The One I Knew About, The One That Was A Surprise, And The One That Shocked Me
I knew going into that day what was on the line. It was all over the sports news, even some parts of the main stream sports news. Interviews were completed, conjecture and betting lines still in motion, and most of a south Florida town still sleeping. The sun had yet to appear over the Atlantic Ocean, but that early morning “bluey-black” was different from the dark night sky from a few hours ago. It was November 20, 2016. It was chilly.
We had hopes of witnessing history…perhaps Tony Stewart wins the final race of his decorated career. Or maybe there was the more likely, but seemingly out of reach, seventh Championship for Jimmie Johnson. Maybe a rookie pulls off the role of the spoiler and steals the win, while the Championship is decided by a second place finish or worse. We knew what we could see, but we never had any idea of what we would see, especially in the ultimate eventuality of the end of that race day.
When Richard Petty hung up his helmet and steering wheel at the end of the 1992 season, he ran what was called a Fan Appreciation Tour, which was touted as just that. However, there were some negative thoughts on that whole exit parade, and some called it a “F.A.T. Tour,”…you know, to help Ricard Petty’s pockets get fat. There was, after all, a 1:63 die-cast car made for each track visited during the season…every collector wanted the whole collection. Then over the years we saw the retirements and fan salutes of Rusty Wallace, Mark Martin, Ricky Rudd, and Dale Jarrett just to name a few.
And then, we found that 2015 would the year that four-time Champion Jeff Gordon would be calling it a career, and there was much hoopla and gifting, even though it seemed that much of the attention was not desired by Gordon. He did end up coming back for a few races to sub-in for an injured Dale Earnhardt, Jr., so his retirement was not quite final.
And then we learned that 2016 would be the end of the NASCAR premier series road for three time Champion, Tony Stewart. There was less fanfare because that was really how Stewart wanted it. For him, it seemed that it was just a few more races at the end of a long line of others.
On that day, we knew that Tony Stewart was going to complete his Cup racing career. And we would find out that history would be made, because Jimmie Johnson did go on to win that elusive seventh Championship, tying him with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, the Elder. (Stop it…this is not the place for the argument about who worked harder or whose titles mean more.)
So, Tony Stewart was the one we knew about. And then there was Jeff Gordon, who was the surprise, really, because we thought he was finished at the end of 2015.
And then there was the one that shocked me.
Months after the season ended, and months after getting rather close to his first Championship, Carl Edwards dropped a bombshell on the NASCAR world by declaring that he was retiring from the sport in an immediate manner.
And so it went on November 20, 2016. We didn’t know it then, but eventually it would be a combined 1868 starts, 170 combined wins, and 7 top tier Championships all walking out of the room that day.
And it’s a little quiet now, too.
But fear not, a new season lurks just around the corner, and we’ll be humming engines 40 strong on a near weekly basis. And it will be without the three who were such a big part of it for so long. There was the one I knew about. There was the one that was a surprise. And then, there was the one that shocked me.
wish them all well in every endeavor chosen.
Until Next Time, My Friends... Feel free to leave comments below, and be sure to follow me @RaceFansJim on Twitter, because sometimes I give stuff away!