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.
“I just wanted the opportunity to go out on my own terms,” he said.
It’s important to remember that he missed half of last season with a concussion, which was his second such injury in the last four years.
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:
“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.”
“I always was open to hearing from people who knew him real well and what they think he would think. I talked to some people in the past 24 hours that knew him pretty well and they’re pretty confident that he’d be very proud,” he explained.
Earnhardt Jr.’s team owner Rick Hendrick agreed in that regard. “I knew your daddy pretty well. I knew him real well. He would be proud of the man that you are and what you’ve done for so many, and all the charities and all the good will that you’ve done. He would be very, very, and is, is very proud of you,” he said.
What’s next for Junior is unknown, but it’s obvious that he won’t have to work another day in his life if he doesn’t want to. After all, he is valued to have a net worth of nearly a quarter billion dollars, according to Forbes.
“Earnhardt only finished in the top three of Nascar’s year-end standings once during his career, but his popularity with sponsors and fans helped him earn more than $400 million from salary, endorsements, and his share of race winnings and licensing. Earnhardt’s net worth is an estimated $225 million,” Kurt Badenhausen of Forbes explained.
Junior is currently in 24th place in the Cup Series standings as he looks to make the rest of his final season a memorable one.