sports leagues. That was taken into consideration heavily for this list.** 

Retire: Robby Gordon

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    CHARLOTTE, NC - MAY 26:  Robby Gordon, driver of the #7 Speed Energy Dodge, walks on the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 26, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Chris Grayt
    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    Contract Expires: none

    Gordon owns his own cars.

    Gordon funds his own cars.

    Gordon wrecks his own cars—when he actually decides to race them.

    The last thing NASCAR needs is start-and-park cars taking prize money from those willing to race. Gordon just needs to go.

    Replaced by: none

Retire: Bobby Labonte

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    FORT WORTH, TX - APRIL 07:  Bobby Labonte, driver of the #47 Bush's Baked Beans Toyota, stands in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Samsung Mobile 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 7, 2011 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by
    Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

    Contract Expires: 2011

    The 2000 Cup champion is in his first, and what needs to be his last, year with JTG Daugherty Racing. At 47 years old, he is just past his prime.

    Since turning 41, Labonte has failed to finish a season in the top 15 in points, has zero wins, has not won a pole and has seen his ability to compete with the championship contenders fade away.

    A great ambassador for the sport, Labonte needs to know when enough is enough.

    That time is now.

    Who do you fill a mid-level seat with? A mid-level driver like…

Replace With: David Ragan

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    CHARLOTTE, NC - MAY 26:  David Ragan, driver of the #6 UPS Ford, stands next to his car after qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 26, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Get
    Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

    Contract Expires: 2014

    Roush-Fenway Racing stated earlier this season that Ragan’s contract is through 2014. However, with young talent like Daytona 500 champion Trevor Bayne and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. nipping at his heels, Ragan is likely to be released at the end of this season.

    He would be a solid fit at JTG Daugherty Racing and would give them some solid Cup experience behind the wheel. Ragan will likely never be an upper echelon driver, but he would likely be the best driver available to a team of this level.

Retire: Mark Martin

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    KANSAS CITY, KS - JUNE 03:  Mark Martin, driver of the #5 Farmers Insurance/GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, sits in his car in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 400 at Kansas Speedway on June 3, 2011 in Kansas City, Kansas.  (Pho
    Tim Umphrey/Getty Images

    Contract Expires: 2011

    We know that Martin is out of the seat at the end of this season. The major question is what will he do in 2012?

    Martin is likely to find another ride, possibly part time with the Wood Brothers in the No. 21—depending on what happens with Trevor Bayne.

    He needs to retire, though.

    Martin has had a great career but has had trouble letting go. Walking away now without sullying his legacy would be the honorable thing to do.

    We do know that he will be replaced by…

Replace With: Kasey Kahne

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    CHARLOTTE, NC - MAY 26:  Kasey Kahne, driver of the #4 Red Bull Toyota, stands on the grid during qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 26, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Chris Graythen
    Chris Graythen/Getty Images

    Contract Expires: 2011

    Kasey Kahne, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon will be under one roof at Hendrick Motorsports.

    The contract is signed and the sponsor (Farmer’s Insurance) is set.

    All that is left is to make the ladies swoon with his big, beautiful blue eyes.

    Well, that and win races—which he will do while driving the best equipment in the garage.

Retire: Jeff Burton

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    KANSAS CITY, KS - JUNE 03:  Jeff Burton, driver of the #31 Caterpillar Chevrolet, sits in his car in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series STP 400 at Kansas Speedway on June 3, 2011 in Kansas City, Kansas.  (Photo by Todd Warsha
    Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

    Contract Expires: 2014

    “The Mayor,” as he is affectionately known, has been one of the sport’s greatest spokespersons over the past few seasons. Unfortunately for Burton, that is no longer translating into good finishes.

    In 2011, Burton has as many top 10’s as I do—zero.

    At 44, it's hard to see Burton lasting past his current contract. The problem for Richard Childress is that Burton signed a contract extension at the beginning of the 2011 season.

    Burton’s contract extension is probably the second biggest regret of the season for Childress. Behind the whole putting Kyle Busch in a headlock thing, of course.

    However, Burton might be gone before the end of the contract to make room for…

Replace With: Austin Dillon

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    KANSAS CITY, KS - JUNE 03:  Austin Dillon, driver of the #3 Bass Pro Shops/NWTF Chevrolet, looks on during practice for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series O'Reilly Auto Parts 250 at Kansas Speedway on June 3, 2011 in Kansas City, Kansas.  (Photo by Jar
    Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

    Contract Expires: none

    Dillon’s moving up in NASCAR.

    His Pop-Pop knows it.

    The more you look at the situation, it’s as if Childress extended Burton’s exit from RCR to give his grandson time to fill the seat.

    Dillon could run full time in 2012 and 2013 in the Nationwide series and then make his Cup debut in 2014.

    Oh, to see the black No. 3 on the high banks of Daytona International Speedway again.

    Dillon and Childress could make it happen.

Retire: Jeff Gordon

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    CHARLOTTE, NC - MAY 20:  Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 DuPont Chevrolet, walks in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 20, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Get
    Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

    Contract Expires: 2013

    The four-time champion has said that he expects the end of his current contract to be the end of his career as a driver.

    A first ballot Hall of Famer, Gordon needs to hold true to his word to protect his legacy and to protect Hendrick Motorsports.

    Because they need to make room for…

Replace With: Danica Patrick

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    JOLIET, IL - JUNE 4: Danica Patrick, driver of the #7 Tissot/GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, stands on the grid during the NASCAR Nationwide Series STP 300 at Chicagoland Speedway on June 4, 2011 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)
    Jason Smith/Getty Images

    Contract Expires: none

    With Tuesday’s announcement that Go Daddy will not return to the No. 5 Cup car for Hendrick Motorsports in 2012, the door is now wide-open for Danica Patrick to use those sponsorship dollars to move to the Nationwide series next year.

    Look for her to spend one season in the Nationwide series before venturing into the Cup series. If Gordon were to leave in 2012, she could step in for 2013 instead of moving to another team.

    If Gordon stays through 2013, running an extra Nationwide season while waiting to drive Hendrick equipment in 2014 wouldn't be a bad idea.