In an announcement shocking only because of its timing, Dale Earnhardt Jr. confirmed on Tuesday morning that the current Monster Energy Cup NASCAR Series season will be his last as a driver. The.
Earnhardt's career includes a record 14 consecutive NASCAR Most Popular Driver Awards in addition to two Daytona 500 victories and 26 overall Cup points-paying victories.
Earnhardt, now 42 raced at the Milwaukee Mile several times during his 16-year NACAR career, winning a Busch series race in July of 1998.
Pretty much since he broke into the sport, Earnhardt has been one of NASCAR's most adored drivers, endearing himself to racing fans through charm and good nature.
Earnhardt's retirement announcement comes after a public battle with concussions that first began after crashes in 2012 and caused him to miss the second half of the 2016 season. He has lately become a vocal advocate for research into sports-related brain injuries, and the hit he took last June led to months of rehabilitation.
Earnhardt made his first career Cup Series start on May 30, 1999, at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The son of NASCAR icon Dale Earnhardt, Earnhardt Jr. will compete in his final NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race on November 19 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick is thanking the retiring Dale Earnhardt Jr. for everything he's done personally and professionally for him. It always sounds simple - you just plug another guy into the racing auto, but a lot of sponsors have to sign off.
Fortunately for me, I'll get two chances this year to salute the end of Dale Jr.'s career in person.
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"I'm open to being a driver over at JRM when it works and it benefits the company", he said. Earnhardt said that "without a shadow of a doubt", the toughest part of his decision was informing Hendrick. But the son of the late champion has never won a Cup title. "It's just great to win the Daytona 500, it's the best race I've ever won". Earnhardt has been one of the most thoughtful, personable drivers to his fans.
For the longest time, I let racing be who I was instead of what I did, he added.
Earnhardt said he met with Hendrick March 29 to inform him of his decision to retire.
"I knew it would be hard to replicate Dad's success", said Earnhardt. I like making people happy. I love driving. I enjoy it as much as I ever have. I can remember when the question was all of our drivers are in their 40s or they're going to be, what are we going to do when they retire? "Now, I think I'm good at bringing everyone together".
"To my father, Dale Earnhardt, I would not have been a race vehicle driver if it (were) not for him".
"We'll take some time to decide what we do there", Hendrick said.
Steve Letarte, the crew chief tasked with rebuilding Earnhardt's shattered confidence during a lengthy slump in his career, said Earnhardt can't be measured simply as a race vehicle driver.
He's no Tony Stewart, but Dale Earnhardt Jr. won't be done racing after retirement. But perhaps it's the real triumphs and real struggles of Earnhardt's career - the high highs and low lows - that the masses of people relate to and appreciate most.