Dale Earnhardt Jr. Announces Cup Series Retirement; Has Accomplished ‘Way More’ Than He Ever Thought Possibleby Hunter Thomas April 25, 2017 0 comments
CONCORD, N.C. – Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR’s most popular driver announced on Tuesday at Hendrick Motorsports that he will retire from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series following the 2017 season.
On March 29, Earnhardt Jr. met with Hendrick Motorsports team owner, Rick Hendrick and informed him that he was stepping away from NASCAR Cup Series competition at the end of the year. After Earnhardt Jr.’s health scare last season with the concussion-like symptoms, many wondered if the 42-year old North Carolina native would even return to racing, but he overcame the adversity and climbed back behind the wheel of his No. 88 Chevrolet SS. Earnhardt Jr. feels healthy and wants to hang up the helmet on his time and not when life says that it’s too late.
“As you know, I missed a few races last year and during that time I had to face the realization that my driving career may have already ended without me as so much getting a vote at the table,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “Of course in life we’re not promised a vote, and that’s especially true in racing.
“But, during my rehab, I was given something else that I wasn’t accustomed to, and that was time. Time to understand what’s important to me, time to realize the incredible support system I have in my wife, my team, and my doctors, and time to work like hell to wrestle back some semblance of say‑so in this whole matter. So that became my motivation. The opportunity to stand here at this podium to announce my choice rather than some fate that was decided for me.”
With the exception of the 18 races that he missed last year, Earnhardt Jr. will have spent 18 full seasons in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series once the checkered flag falls at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November. He made his series debut start at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May of 1999, and over the course of his career, he has visited Victory Lane on 26 occasions, and he has earned 13 poles, 149 top-five and 253 top-10 finishes in 603 races. Aside from NASCAR’s premier series, Earnhardt Jr. won back-to-back NASCAR XFINITY Series championships in 1998 and 1999. Despite all of the success that he has found throughout the years, since Day One, he has been humbled to even have an opportunity to compete in NASCAR.
“But when my dad was doing so well, and there were a couple guys coming into the sport that were sons, it was difficult for them to replicate their dad’s success,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I just saw even at an early age before I was a driver, that growing up in that man’s shadow was going to be a really hard challenge, but I wanted to race, but I knew racing would put me in that shadow.
“So I kind of just ‑‑ I knew the odds of me really having any talent at all and being able to do it were thin. They are for anyone. So at a very young age all I wanted to do was be able to make a living driving cars. I didn’t set goals. I didn’t dream of winning championships or Daytona 500s or working with one of the best owners in the business driving for one of the best organizations. I just wanted to do it. I just wanted to be able to do it. I was afraid of not being able to do it. So I guess what I’m saying is have I accomplished way more than I’ve ever dreamed. Way more than I ever thought I’d accomplish.”
Now, the question that Jr. Nation is eager to have answered is, what’s next after this season? On Tuesday at Hendrick Motorsports, Earnhardt Jr. said that he’d still be open to competing in a few select races for his team, JR Motorsports, and he may even consider showing up every now and then to compete at Hickory Motor Speedway in a Late Model. Remember, Earnhardt Jr. said that he’s retiring from Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series competition, not racing as a whole. He may even begin to appear in the announcer’s booth a little more often. Who knows!
“I’m definitely ‑‑ I think I’m open to being a driver over at JR Motorsports when it works and benefits the company,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “Certainly that’s why I’ve done that over the last several years. It’s a critical piece of our partnerships in many instances over there. So we’re definitely going to leave the book open to continue to do that, and open to do that, depending upon the packages that come across the table other.
“Otherwise, I told Amy (wife) I might slip off and run a 40 lapper at Hickory one night. So if I’m missing on a Saturday night, she might know where I’m at. But other than that, I don’t have any plans.”
For now, the news has that he is stepping away from NASCAR’s top series has been announced, and come this weekend, Earnhardt Jr. will communicate with his Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 team, strap into his race car and work towards earning his first-career series championship.
Photo Credit: Mike Comer/Getty Images
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