Today, ironically on my birthday, is the day NASCAR knew would come, but not so sudden.
NASCAR’s most popular driver for the last decade and a half, Dale Earnhardt Jr, has officially decided that when the checkered flag waves at the end of the 2017 season at Homestead this November, his helmet and firesuit are coming off for the final time. After what will be 18 seasons at the wheel at the top-tier series in the sport, Junior is retiring from racing.
NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports has set up a press conference later today to detail everything regarding why and what led to the decision.
In all honesty, despite as shocking as it is, this was not surprising. I have been expecting this young man to call it a career relatively soon, especially with what he endured in 2016. Having to sit out the latter part of the schedule, beginning at New Hampshire, due to concussion-like symptoms, his health soon began to be a big priority. He already missed a pair of races in 2012 with similar symptoms, but this one was more devastating.
When he first entered Cup competition in 2000, he was regarded as the biggest talent since he was the son of probably the most popular and hardest charging driver in the sport. But trying to be like the “Intimidator” is simply impossible. It’s like asking a high school quarterback to become the next Ben Roethlisberger. That’s a lot of pressure on a young man.
Then, come 2001, his entire life changed in one corner, on one lap.
NASCAR lost it’s leader in a way, but Junior lost a father. That is a hard thing for a young man just getting into the big era of the sport to take in, and he of all people became devastated. Then, trying to go on and actually have the sole pressure of being like his father, it’s overwhelming.
Has he seen success, yes, but with that came a lot of turmoil. In 2007, he was trying to negotiate to stay with his father’s team, especially regarding ownership. His stepmother, however, wanted to be the majority owner, and the two just were at odds.
At the end of the season, he left his father’s team, and went to Hendrick Motorsports, trying to restart his career with a new team, a new number, and new outlook.
He’s never won a championship, but that doesn’t define his career. But in the later stages of his career, his personal life became effected, both good and bad. Obviously, having a concussion take him away from the sport is hurtful, because it’s all he knows. However, when he met his now-wife, Amy, his outlook on life changed, seeing that there were so many more things to live for, and have rather than just a seat in a race car. He now has someone that loves him, for him, and wants to be a mother to his children down the line.
So this is a good time for him to walk away from the sport, knowing that if he does now, he is going to only get healthier as the years progress.
But, this is a void that NASCAR literally cannot fill. His dad’s shoes never could be filled by anyone, much less his son, so who’s going to take this torch and run with it? It’s unclear, but what is clear is that Junior is ready to say goodbye to the sport that he was born into, and has seen change so much over the years.
What more can you say except thank you, Dale.
STAGE 1 WINNER: Kyle Larson
STAGE 2 WINNER: Martin Truex Jr.
RESULTS: 1-Johnson 2-Bowyer 3-Harvick 4-Kenseth 5-Logano 6-Larson 7-Elliott 8-Truex Jr. 9-Stenhouse Jr. 10-Hamlin
NOTABLE FINISHES: 14-Newman 25-Kurt Busch 34-Keselowski 35-Kyle Busch 38-Earnhardt Jr.
POINT STANDINGS (Points/Behind Leader [Playoff Points]): 1. Larson, 360 ; 2. Elliott, -27 ; 3. Truex Jr, -37 ; 4. Logano, -69 ; 5. Keselowski, -83 ; 6. Johnson, -116 ; 7. McMurray, -116; 8. Bowyer, -121; 9. Harvick, -121 ; 10. Blaney, -132 ; 11. Kyle Busch, -146 ; 12. Erik Jones, -168; 13. Bayne, -168; 14. Newman, -174 ; 15. Hamlin, -176; 16. Stenhouse Jr, -192; 18. Kurt Busch, -197 .