Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR’s most popular driver, will retire after the end of the 2017 season.
“After 18 seasons and more than 600 races behind the wheel, Dale Earnhardt Jr. will bring his NASCAR Cup Series driving career to a close at the conclusion of 2017,” said the statement from HENDRICKMOTORSPORTS.COM
Earnhardt first shared the news with members of his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports team.
His father, Dale, was also one of the sport’s most popular stars. He was killed while driving at the Daytona 500 in 2001
The younger Earnhardt, 42, will discuss his decision in a press conference this afternoon. He will be joined by Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick, for whom Earnhardt has driven since 2008. The two first met about the driver’s decision on March 29, Hendrick added.
Online reaction from fans was swift, with many saying his departure will impact the sport’s popularity.
“The PomPom Girl” tweeted, “There goes 67 percent of the fans. I understand the why but it doesn't make it any easier. He’s a perfect representative of the sport and class.” Another fan said simply, “Sundays won't be the same.”
“I about gave up NASCAR when we lost his dad,” George Cumbee posted on Facebook. “I've tried hard to stay with it with Dale Jr. Now with him leaving I'll have to find something else. With all the changes and this the sport is not what it once was.”
“The only reason I have watched NASCAR for the last few years and now he's retiring,” posted Michael Milazzo on Facebook. “You had big shoes to fill and you did your best. Go enjoy life now good luck to you JR.”
Earnhardt made his first career Cup Series start on May 30, 1999, at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Since then, the Kannapolis native has captured 26 points-paying Cup race wins and been voted by fans as NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver a record 14 consecutive years, reported Hendrick Motorsports. He has qualified for the NASCAR playoffs eight times.
Now in the midst of his 18th full-time season at the elite Cup level, Earnhardt made his 600th career series start on March 26 at Fontana, California. He will compete in his final NASCAR Cup Series race on Nov. 19 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Hendrick Motorsports said it will announce plans for its 2018 team alignment at a later date, said NASCAR.com.