Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Missing Man Formation



Well, this year will be the end of an era in NASCAR with Jeff Gordon leaving. I didn't come to NASCAR until 2008. Gordon's glory years were over by then but it didn't take me long to realize that he was the gold standard of NASCAR drivers.

I remember going to the Brickyard, my first live racing experience, and seeing that the Jeff Gordon gear was omnipresent, far and away out-stripping everyone else, even NASCAR's most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. And while the cheers for Junior and Tony Stewart were loud, the crowd literally roared when Jeff was introduced.

During every NASCAR controversy, I waited to see what Jeff would have to say about it because I thought of him as the nominal spokesperson, the Grand Old Man, of NASCAR.

Of course, he wasn't above creating a little controversy himself but don't we want that in our drivers? If Jeff had not still been as passionate as ever, willing to get out there and mix it up when he felt wronged, I doubt he'd have stayed so respected for so long.

So, this will be his last year. I'd love to see him win the championship and go out on the ultimate high but even if that doesn't happen, his legacy is secure. His opinion will still be solicited regarding every NASCAR issue. He will go into the Hall of Fame as soon as the rules allow. I expect that Jeff will follow in the footsteps of the Jarretts and have an equally successful second phase of his NASCAR career as an announcer and analyst.

And we know we will see this happen again and again because that's the way of life. Eventually, Junior will retire and Jimmie and Tony - all of our old faithfuls who have given us hours and hours of entertainment - all those we've followed through their triumphant wins and painful losses, through marriage and babies and personal tragedies. And as they leave the track, I expect we'll feel the same way the fans of Rusty and Darrell and Dale Jarrett and the rest felt when they bowed out.

So, here's to you, Jeff, for all you've done and all you've been. You were been some fans' driver for as long as they've been watching the sport but when you leave, it will be time for them to pick a new favorite driver.

And fortunately, the new kids are coming along just in time to give us an abundance of talent and personality from which to choose.

I've already selected Kyle Larson as my next driver when Jimmie goes (although I hope that is a long time from now). I think Kyle's style is exciting...he's too daring sometimes and it bites him in the butt but it makes him fun to watch.

The obvious choice for Gordon fans will be Chase Elliott, who will take over the number 24 car. He has certainly been impressive in Nationwide and if he can maintain that same level of performance in Cup, he'll be a force to be reckoned with.

And there are the Dillons and Ryan Blaney, and, and, and. It seems like most of the up and comers have familiar names - Burton and Nemechek and McReynolds and LeJoie so if you followed their Dads and Grandpas, you'll probably have a soft spot for them too. Maybe Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Trevor Bayne will hit their stride in the next few years.

No, I don't think we'll have any lack of drivers to choose from....which isn't to say, a hole won't remain that is the place where Jeff Gordon used to be.