As Jeff Gordon prepares for his 22nd full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series he has to wonder what happened this offseason. With the retirements of Mark Martin and Ken Schrader and the unknown plans for Jeff Burton (Update: Burton will drive part-time for Michael Waltrip Racing in 2014) and Bobby Labonte, this leaves Gordon as the driver who debuted the longest time ago.
Gordon made his Sprint Cup Series debut at age 21 in the final race of the 1992 season. The only other full-time driver who has a close debut year is Joe Nemechek, he made his first start a year later in 1993. The problem with grouping those two together is Nemechek has not run for the title in quite some time.
Digging deeper, with the 35 drivers whom we know will be running full-time next season, only five made their debuts in the 1990s. Along with Gordon and Nemechek you have Matt Kenseth (1998), Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (1999), and Tony Stewart (1999).
Below is the breakdown of drives and their debuts. While we all knew a changing of the guard was coming, the fact that so many of these drivers have come along in the last ten years really emphasis that times are changing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
|Dale Earnhardt, Jr.||1999|
|Martin Truex, Jr.||2004|
|Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.||2011|