On Tuesday morning, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. informed his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports race team of his intentions to retire from NASCAR Cup Series competition following the 2017 campaign, according to a team press release.
Earnhardt and team owner Rick Hendrick hosted a press conference Tuesday afternoon to elaborate on his decision.
“I just wanted the opportunity to go out on my terms. I wanted to honor my commitment to Rick [Hendrick], to my sponsors, to my team, and to the fans.”
Referencing his season-ending concussions from a year ago, Earnhardt stated, “I’ll admit, having influence over my exit only became meaningful when it started to seem most unlikely…during that time I had to face the realization that my driving career may have already ended without me as so much as getting a vote at the table.”
He also shed light on his thought process during his time away from the sport.
“During my rehab, I was given something else 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…time to work like hell to wrestle back some semblance of say so in this whole matter. That became my motivation.”
“To my fans, one thing that has made my career the incredible ride that it’s been is Junior Nation.” -Dale Earnhardt, Jr. thanking his fans.
However, just because NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver is stepping away from the Cup Series, one would be mistaken to believe that he is stepping away from the sport permanently. Dale Jr. has taken on a leadership role in the garage in recent years and will likely maintain that role going forward.
“I want to be a part of the future of this sport for many, many years to come.”
Earnhardt also alluded to future races in the XFINITY Series for JR Motorsports if the situation was right.
NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France voiced his comments in a statement, “Dale Earnhardt Jr. is among the most recognizable athletes in the world, unequivocally serving as the sport’s most popular driver for more than a decade. His passion for the sport will leave an impact on NASCAR that will be felt over its entire history. Over his 20-plus year career, Dale has proven himself a leader with a deep commitment to so many areas of the sport – all the way to its roots. We’re excited about the next chapter of his NASCAR career and wish him success for the remainder of 2017.”
Earnhardt’s retirement is the fourth high-profile driver retirement in the last three seasons. Jeff Gordon retired following the 2015 season and Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards retired following the 2016 campaign.
Earnhardt’s presence on the track will be sorely missed. However, fans should rejoice knowing that he was able to dictate the terms of his retirement and that he will remain active in the sport in the years to come.