By Annie Ross
Dale Earnhardt Jr. abruptly announced his retirement at the end of the season, a decision that will cost Nascar its most popular driver as the series scrambles to rebuild its fan base.
At a news conference, the 43-year-old Earnhardt said he “wanted the opportunity to go out on his own terms.” After missing much of the 2016 season due to concussion-like symptoms, he acknowledged that time off played a role in his decision. He wanted retirement to be his choice rather than something that was decided for him.
“Having influence over my exit only became meaningful when it started to seem most unlikely,” Earnhardt said. “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.”
Colorful, candid and talented, Earnhardt has been plagued by concussions the last several years and he missed half of last season recovering from a head injury. He had delayed contract talks on an extension to drive the No. 88 Chevrolet, and the two-time Daytona 500 winner will now call it quits when the season ends in November.
Born and raised in North Carolina, Earnhardt has deep roots in Nascar. His late Hall of Fame father, Dale, won seven titles and, known as “The Intimidator,” was one of the greatest drivers in Nascar history. Earnhardt’s grandfather, Ralph, ran 51 races at Nascar’s highest level.
Earnhardt has won Nascar’s most popular driver award a record 14 times. He has 26 career Cup victories.