Dale Earnhardt Jr. is just 42-years-old.
But, as announced on Tuesday, he has decided that it’s time to veer out of the lane and retire from NASCAR at the end of the 2017 season.
The son of the late Dale Earnhardt has won 26 races in his 18 seasons, including the 2004 and 2014 Daytona 500 events. While he has never won a Cup Series title, he has been a recipient of the most popular driver award an astounding 14-times in a row, which is a testament to the devout following that he has around the NASCAR world.
For NASCAR, a sport that is thought to be struggling in terms of growth and ratings, Earnhardt’s departure is the third major blow the sport has had in the last three years. In 2015, Jeff Gordon retired and was followed by Tony Stewart in 2016. Now, the most popular figure in the sport will be calling it quits.
"I accomplished way more than I ever dreamed, way more than I ever thought I'd accomplish," Earnhardt said in his press conference. "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 Kelley Earnhardt Miller, Dale Jr.’s sister and business manager, offered her insight on how his 2016 concussion had a lasting impact on him and their family:
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"This sport is all I know. Being on the race track, no matter the dangers, is what I know. I want him to race for as long as he did. When he had his concussion, it was sort of an eye-opener for both of us. I wanted him to get back in the car. I just had it in my mind he could get healthy. I didn't know what he was feeling and going through. We sort of had this come to Jesus one night that was like, ‘Just be my sister.' From that point on, I just knew that this was his decision to make, it was time for me to sort of step back,” she said via Bob Pockrass of NASCAR.
At the press conference, things got emotional when he was asked how his father would have judged his son’s racing career.
“I’ve always let other people tell me what dad would think in a certain situation,” Junior said. “I never would have assumed he was proud of me when he was alive. I certainly wouldn’t make that mistake after he passed. I just never felt like I was worthy of assuming that of him.”