NASCAR has seen a changing of the guard over the last couple of years. Legends Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon have called time on their illustrious careers. And this year is no exception, with fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr deciding 2017 will be his last NASCAR season. He spoke to Mobil 1 recently about his career and this final racing season…
For a man who has not won the NASCAR championship, Earnhardt has not had a bad career at all. 26 wins, including two Daytona 500 victories and 13 pole positions is not a bad return for a career stretching back to the 1999 Coca-Cola 600. Earnhardt made the decision to retire in April, and said that it was important to him that the fate of his career was not decided by anything that was beyond his control like has happened to so many racing drivers.
“I just wanted the opportunity to go out on my own terms. The opportunity to stand on this podium to announce my choice, rather than some fate that was decided for me.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr – April 2017
Earnhardt Jr was overshadowed in his earlier career by his father, Dale Earnhardt Sr. But Earnhardt Jr’s own success has made him a superstar in his own right. He has been voted the most popular NASCAR driver every year since 2003 and his popularity shows no sign of waning despite his impending retirement. But recent years have been tougher. His last win came in 2015 at Phoenix, before a minor crash last year at Michigan saw him miss out the rest of the season thanks to severe concussion sustained in the accident. The motivation to race didn’t vanish though and he came back in 2017 with a point to prove. At the opening race of the year, the Daytona 500, he qualified P2 and was in winning contention throughout before being eliminated in a multicar accident.
“You work real hard to get better, get well, get healthy and the motivation to get back with your team, be with your guys and make the fans happy, those are the things that drive you to get well and get back behind the wheel of the car.”
Earnhardt Jr has been unlucky to not win a championship, but that shouldn’t take anything away from his fabulous career and the following he has gathered. And let’s not forget the humility he has shown throughout his NASCAR days. With the clocking ticking on his final season, Jr and the whole 88 Henrdrick Motorsports crew are sure to give it their all to bow out with at least one final won for their driver.
“I’m happy, I’m thrilled to have had the opportunity to race some more. I still had a little bit left in the tank and definitely don’t wanna have any regrets when I hang it up.”
Whether he wins again or not, Dale Earnhardt Jr will bow out as one of the best NASCAR drivers of his generation and surely one of the most popular in the history of stock car racing. The 2018 NASCAR grid will feel a little different without you Dale.