It’s official: at the end of 2017, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. will retire as a NASCAR driver. The announcement, made yesterday, comes on the heels of losing half a year’s worth of races following a concussion and some decisions that the 42-year-old Earnhardt had to make about his future. At a news conference, he explained his decision: “The reason I reached this decision is really simple – I just wanted the opportunity to go out on my own terms. I wanted to honor my commitment to Rick (Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports), to my sponsors, to my team and to my fans.”
Junior has had a career that he can be proud of. From his start in a 1979 Chevy Monte Carlo running Street Stocks to his two Daytona 500 wins, 26 Cup victories, and has received NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver award for fourteen years straight. And he’s done all of that, and more, with the shadow of his father, Dale Earnhardt, Sr., always nearby. From bad years and winless droughts to bad crashes that rattled his cage, Junior has managed to maintain an element of decorum that walks the line between NASCAR good ol’ boy and a businessman about as well as anybody ever could.
“I had a lot to think about over the last several months, and I was not sure I would have the opportunity to compete this season,” he said at the press conference. “It’s been a blessing and it’s been a gift to be at the race track. During my rehabilitation, I was given something 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. I just wanted to be able to make that decision myself on retiring and not have it made for me.”