BRISTOL, Tenn. (AP) — Two more drivers are headed to the checkered flag of their NASCAR careers and the laps are winding down for a golden age of racing.
Kasey Kahne and Elliott Sadler both said this will be their final season of racing full time as they become the latest two veterans to find they no longer want to be part of the traveling circus. Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle and Danica Patrick have already given up their seats in stock cars to spend more time doing, well, everything they've missed in life.
Kahne and Sadler, who have a combined 1,589 starts at the NASCAR national level, want to spend more time with their kids and not spend 38 weekends a year at a track. They are part of a group of drivers that broke into NASCAR when the sport went mainstream and money poured in from corporations all over the world.
If a driver could get a seat in the Cup Series and parlay it into a strong sponsorship deal, they virtually guaranteed themselves a lengthy career that earned them massive paydays, private planes, mansions, motorhomes and long-term financial security.
"I got to basically make a run and live in an awesome time in NASCAR," said Kahne, who debuted in 2002 and has logged 15 years in the Cup Series. He has 18 career victories and, prior to 2016 when NASCAR stopped publishing winnings, Kahne had earned $71.4 million.
Kahne grew up racing sprint cars but followed the path of Stewart, who paved the way for dirt racers to chase new money in NASCAR. Kahne at the end of last year lost his ride with Hendrick Motorsports and has been slogging along this year with single-car team Leavine Family Racing.
He is 29th in the Cup standings with one top-10 finish all season, but is fresh off watching sprint car driver Brad Sweet drive a Kasey Kahne Racing entry to victory last weekend in the prestigious Knoxville (Iowa) Nationals. Five days after that win, Kahne announced he wants to spend more time with his young son and his sprint car team.
"I need to just back off a little bit," Kahne said. "My mind is always in racing. It's all I've thought about for 25 years. It's all I've wanted to do and figure out how to get better as a driver, as a team, understanding the cars. That is all that has been on my mind.
"So, just back off of that a little bit I think will be really refreshing and be really good for me and my family, friends, things like that."
Sadler cited his two young children and their packed schedules as one of the reasons he'll stop running full-time in the Xfinity Series at the end of the season. He is currently second in the championship standings.
Stewart stopped racing in NASCAR and now spends most of his nights at dirt tracks. Gordon just took a family vacation to Greece. Patrick is pursuing a new career as a lifestyle guru. Earnhardt got married and had a baby. Edwards abruptly quit NASCAR and has hardly been heard from since he retired after losing the 2016 title.
Kyle Busch has a 3-year-old son and is already stressed about the things he will miss while he's working. He assumes Brexton Busch will want to race, and knows he'll have to turn some of the guidance over to other adults. But retirement isn't in the future for the 33-year-old.
"I've asked my accountant that question and he says I'm screwed. I've got to keep going. I've got way too much debt," Busch said. "I don't think I can retire as soon as the rest of those guys are currently (retiring)."
Reigning NASCAR champion Martin Truex Jr. acknowledged the schedule is a grind, but said he's found it to be much more tolerable when he's winning races. His four victories this year trail only series leaders Busch and Kevin Harvick, who have seven wins each.
"Definitely busy schedules and look, some of these guys have been racing since they were six, seven, eight years old and they have families and they want to do some other things," Truex said. "The more partners you have, the more things away from the track and the more things you have to do and the more commitments you have. It's definitely a tough balance."
Truex currently needs sponsorship to keep his Furniture Row Racing team intact. The championship-winning team needs a sponsor for 2019, as well as new contracts with Truex and a manufacturer. Without funding, Truex could be on the move next season, and starting over with a new team would add even more work to his schedule.
NASCAR's final week off of the season follows Saturday night's race at Bristol and drivers have their last chance to catch their breath before the playoffs begin. But even that is somewhat compromised as many in the field send their children back to school in the coming days.
Harvick said next week will be centered around 6-year-old Keelan ending his summer.
"I will be there first day," Harvick said. "You just have to make sure that things are going well so that when you leave, mom is not pinned against the wall and not happy. That's really part of the lifestyle that we live and part of the situation that we constantly work on — just to make sure that life in general is livable. The off week, where it falls, it revolves around what he does and getting him comfortable in school. That's really the only plan."
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