On Tuesday morning from Hendrick Motorsports in Charlotte, Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced he would be walking away from the sport he called his profession after almost two decades and retiring after the 2017 season.
“I just wanted the opportunity to go out on my own terms,” Earnhardt Jr. said in his opening remarks. “I wanted to honor my commitment to (team owner) Rick (Hendrick), to my sponsors, to my team and to the fans. I’ll admit that having an influence over my exit only became meaningful when it started to seem most unlikely. 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 so much as getting a vote at the table. Of course, in life we’re not promised a vote and that’s especially true in racing.”
Earnhardt Jr. has had a history of concussions, most notably last season, which sidelined him for the final 18 races of the season. The 42-year-old Kannapolis, N.C. native said the time away from the sport–a stretch where he could think about the bigger picture of his career and life after racing–played a big part in the announcement.
“(I had time to) understand what’s important to me,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “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.”
Hendrick Motorsports released a written statement at 9 a.m. ET which quickly made its rounds on social media. It evoked responses from drivers current and past, fans, and many more involved in the sport, and Earnhardt Jr.’s career, in some way, shape or form.
Earnhardt Jr. held the press conference from HMS with team owner Rick Hendrick at 3 p.m. ET, which was broadcasted on various television networks and made national news headlines, something Earnhardt Jr. is used to. But he didn’t want any glitz or glamor, fame or fortune, championships or trophies. All he wanted to do was race cars for a living.
“I accomplished way more than I ever dreamed, way more than I ever thought I’d accomplish,” Earnhardt said. “So I’m good, you know. I’m good on that front. I’m so blessed and fortunate on what I was able to achieve but I’m very sad because it’s definitely disappointing for a lot of people to wake up to that news this morning.”
Earnhardt Jr. said he came to his decision almost one month ago on March 29 and told Hendrick of his choice. He explained that they sat down, shed some tears and said some things that hadn’t been said, but needed to be. And now is the right time to step away.
“You deserve everything,” Hendrick told Earnhardt Jr. “All the awards and accolades. There will never be another Dale Earnhardt Jr. You’re the one.”
The driver of the No. 88 for Hendrick Motorsports has amassed 26 points-paying wins in just over 600 career starts in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, dating back to 2000. Although Earnhardt Jr. has never won a championship at the top level, he won two Daytona 500’s (2004, 2014) and two XFINITY championships in the late 1990’s (1998, 1999).
Despite the announcement, he’s not done racing, and won’t be away from the track in 2018. He still plans to be prevalent as an owner of JR Motorsports, a two-time championship winning XFINITY Series organization, and has two scheduled races on his schedule for 2018 in the No. 88 Chevrolet Camaro for JRM.
“You have not seen the last of me on the race track,” he went on to say. “But more than that, I want to be a part of the future of the sport for years to come.”
No replacement has been named for the No. 88 for 2018 and beyond. Alex Bowman is thought to be the logical replacement, but William Byron is also in the mix, as well as some other veterans that are currently unemployed and not racing full-time in NASCAR.
The sport is losing its 14-time most popular driver. Coming off the heels of Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards all retiring since the end of the 2015 season, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has now been added to that list. He’ll continue to race, and he has his sights set on winning races and qualifying for the playoffs. But regardless of how he goes out when the checkered flag flies in Miami in November, he did it his way. The Junior way.