CONCORD, NC (WCSC) - Dale Earnhardt Jr., who's been named the most popular driver in NASCAR every year since 2003, will retire from the Cup Series following the 2017 season Hendrick Motor Sports announced on Tuesday morning.
"Having influence over my exit only became meaningful when it started to seem most unlikely," Earnhardt said at a press conference on Tuesday afternoon. "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 on the table. Of course, in life we're not promised a vote, and that's especially true in racing."
The 42-year-old Earnhardt Jr. is in the middle of his 18th season as a full-time driver at the Cup level. Over his career he's had 253 top 10 finishes, 149 top 5 finishes and 26 career wins including twice taking the checkered flag at the Daytona 500.
"Dale Earnhardt Jr. is among the most recognizable athletes in the world, unequivocally serving as the sport's most popular driver for more than a decade." NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France said in a statement. "His passion for the sport will leave an impact on NASCAR that will be felt over its entire history. Over his 20-plus year career, Dale has proven himself a leader with a deep commitment to so many areas of the sport – all the way to its roots. We're excited about the next chapter of his NASCAR career and wish him success for the remainder of 2017."
"You deserve everything, all the awards and accolades," Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick said at the press conference. "There will never be another Dale Earnhardt Jr. You're the one."
The son of the legendary Dale Earnhardt is coming off a season where he missed half of the series races after suffering a concussion.
He made his 600th career start back in March and will make his final career start in cup series Miami on November 19th.
"I feel healthy. I'm having a really good time driving the cars and enjoying that with my team," he said. "We spoke this morning, and that was the real message, really, that we feel competitive. We feel like we can go out there and do well. We've had some odd luck, but when the luck's been there, the results have been there. ... I'm excited about the races we have left."