According to a number of recent reports including a story by NASCAR.com, Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be retiring from full-time competition after the current racing season. The news comes as a bit of a shock, as Earnhardt Jr. has received NASCAR's Most Popular Driver Award every year since 2003. However, with the recent increase in drivers retiring at a young age, perhaps after 19 years of racing, Jr's retirement isn't so surprising after all. Fellow popular drivers Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle both retired earlier this year, while fellow NASCAR legends Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon each retired within the last two years as well.
In an hour-long press conference this past Tuesday, Earnhardt claimed he wished to retire on his own terms. However, he also stressed that his presence in the motorsport would remain strong. While Earnhardt will not compete full-time in any of NASCAR's top three series, he has stated he will honor his agreement to run two Xfinity Series races in 2018.
"I accomplished way more than I ever dreamed, way more than I ever thought I'd accomplish," Earnhardt said on Tuesday. "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."
According to Earnhardt's racing team, Hendrick Motorsorts, team owner Rick Hendrick and Earnhardt had been discussing the potential retiretement since March. Earnhardt also stated that his recent health concerns (he missed most of the 2016 season due to concussion symptoms) was a big factor in his decision.
"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 stated.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s retirement from NASCAR is sure to hit many longtime fans of the Earnhardt family hard emotionally, but perhaps none more so then Rick Hendrick himself. "He's like a son and we've had many, many years of a tremendous relationship," Hendrick said. "I really appreciate what we've been able to do together, and I appreciate the kind of guy [he is] and what [he's] done for the sport, for NASCAR, for me personally, our company, the sponsors and everyone."
Before taking his leave at Tuesday's press conference, Earnhardt took the time to show appreciation for the die-hard fanbase he's had over the course of his career.
"One thing that has made this career the incredible ride that it's been is Junior Nation," he said. "The fan support that I received straight out of the gate was in large part because of my famous last name, but throughout the ups and downs, it occurred to me that the fans stuck it out and the new ones that joined us, they were there because of the person I was and not who they wanted me to be."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. will finish out his farewell season at Homestead-Miami Speedway later this year.