Much has been written of the surprising number of NASCAR drivers who have chosen to retire at a younger age. It used to be some guys could last into their 50s or even 60s before finally quitting the game but modern racers are bowing out much earlier. It is a very taxing sport with the long hours of driving, the tension of the crashes and the danger of injuries. Given how many modern NASCAR drivers have terrific deals for sponsors and endorsements, they can have plenty of money to live on.
A few drivers still stick to a “semi-retired” idea and have been known to come back for a race or two. Others appear pretty happy to finally be out of the game altogether yet remain connected via their businesses. Something about NASCAR gets into the blood of those who compete in it so even if they’re not racing, they can’t leave the sport altogether. Here’s an update on what 20 recently retired NASCAR drivers are up to and how some are still very tied to the sport.
20 Jeff Burton
“The Mayor” can claim a lot of accolades over his 22-year NASCAR career including two Coca-Cola 600 victories and 21 career victories. Burton had slackened off his racing career in the 2000s slowly as it was clear time was catching up to him. He finally retired from full-time racing in 2016 and joined NBC as an analyst. Right now, Burton is known for sharing info on “fantasy NASCAR” to remind folks of his experience.
19 Juan Pablo Montoya
While his NASCAR career was a bit short, JPM is well known throughout the world as an incredible driver. He won the CART title in his rookie year and ranked among the best F1 drivers around. His NASCAR run wasn’t as famous but still good bringing his star power to a different type of racing. Montoya hasn’t raced since 2017 but still insists on not being labeled “retired.” He’s stated he’d love to be an F1 commentator and brings his knowledge of the sport to a new generation.
18 Robby Gordon
While he’s technically retired, Robby Gordon just can’t let racing go. Besides NASCAR, he also worked for IndyCar, CART and more. He is infamous for some moves on the track that have angered fellow racers and been fined a few times by NASCAR. Gordon is rather private and thus doesn’t make many waves outside of racing. He does promote the Road America series and while he’s not exactly well loved by fellow racers, Gordon still has a name in NASCAR.
17 David Reutimann
David Reutimann made a big splash winning Rookie of the Year honors in 2004. Having been doing track racing since he was a kid, he made a good transition into NASCAR, driving for Michael Waltrip Racing and recording a few wins. He finally quit in 2015 and has been busy with some other ventures. He recently joined Lee Faulk as a crew chief and spends time on the rally circuit to show he still loves the business.
16 Scott Speed
With a last name like that, it’s no shock Scott Speed got into racing. He started off in F1 before moving to NASCAR as part of the Sprint Cup series. His success there was limited with no victories but found much better wins winning three Global RallyCross titles. Recently, Speed got attention for being involved in a nasty crash that injured his back and hopefully is able to recover from that quickly.
15 Marcos Ambrose
After making his mark in Australia, Marcos Ambrose moved to the U.S. in 2006 to make his mark in NASCAR. While he never achieved huge victories, Ambrose still could boast a good record with several top finishes. After retiring, Ambrose moved back to his native Tasmania and opened up the Thousand Lakes Lodge which has been cited on travel blogs as one of the best hotels in that region. He’s left racing behind but Ambrose enjoys the wild.
14 Michael Waltrip
The Waltrip name is well known and highly respected in NASCAR. While Darrell gets attention, Michael is just as top-notch with two Daytona 500 wins. Since retiring full time in 2016, Waltrip has continued working with his motor crew and aiding other drivers. He’s getting more attention for the documentary Blink of an Eye that explores his career and friendship with Dale Earnhardt. It proves how Waltrip remains one of NASCAR’s most iconic faces.
13 Brian Vickers
Some fans believe that if not for his various health issues involving his heart and blood clots, Brian Vickers might have had a much bigger career. He broke out huge as the 2003 Busch champion and seemed ready to take the sport on. However, his various health problems increased to slow him down majorly. He last raced in 2016 and has done work for NBC’s NASCAR coverage while working for an investment firm. Yet, at just 33, Vickers is hopeful a NASCAR comeback is in the future.
12 Mark Martin
He has been cited as arguably the best NASCAR driver to never win a championship. Despite 49 wins overall, Martin just couldn’t cap it off with a major title. He finally retired in 2015 and now is running a chain of car dealerships and motorsports shops in Arkansas. He’s also become a good sounding board and mentor for younger racers to show how respected he remains in the sport.
11 Sam Hornish Jr.
He claims he’s not retired even though he hasn’t been driving regularly for a few years. Sam Hornish’s NASCAR record isn’t as good as others on this list with only 12 top ten finishes and no victories. He was much better in IndyCar, including winning the 2006 Indy 500. That may be contributing to his lowered presence as he basically left NASCAR in 2017. He’s settled into raising his three daughters, working for his father’s construction company and doing some teaching. While he races now and then, Hornish appears much happier out of the sport.
10 Bill Elliott
The record holder for the most Most Popular driver wins (16 in all), Bill Eliott was well loved over his long career by fans and fellow racers alike. A two-time Daytona 500 winner, Elliott just seemed unable to let the sport go, racing from the 1980s all the way to 2012. Today, Eliott keeps quite busy as he made a brief return in 2018 at the Xfinity series and finishing 20th. Of course, he’s also known for helping his son Chase become a rising star to continue the great legacy.
9 Carl Edwards
The famous story is that after his first win, Carl Edwards nearly suffered a terrible fall off his car and saved himself with a backflip. Since then, the sight of Edwards backflipping after a victory was a popular sight at tracks. Edwards surprised many by suddenly retiring just before the 2017 series and seems happy today. He talked to ESPN on how he “still gets the bug” and will do a couple of races in 2020 to show he couldn’t really get away.
8 Darrell Waltrip
When Fox began serious broadcasting of NASCAR in 2001, they needed someone fans could relate to. Thanks to his amazing experience, Darrel Waltrip was a great choice and for 19 years, has been a staple in the booth. In June of 2019, Waltrip retired from broadcasting and was honored by fans and fellow drivers alike. He told ESPN that he’s honestly not sure what to do with his life but actually enjoys taking some nice time off and has earned another good retirement.
7 Jamie McMurrray
One of the big surprises of the 2019 season came when, right after the opening Daytona, Jamie McMurray retired. That ends 581 consecutive Cup Series starts combined with the 2010 Daytona 500 victory. McMurray has already moved on to join Fox’s NASCAR broadcast team and doing well supplying commentary on races. He’s also been busy doing trips to Hawaii to compete in serious endurance bike events to show racing remains in his blood.
6 Kasey Kahne
The NASCAR NExtel Series Rookie of the Year in 2004, Kasey Kahne had some good victories with three Coca-Cola 500 wins among his accolades. He surprised many by announcing his retirement in 2018, citing medical reasons. Kahne has been keeping himself busy showing up at World of Outlaw events and his KK Store items so while it’s sad he had to give up full driving, he’s still connected to the sport.
5 Elliot Sadler
Technically, it’s not a full retirement but Elliot Sadler announced in 2018 that he was quitting as a full-time racer. His four Most Popular driver wins show Sadler’s great reputation in NASCAR that’s led to a good push. Sadler does occasionally get into the car for some series but seems to be leading the recent push of NASCAR guys putting in for early retirement and slowly easing himself out of the sport.
4 Jeff Gordon
With four Winston Cup titles and three Daytona 500 wins, Jeff Gordon sure doesn’t have to worry about his legacy as a racer. That was proven by his being easily elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Gordon has already moved to being an analyst for Fox Sports and signing a multi-year deal to offer insight on broadcasts. He also continues to run his scores of businesses from sports drinks to pushing for NASCAR races in New York to show he can’t leave the sport behind.
3 Tony Stewart
His stunning record of 49 wins and 308 Top 10 Finishes (not to mention the only man to win championships in NASCAR and IndyCar) ensures Stewart is a lock for the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Since retiring at last in 2016, Stewart has kept connected to the sport via his Stewart-Haas company and has ownership in three different speedways. Stewart also still has that temper as proven by the recent story of him getting into a fight with a fan bad-mouthing him to show he remains tough.
2 Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Some would speculate Dale’s retirement was pushed by the memories of the sad fate of his father. Regardless, the man has left behind a fantastic legacy with 26 victories, including two Daytona 500 wins. He stays busy running JR Motorsports among other business interests and has joined NBC’s coverage of NASCAR races. Earnhardt got more publicity recently for a nasty plane crash but hopefully bounces back to leave a mark just as major as his father’s.
1 Danica Patrick
The most famous female driver on the planet finally hung it up in 2018. Today, Patrick seems comfortable in retirement, launching her own sports clothing line, Warrior and publishing self-health books. She’s also starting her own podcast to talk on health and fitness. Patrick’s also getting attention dating Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Patrick may not be driving but still likes a “fast lane” life to go with her fame in the sport.
Sources: Foxsports.com, nascar.com, chicagosuntimes.com, espn.com