Change is difficult, but it’s not so bad when there are greater things ahead.
When Carl Edwards dropped a bombshell on the NASCAR industry this week, it surprised everyone. One of the sport’s most likable and talented drivers is stepping away from racing after finishing runner-up in the championship standings twice. It was a tough pill to swallow, especially since Edwards is only 37-years-old.
Many drew comparisons to similar announcements by Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart. Gordon “retired” in 2015 yet made starts in the No. 88 last season to help out Hendrick Motorsports, while Stewart hung up his helmet this past November. Both made the announcements before the season began, giving fans a farewell tour of sorts. For Edwards, he acted on his personal decision immediately, something his gut told him to do.
When three well-known drivers leave within two seasons, it seems like the sport is falling apart – except it’s not. It’s simply ushering in a new era.
A lot of change has been announced since the final race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In addition to Smoke and Edwards leaving, the series is now the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. The evolution isn’t stopping there, either; NASCAR has hinted at more adjustments coming in the next week or so. This new sponsorship deal caused a domino effect, allowing the sanctioning body to work on their brand and image. This was expected, yet it is still a shock.
Despite Monster’s entrance setting up change, this was brewing under the surface for a while. The youth movement emerged years ago and is still going strong, with NASCAR XFINITY Series champ Daniel Suarez taking over Edwards’ Joe Gibbs Racing ride. Although an unintended byproduct of this announcement, Suarez’s promotion proves times are changing. The dynamic between veteran drivers and youngsters has undergone a drastic remodel. Rookies are now legitimate threats, with sharp skills and quality equipment. Suarez moving up to the No. 19 is a testament to young guns throughout the entire sport.
With younger drivers and an energy drink sponsor, the fan base should become saturated with younger people. That’s the goal here; NASCAR has turned over many stones since its inception, but it failed to capture the interest of young adults. There is so much potential for growth at the moment – and that should excite people, even if their favorite driver steps away.
Although various sports go through a ‘changing of the guard,’ NASCAR’s current transition is both jarring and complex. Three of the sport’s most recognizable names walking away emphasizes that. They’re leaving a large hole, a gaping unknown that is meant to be filled with Cup Series improvements and young talent.
It’s a crazy way to ring in a new era – but there is so much in store. Let’s embrace it.
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