Nascar, after struggling for so many years to bring any rookies up into the Sprint Cup series, is now welcoming in an influx of them. In 2013, 3 drivers competed for rookie of the year—Danica Patrick, Ricky Stenhouse Jr, and the little mentioned Timmy Hill. Next season, even more new drivers are expected to move up to the Sprint Cup series, including RCR driver Austin Dillon and the young Japanese-American phenom Kyle Larson. MWR driver Brian Vickers is also expected to make his return to the Sprint Cup series after a long battle with blood clots. But as these young drivers come up through the ranks, others have to step aside to make room. Mark Martin, Bobby Labonte, and Jeff Burton will all be stepping out of their rides at the end of the season. Here’s a look at what could happen to them.
1. Mark Martin
A couple days before Nascar’s penultimate race at Phoenix, Mark Martin made headlines by announcing that he would stop driving after the end of the 2013 season. Many might be suspicious–Martin, after all, said the same thing in 2006, before accepting a ride with Ginn racing for the 2007 season. But, all indications point to this being Martin’s last season before he moves into an advisory role with Stewart-Haas racing in 2014. Although Martin won’t be racing next year, don’t be surprised if you see him get back behind the wheel in the future.
2. Jeff Burton
The Mayor of Nascar’s garage, Jeff Burton has been a respected competitor in the series for the past 25 years. He used to be a contender for a win week-in and week-out, fighting for wins and top five finishes. In the late 1990’s, he was one of Jeff Gordon’s biggest rivals. However, those days have passed. Driving for RCR, Burton has failed to record a win since 2008, and has failed to finish in the top 10 in points. Even though Burton had a year left on his contract, Childress let him go in favor of Ryan Newman and up and coming driver Austin Dillon. Burton has announced that he will drive part-time in 2014, but has not yet said where he will go. There was speculation that he would move the the 78 of Furniture Row Racing, but that ride was snapped up by Martin Truex, Jr. Although Burton has not announced his decision, possible candidates include a part-time ride at Michael Waltrip Racing as well as in the 30 car at Swan Racing.
3. Bobby Labonte
Labonte, a former series champion and once one of Nascar’s greatest drivers, is in the twilight of his career. He has not had a competitive ride since he left Joe Gibbs Racing in 2005. Since then, he has driven for teams such as Richard Petty Motorsports, the now defunct Hall of Fame Racing, and TRG Motorsports, which has since moved on to sport’s car racing. Labonte moved to JTG Daugherty Racing for the 2011 season, but has struggled since then. It has been announced that in 2014 Labonte will be replaced by AJ Allmendinger, who will have a full-time ride in the Sprint Cup series for the first time since serving a suspension for drug use in 2012. Labonte has not announced plans for 2014, and with most teams already announcing their drivers for the next season, it is likely that, if he chooses to compete, Labonte will be able to, at most, find a ride at a team such as Front Row Motorsports or BK Racing. Even if Labonte does hang up his helmet at the end of this season, Nascar will always remember him as one of its greatest competitors.