We are at a remarkable juncture in NASCAR after Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced he is retiring as a full-time driver in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series earlier this week.
Four-time Cup champ Jeff Gordon and three-time champ Tony Stewart also have formally retired, as has 2016 rookie Brian Scott. Carl Edwards won’t race this year but left the door open to return in 2018.
Greg Biffle, who last year was the oldest full-time Cup driver, has no ride at the moment and appears to be finished.
In the space of a few months, that means seven drivers who collectively have won seven championships and 216 races are leaving the Cup Series.
Which begs an obvious question: Who will be next? It's a tough question, but it is important to point out that Edwards’ decision to pull the plug shocked most everyone.
Earnhardt was one of eight drivers older than Edwards, who is 37, at the time when Edwards stepped away. Here are the other seven:
NASCAR via Getty ImagesJonathan Ferrey
Clint Bowyer, born 5/30/79
Born less than three months before Edwards was, you’d think Bowyer wouldn’t be going anywhere soon, given that he just moved to Stewart-Haas Racing, where he appears to be jump starting his career.
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Kurt Busch, 8/4/78
The newlywed 2003 Cup champion won at least one race in each of his first three seasons with Stewart-Haas Racing and captured the Daytona 500 to start off the 2017 season, already ensuring that it will be four seasons in a row with at least one win.
Ryan Newman, 12/08/77
The Purdue engineering grad just re-upped with Richard Childress Racing after previous stints at Stewart-Haas Racing and Team Penske.
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Jamie McMurray, 6/3/76
The veteran McMurray began his career driving for Chip Ganassi, left to join Jack Roush in 2006 and returned to Ganassi in 2010, the year he won the Daytona 400, Brickyard 400 and fall Charlotte race. McMurray made the Chase in each of the last two seasons.
Jimmie Johnson, 9/17/75
NASCAR Hall of Fame drivers Bobby Allison and Lee Petty both won championships at the age of 45. Johnson just won his seventh at 41 years old, and you know he, crew chief Chad Knaus and the entire No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team are going all out to win No. 8 -- as evidenced by their recent back-to-back wins at Texas and Bristol.
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Kevin Harvick, 12/8/75
One of the sport’s very best racers, Harvick won 12 races in his first three years with Stewart-Haas Racing, capturing the 2014 Cup championship and finishing second last year. He has also enjoyed success as an entrepreneur and has done a great job in the broadcast booth for NASCAR XFINITY Series races on FOX.
Getty Images for Texas Motor SpeRobert Laberge
Matt Kenseth, 3/10/72
Although he will turn 45 this season, Kenseth is still plenty competitive, winning 14 races in his first four seasons with Joe Gibbs Racing. Kenseth said late last year that he hasn’t started talking about retirement yet. But there’s a lot of young talent coming up through the Toyota ranks and a limited number of seats.