Dale Earnhardt Jr. will quit full-time driving following the 2017 NASCAR season. The 14-time Most Popular Driver has won 26 races in 603 starts during a career that began at age 24 in 1999. He won the Daytona 500 in 2004 and 2014 and took two NASCAR championships in 1998 and 1999.
Medical issues are possibly the reason for retirement. Earnhardt, 42, returned to racing this year after a concussion sidelined him from NASCAR’s top series for half of the 2016 season. Through his rehabilitation, Earnhardt became a vocal advocate for research of sports-related brain injuries. This likely means he will never have a job affiliated with the NFL. (See AutoInformed on NASCAR Expands Concussion Protocol to SCAT3)
Earnhardt’s top finish in eight starts this season was fifth place on 9 April at Texas Motor Speedway. He currently is ranked 24th in the standings. He still is under contract to drive a couple races for his own team – JR Motorsports – next year.
Hendrick Motorsports said in a news release that Earnhardt and his team owner first met to discuss the driver’s decision on 29 March. The extremely successful team also said it would announce its 2018 plans for the No. 88 car later. Earnhardt’s tenure with Hendrick was tainted by injuries. After a pair of concussions in a six-week stretch, Earnhardt sat out two races during the 2012 playoffs. Two wrecks in the middle portion of last year left him sidelined for the final 18 races of the season.
“I want to be a part of the future of this sport for many, many years to come,” Earnhardt said.
Earnhardt began his top NASCAR series career on 30 May 1999 at Charlotte Motor Speedway with a 16th-place finish in a 600-mile race. That step in his NASCAR career came after years of driving Late Models at the weekly and touring level before.
Earnhardt, of course, followed the steps of his famous father, initially driving cars owned by NASCAR Hall of Famer and Dale Earnhardt. His earliest entries in the premier series carried No. 8, the number favored by his grandfather, Ralph Earnhardt.
The early part of Earnhardt’s career was met with heartbreak, caused by the death of his father in a last-lap crash in the 2001 Daytona 500. Earnhardt Jr. won in the series’ return trip to Daytona International Speedway that summer, going 1-2 with teammate Michael Waltrip.
- Photos from Reimann-Earnhardt wedding
- Dale Earnhardt Jr Wins the first of two NASCAR Sprint Cup Can-Am Duel Races
- NASCAR Bans Racist Confederate Flag
- White Dominated NASCAR Nixes the Stars and the Bars