1. Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Announces Retirement After 2017
On Tuesday, Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced that 2017 will be his final season. Dale Earnhardt Jr. missed the final 18 races of last season due to concussion-like symptoms, and his 2017 isn't off to a good start, as he's failed to finish 3 of 8 races (including last week at Bristol) and sits 24th in points. His struggles followed a career resurgence in which he won 7 times in 2014-15, tied for the 4th-most in that time.
What will Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s legacy be? Although he never won a Cup Series championship, he won 2 XFINITY Series titles, along with 26 Cup Series races and a pair of Daytona 500s. He's 1 of 9 drivers to win more than 25 races and multiple Daytona 500s. 5 of the other 8 are Hall of Famers, 2 are active and the other, Jeff Gordon, is a surefire Hall of Famer.
What his career will be best remembered for is his popularity. His 14 Most Popular Driver awards are 2nd to Bill Elliott's 16, and he's won a record 14 in a row entering this year.
2. With Junior Out, What Does the Future Look Like?
Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s retirement after this season will continue a trend of big-name drivers walking away from the sport.
• Jeff Gordon: The 4-time champion and driver 3rd all-time in wins retired following the 2015 season, returning for 8 races last year as a sub for Dale Earnhardt Jr.
• Tony Stewart: The 3-time champion retired after last season, focusing on running his race team. Stewart ended his career with 49 Cup Series wins.
• Carl Edwards: After making the Championship Round of the playoffs last season, Edwards surprisingly retired following the season. He had won multiple races each of the last 4 seasons and has twice finished runner-up in points.
• Dale Earnhardt Jr.: The 14-time defending Most Popular Driver told his team Tuesday that he will retire following the 2017 season
Despite these drivers leaving the spot, NASCAR has young drivers already excelling who are set to be stars over the next couple decades. Out of the top 4 drivers in points, 4 of them are 26 or younger. And 6 of the top 13 drivers in points are 13 of younger.
Even when he retires, expect drivers to get a bump in popularity from being associated with Earnhardt and his JR Motorsports team. In 5 of the last 7 seasons, JR Motorsports drivers have won the Most Popular Driver in the XFINITY Series (Brad Keselowski, Danica Patrick, Regan Smith, Chase Elliott, Elliott Sadler).
3. Johnson Looks for 3rd Straight and to Move Up Wins List
Jimmie Johnson has won each of the last 2 races, putting him just 1 shy of tying Cale Yarborough for 6th on the all-time wins last, and 2 from tying Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison for 4th all-time.
Johnson is also going for a rare 3-race win streak. Since 2000 in the Cup Series, there's been 4 win streaks of 3 races or longer. Johnson has 2 of them, but none since 2007. The last driver to win 3 straight races before the start of May was Rusty Wallace in 1993.
Johnson has 3 wins at Bristol, but 2 of those wins came in sweeping in 2007. He led 209 laps in those 2 wins. He also won the fall race in 2008 (leading 32 laps). In his 16 Richmond races since the start of 2009, Johnson has led a combined 92 laps.
4. Kyle Busch Springs to Action at Richmond
Kyle Busch's 4 Richmond wins and his 7th-place average finish are both best among active drivers at Richmond. In fact, the 7th-place average finish puts him 3rd-best at the track in series history among drivers with at least 10 starts at the track. And all 4 of his wins have come in the spring race at the track. He has a 4th-place average finish in 11 runnings of that race.
Who's Hot and Who's Not - Richmond Edition
• Kyle Busch: leads active drivers with 4 Richmond wins (all in spring race)
• Jimmie Johnson: won last 2 MENCS races; looking for 3rd career 3-race win streak (all other drivers have 2 combined since start of 2000)
• Denny Hamlin: won last September at Richmond; 3 straight finishes of 6th or better at track (finished 18th or worse in previous 5 Richmond races)
• Clint Bowyer: finished 2nd at Bristol; 2 top 5's in last 4 races (had 2 in 72 races from 2015-16); 2-time winner at Richmond
• Joey Logano: 6 straight top-10 finishes at Richmond (longest active streak)
• Ryan Blaney: finished 28th and 39th last season at Richmond (1st 2 Cup starts at track)
• Martin Truex Jr.: 2 top-5 finishes in 22 career Richmond races (1 came in last start at track)
• Brad Keselowski: finished 17th and 11th in last 2 Richmond spring races (1st, 8th, 4th in last 3 fall races)
• Chase Elliott: 1 of 2 tracks where he's made at least 3 starts without a top-10 finish (Daytona)
-- ESPN Stats --