With Las Vegas parties over, NASCAR turns the page to 2018

Dustin Long
NBC Sports

The party is over, well it likely ended not long ago in Las Vegas, and the 2017 NASCAR season is over.

While the sport celebrated Martin Truex Jr.’s Cup title Thursday, it also reflected upon those who will be moving on to other things.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is retired from racing in the Cup Series, although he is expected to make two Xfinity Series race starts in 2018 for JR Motorsports. Matt Kenseth doesn’t have a ride for next year. Danica Patrick will drive the Daytona 500 before focusing on racing in the Indianapolis 500 and ending her driving career.

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They follow in the recent departures of Carl Edwards, Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon and Greg Biffle. With the exit of Stewart and Gordon, Jimmie Johnson is the sport’s only active multi-time Cup champion.

Only five drivers who finished in the top 15 in points in 2005 will be back to compete in 2018 — Johnson, Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, Jamie McMurray and Kevin Harvick.

Each is closing in on when they’ll leave the sport. Johnson is 42. Harvick turns 42 on Dec. 8. McMurray is 41. Newman turns 40 on Dec. 8. Busch is 39.

“It’s kind of sad, honestly,’’ McMurray said this week in Las Vegas of the sport’s transition. “I came in not long after those guys, so you know that your days are somewhat numbered.

“My goal is to be able to race for maybe four more years, maybe a little bit more. I watched Biffle this year with (this) being his first year out of the sport. I’ve watched the transitions because there are some unknowns there. We are so busy, everybody in our industry is so busy every single weekend.

“You hear everyone talk about how hard it is step away because of how much time you all of a sudden have, and you have time for things that you didn’t used to.’’

That’s what Kenseth will face, but he will be busier with his wife due this month to deliver the couple’s fourth child.

“I think it will take a few days, few weeks to get home and get wound down and get in the swing of things,’’ Kenseth said after Thursday night’s NASCAR Cup Awards in Las Vegas. “Got a lot going on at home right now. Looking forward to this month. Looking forward to the holidays this year. Kind of turn the calendar over to another year and get settled in. Everything is going really great. Got a lot to look forward to. Got a lot to be thankful for.’’

As drivers leave, others enter. Cup drivers age 25 and under with rides for next season include William Byron (20), Erik Jones (21), Chase Elliott (22), Ryan Blaney (turns 24 on Dec. 31), Alex Bowman (24), Darrell Wallace Jr. (24), Chris Buescher (25), Ty Dillon (25), Kyle Larson (25) and Daniel Suarez (25).

“It’s true, we’re in a transition,’’ NASCAR Chairman Brian France said at Homestead-Miami Speedway. “But that happens from time to time. Not usually in the concentrated manner that we have now, but it happens. But we’re excited.’’

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