Dale Earnhardt Jr. plans to retire from the NASCAR Monster Cup series at the end of the 2017 season.
The 14-time Most Popular Driver has 603 starts — 26 victories — over a career that began at age 24 in 1999. Among his accomplishments are two Daytona 500 crowns (2004, 2014) and two championships (1998, 1999) in what has become the NASCAR XFINITY Series.
“From my road crew to the pit crew to all the people in the 48 (and) 88 shop, I’m a better driver and a better person from my time with you guys,” Earnhardt said at a press conference Tuesday afternoon in North Carolina. “You’ve helped me mature and grow well beyond the race track.”
Earnhardt thanked his wife, Amy, for her support throughout his career, specifically during his recovery from concussions last year, as well as his mother, Brenda Jackson, at the press conference.
“She loves me through my good races and my bad races, but what makes her uniquely my own is she definitely is going to tell me when it was a bad race,” Earnhardt said of his mother. “Everybody deserves to have someone in their life that you never have to wonder, and with my mother I never have to wonder.”
Earnhardt also thanked his father, Dale Sr., for the role he played in his life and career.
“To my father, Dale Earnhardt, I would not have been a race car driver if it (were) not for him. He believed in me,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I appreciate my father, everything he put into my career.”
Earnhardt Jr. recognized the significance his last name played on the formation of his racing career and extended his gratitude to his fan base.
“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 that occured to me, the fans stuck it out,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “And the new ones that joined us, they were there because of the person I was and not who theyt wanted me to be.”
Earnhardt Jr., 42, is not having the season he planned after missing 18 races recovering from concussions in 2016.
So far in 2017, Earnhardt has led only eight laps and his best finish was fifth in Texas (April 9). He’s currently 24th in the NASCAR standings.
He finished 38th Monday at the rain-delayed Bristol race and was victimized by crashes and unfinished races at Daytona and Martinsville, where he finished 37th and 34th.
Following Jeff Gordon’s retirement at the end of last season, Hendrick Motorsports will continue to be reshaped. Chase Elliott and Jimmie Johnson are carrying the four-car team in 2017, but Johnson said in February that he would begin considering retirement whenever “the time is right.”
Johnson turns 42 in September and is a seven-time NASCAR champion.