Predicting Who Will Be the Next 5 Sprint Cup Drivers to Retire

Jerry Bonkowski@@jerrybonkowskiFeatured ColumnistDecember 18, 2015

Predicting Who Will Be the Next 5 Sprint Cup Drivers to Retire

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    Jeff Gordon just retired and Tony Stewart will be right behind him, with 2016 being Stewart's final season as a Sprint Cup driver.
    Jeff Gordon just retired and Tony Stewart will be right behind him, with 2016 being Stewart's final season as a Sprint Cup driver.Russ Hamilton Sr./Associated Press

    Jeff Gordon was a pacesetter in his illustrious 23-year Sprint Cup career, and now he’s become a pace-setter in another arearetirement.

    Gordon, who retired at the age of 44, is the first of several Sprint Cup drivers that will likely be hanging up their fire suits in the next five years or so.

    Tony Stewart, who turns 45 on May 20, is already in line to be the next driver to call it a career, with the upcoming 2016 Sprint Cup season being his last.

    There are five drivers that will likely be the next ones to retire, with several others who could be close behind.

    The latter ones are likely to be David Gilliland (turns 40 on April 1), Jamie McMurray (turns 40 on June 3), Ryan Newman (just turned 38 on Dec. 8), Casey Mears (turns 38 on March 12) and Kurt Busch (turns 38 on August 4).

    But here are the five drivers that will likely be the next ones to call it a career, including their age and how many more years I predict they’ll continue to race before they step down.

Greg Biffle

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    Ralph Freso/Associated Press

    Washington state native Greg Biffle turns 46 on Dec. 23. He is the oldest full-time driver on the Sprint Cup circuit at the present time.

    Biffle has just finished the first 12 months of a three-year contract with Roush Fenway Racing, which means his current deal will end after the 2017 season, when he will be 48.

    Biffle had the worst season of his Sprint Cup career in 2015, finishing 20th in the standings and extending a winless streak that dates back 93 races (to June 2013 at Michigan International Speedway).

    If he doesn’t see marked improvement in 2016, it’s a good likelihood that 2017 will be Biffle’s final season as a Sprint Cup driver.

Matt Kenseth

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    Terry Renna/Associated Press

    Next on our descending order of drivers is Matt Kenseth. The native of tiny Cambridge, Wisconsin, turns 44 on May 10.

    With five wins in 2015, a significant rebound after zero wins in 2014 (and a series-high seven wins in 2013 before that), Kenseth is still driving like he’s in his 30s.

    He has the right team (Joe Gibbs Racing), the right crew chief (Jason Ratcliff) and seemingly enough gas left in his tank to go another four to five seasons.

    But there is a major potential problem looming on the horizon. Erik Jones has just won the 2015 Camping World Truck Series for JGR and Kyle Busch Motorsports at the age of 19.

    Jones is a phenomenal talent who is only going to get better with each passing season.

    The problem JGR faces is there is no room at the Sprint Cup inn for Jones if he successfully moves up to the Xfinity Series over the next few years.

    The last thing JGR wants to do is lose Jones to another team. Which ultimately leaves just one likely outcome (and one I'm betting has already been at least informally discussed with Kenseth already): When Jones is ready to move to Sprint Cup, that will also likely be the time Kenseth retires.

    My guess is Kenseth calls it a career after the 2018 or 2019 seasons, when Jones will be either 22 or 23. Plus, there's one other incentive for the veteran to retire thenhis son Ross will be ready to potentially make his own move into the Sprint Cup Series at that time.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

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    Terry Renna/Associated Press

    Breaking News: As hard as it may seem to believe, with the exception of Tony Stewart, 41-year-old Dale Earnhardt Jr. is now the third-oldest full-time driver on a major team in the Sprint Cup Series.

    Don't you suddenly feel a lot older?

    There are so many “what if” variables surrounding Earnhardt going forward that he may be around for three yearsmaybe five, seven or eight years.

    In 2016, Earnhardt will enter the fourth year of a five-year deal with Hendrick Motorsports that extends through the 2017 season. But lots of things could potentially impact Earnhardt’s future.

    First, he turns 42 on Oct. 10. Shortly after that, he’ll be getting married following the 2016 season. What if he and fiancee Amy Reimann want to start a family fairly soon afterward? Could that potentially impact Junior’s racing career?

    Earnhardt saw how former teammate Jeff Gordon retired so young to spend more time with his two young children. Et tu, Junior, if/when you become a daddy? Wouldn't you like to teach your own future children about racing, just like your father did with you?

    Then there’s the future of JR Motorsports. Will Junior want to end his career with Hendrick Motorsports, or might he want to upgrade his own operation from an Xfinity Series team to a Sprint Cup team, just like his late father did with Dale Earnhardt Inc.?

    And if he does the latter, would he want to race at least one season for himself (although it obviously would likely still be a Hendrick Motorsports satellite team)?

    Honestly, I think Junior has five more years max left in his racing career, which means he retires at the age of 46 after the 2020 season.

    Such a possibility makes sense, as it’s likely Junior and Rick Hendrick will make the next contract between them a three-year deal anyway.

    Earnhardt also still has hope of winning that elusive first Sprint Cup championship. If he does that, it might convince him to stick around another few more years.

    Then again, if he were to go out on top, it doesn't get much better than that.

Jimmie Johnson

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    Jeff Curry/Getty Images

    This one is a real conundrum. Jimmie Johnson, who turns 41 on Sept. 17, is arguably in the best physical condition of his life. Likewise, he hasn't lost anything as a race car driver.

    If he continues to remain in the physical shape he’s in, he could potentially race into his 50s, much like former teammate Mark Martin.

    The question is whether Johnson would like to race that long. Like Jeff Gordon, he has two young kids that he wants to spend time with.

    But on the flip side, Johnson still has several goals he wants to achieve, including tying Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for most championships by a driver (seven). Johnson has six championships to date and may not want to retire until he reaches the seventh.

    Which leads us to the next problematic issue: If Johnson ultimately does win a seventh title, he’ll likely want to stick around to give it a go to break the Petty/Earnhardt record and earn an eighth championship.

    But with the new format in the Chase for the Sprint Cup that went into existence in 2014, Johnson has failed to advance to the final round in both seasons.

    My prediction: Johnson races four more seasons until he’s 45, which would make it 2020 when he hangs up his helmet for the last time.

Kevin Harvick

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    Terry Renna/Associated Press

    At the age of 38 and after 13 seasons of trying, Kevin Harvick finally won his first Sprint Cup championship in 2014.

    At the age of 39, he finished runner-up to Kyle Busch for the 2015 Sprint Cup crown.

    Now that he has hit 40 (Dec. 8), Harvick is driving the best he ever has in his lengthy career. He definitely has at least one more—and maybe two or three—championships still left in him.

    But at the same time, three-year-old son Keelan is unquestionably the apple of daddy’s eye. And Keelan is at an age where he’s just starting to fully understand and appreciate what his father does for a living and the success he’s had in his career.

    I would not be surprised to see Keelan follow in Kevin’s footsteps some day and become a race car driver. Mom DeLana also came from a racing family, so it’s likely in Keelan’s blood to one day carry on the family tradition.

    It’s hard to picture Harvick retiring any time soon, not when he is having the success he’s had over the last two seasons. At the same time, though, he has seen how other drivers have been successful for many years and then just lost it all suddenly.

    Of course, I'm talking about his teammate, Tony Stewart, who retires after the 2016 season.

    Harvick is also a student of the sport and knows a number of drivers have hung around a lot longer than they should in their respective careers, including NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty and Darrell Waltrip.

    My prediction: Harvick races five more years and retires after the 2020 season. Keelan will be aged eight at that time—and about the same time Kevin began racing in his native Bakersfield, California—and Kevin can then share and develop whatever talent his son has, just like so many other racers have done with their own sons.

    People like Richard and Kyle Petty, Ned and Dale Jarrett, Dale and Dale Earnhardt Jr. and so many others.

    Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski


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