The numbers are well and truly staggering: 299 race victories, eight championships and untold memories created in what today is the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
Since the end of the 2013 season, the Cup Series has already lost to the retirement Jeff Gordon (93 race wins, 4 titles), Tony Stewart (49, 3), Mark Martin (40), Carl Edwards (28), Greg Biffle (19), Brian Vickers (3) and Marcos Ambrose (2).
Set to join them after the conclusion of Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway are Matt Kenseth (39, 1), Dale Earnhardt Jr. (26) and Danica Patrick, the latter of whom hasn’t won but is hugely popular and influential.
Add all those race wins up and they total more than eight full seasons of Cup racing.
That immense exodus of talent has caused much hand-wringing by folks wondering how the sport will manage without many of its biggest stars.
And yet, somehow, the sport survives.
NASCAR survived when Richard Petty, David Pearson, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Bobby Allison retired. For that matter, those guys replaced the stars of the ‘50s, guys like Lee Petty, Buck Baker, Herb Thomas and Tim Flock.
The sport survived tragedies, too. In 1993, NASCAR lost Davey Allison and Alan Kulwicki to aviation accidents. And no one will ever forget the awful day in Daytona in 2001 when Dale Earnhardt lost his life.
That’s been the way it’s been since the beginning and will be for decades to come: Star drivers leave and new ones take their place. It’s just how NASCAR works.
Is the sport in the midst of a huge transition right now?
Of course it is.
Will the big names retiring be badly missed? Absolutely.
There isn’t another Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Danica Patrick, just like there wasn’t another Richard Petty or Davey Allison.
What there is now is a tremendous amount of young talent just getting started at the Cup level or still moving up through the ranks.
Want some excitement?
Today’s young guns are each their own personalities and in their own ways will make their respective marks. Some will become superstars, some will be merely good and inevitably one or two won’t even make it long-term.
If you’re a fan, there’s nothing wrong with being sad that Sunday likely will be the end of the last full-time seasons for Earnhardt, Patrick and Kenseth.
But there is so much to look forward to in 2018 and beyond. I, for one, can’t wait.