Story By: Mike McCheffie
Photos By: Sol Tucker
With just two weeks away from one of the tracks that gave Dale Jr. so many good races, the announcement this morning that he was going to walk away from the track at the end of the 2017 season and call it quits, sort of shocked a lot of us in the racing community. But after a few lackluster seasons, is it really time for this guy who followed in the the shoes of a legend to call it quits? Only one person knows, that’s Jr.
Earnhardt, 42, has 26 wins in 603 starts as part of a likely Hall of Fame career, including Daytona 500 victories in 2004 and 2014. He also has earned 14 consecutive NASCAR Sprint Most Popular Driver awards and remains consistently as the top driver when it comes to merchandise sales.
So what does this mean for NASCAR, who has been losing fans left and right and just doesn’t have the racing appeal as it did 10, 15 or even 20 years ago now? They will continue to bring on new talents from the Xfinity Series and hope they will draw the younger crowd, but the older ones who love race miss the names like Gordon and Earnhardt. You don’t see many people get charged up about Sunday as they used to with these names battling.
Earnhardt said his decision took a lot of thought and he spoke with other guys like Carl Edwards, who stepped away from the car as well.
“I think Carl figured out a way to get into a place to make that decision easy,” Earnhardt said. “And I can do the same thing when the time comes, and I won’t have any regrets. It’s not going to be a lot of fun to retire, I can imagine.
Three weeks ago, Earnhardt said he had no lingering effects from the concussions that sidelined him for half of the 2016 season.
“We couldn’t be out on the track if we had anything hanging on. I wouldn’t want to be out there, and I would be forthcoming and transparent with my doctors if we needed to work on anything,” Earnhardt said. “I felt great for many, many months now, and I’m happy about that. We’ve been through a handful of races now and didn’t have any issues whatsoever.”
“There was a lot of time in there during the recovery, where there were days where I was 90 percent sure I wasn’t going to drive again,” Earnhardt said before the 2017 Daytona 500. “There were days where it was 50 percent. … [In November], I couldn’t put one foot in front of the other without falling over like a drunk driving test. I couldn’t take one step without having to step to the right or step to the left to catch myself.”
So as we now limp into a Earnhardt farewell tour for the remainder of the season, one thing is for sure, he will give it his best each race based on his health conditions, but it is questionable to whether he will actually finish the season.