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Motorsports 101 Debate: What Should NASCAR’s Veterans Do? Retire or Hang On?

November 13th, 2013 at 10:30 AM
By Mark Eddinger
Three drivers that have been mainstays in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series over the past two-plus decades and have combined for 2,289 starts all have decisions to make relating to their racing futures. Mark Martin, Jeff Burton, and Bobby Labonte do not have official plans for 2014 lined up yet. So should these outstanding talents hang it up or find any ride they can? Motorsports 101 debates.
Depends on the Driver – By Clayton Caldwell
Ever since racing began the age old question is should a guy retire before he ruins his legacy? Richard Petty kept racing eight years after his last competitive win and others have hung on in sub par equipment instead of retiring off into the sunset. 
Every driver is different. Whether or not a driver should retire or not depends on a lot of things and ultimately a driver will not make the wrong choice because it’s their careers and their lives. However, it is fun to think about their options and wonder what this batch of NASCAR veterans will do for 2014. 

Jeff Burton faces a situation like this one heading into the 2014 season. Burton will run his final race for Richard Childress Racing on Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway. It’s unclear what Burton’s plans are for the 2014 season. Signs are pointing towards Burton running a partial schedule in Michael Waltrip Racing’s #56 Toyota though that has been neither confirmed or denied.
Burton ran his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race back in 1993 and has been a mainstay in the series since his rookie season in 1994. He has been very competitive in his career. Should Burton take a non competitive ride instead of retiring? That is an interesting question because Burton is more renowned for his personality on and off the track then he is for his driving, which is really saying something. His nickname is “The Mayor” because he is the voice of the drivers. 
It sounds like that MWR ride will be very competitive and if Burton gets that then retirement isn’t a question. However, it will be if it’s not available. Burton would then have to look to a lower series and to that he should say he shouldn’t do it. He is going to be 47-years-old next season and it would be hard to imagine a revamped Sprint Cup Series career by going into the other divisions and succeeding. Many older drivers have tried and stayed in the lower divisions instead of coming back to the Sprint Cup Series. For Burton, who has other avenues to experience in his life after racing, (He would be an outstanding broadcaster) it wouldn’t make much sense to move to the lower divisions at this point of his career. 
Bobby Labonte is more of an interesting case because Labonte is slightly older than Burton and he has won two championships in NASCAR. He won the 1991 NASCAR Nationwide/Busch Series championship and the 2000 NASCAR Sprint/Winston Cup Series championship. He is one of only two drivers, Brad Keselowski being the other, to win a championship in both the Nationwide and Cup Series. No driver has ever won all three major touring series championships. If Labonte wanted to run in the Camping World Truck Series and take a shot on the championship that would make for a great story and make for great fun for Labonte. 
Labonte, much like Burton, is one of the classiest guys to come through the sport . Labonte has pleased his sponsors in the Sprint Cup Series by his graciousness and personality. He’s run for smaller, underfunded organizations the past few seasons and has found limited success in those opportunities. A rebirth of sorts in the Camping World Truck Series would be a great site for all Labonte fans and would make other fans happy to see a great guy have success again. Last week's start at Phoenix International Raceway could end up being his last in the Sprint Cup Series.
Mark Martin is another driver who is looking like he might make his last Sprint Cup Series start this weekend. Martin is a shoe in first ballot Hall of Famer and will make any team he is with better. 
However, it is slim picking as far as Sprint Cup Series rides go and as far as the Nationwide and Truck Series efforts go Martin would probably not have any desire to do that. We will probably see Martin around in the Sprint Cup Series garage, being the coach of Danica Patrick and testing here and there and we even could see him run part time in Cup from time to time. The sense of the situation for Martin to go down to the other series unless a friend called him up and begged him does not seem likely. Martin is content with how his career played out.
Find a Competitive Ride or Retire – By Mark Eddinger
For drivers nearing the end of their careers like Mark Martin, Jeff Burton and Bobby Labonte the thing on their mind should be trying to win races. Racers want to win and winning at the end of a career always seems tough to do. These three drivers have combined for 82 career Sprint Cup Series wins, 86 Nationwide Series wins, and eight Camping World Truck Series wins.
Only seven of the Sprint Cup Series wins have come over the last six seasons. Quite frankly Martin, Burton, and Labonte have not produced of late. Martin has been racing part time the last two seasons but after coming off a second place finish in 2009 in the points standings he followed that up with a 13th and 22nd in his last two full seasons for Hendrick Motorsports. Burton hasn't finished higher than 12th in the past five seasons for Richard Childress Racing. Labonte's last top 10 points finish was back in 2003 which was also the last time he won.
These three drivers should either retire or find a competitive ride on paper in the Camping World Truck Series or Nationwide Series. The Truck Series would make a lot of sense since the schedule is not as grueling with only 22 races on the schedule. Bobby Labonte could become the first driver to win a championship in all three national touring series if he would win the Truck Series title so seeing him find a ride that would give him a chance to go after that would be good to see and for the sport as a whole.
"It's kind of one of those things where at this point in time, you know, a Truck Series deal would be really, really nice to run 22 races," Labonte said on Saturday.
The Truck Series is always entertaining with short race lengths and young and old drivers battling it out. A lot of the time the Trucks produce the best NASCAR race of the weekend. Adding a name like Labonte in a competitive ride going for the title would be awesome. Mark Martin was thought to be going to the Truck Series back in 2007 when he first went to a part-time Cup schedule but then never did. If Martin wants to keep racing then he should make the move there now. He would still be a legitimate threat to win every week. The same would go for Burton who even if he races part-time for Michael Waltrip Racing probably won't compete for wins weekly like he could do in the Truck Series.
The Nationwide Series wouldn't seem like as good a fit for these three since the schedule is still long and they would not be looking to move back into Cup. As a fan of the sport and what these three have done in it, it would be nice to see them compete in the Camping World Truck Series rather than a noncompetitive small Cup team or part-time effort. Retirement would be the next best option.

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Tags: Bobby Labonte, Camping World Truck Series, Clayton Caldwell, Jeff Burton, Mark Eddinger, Mark Martin, Motorsports, NASCAR, Nationwide Series, Sprint Cup Series

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