Dale Earnhardt Jr., who soldiered on in the sport after the death of his father, a NASCAR icon, has decided to retire after the 2017 season, Hendrick Motorsports announced Tuesday.
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.
He has one top-10 finish this year in eight starts and sits 24th in the season standings.
Earnhardt missed the final 18 races of 2016 because of a concussion. He missed two races in 2012 because of two concussions in a six-week stretch.
Hendrick Motorsports did not announce a replacement for Earnhardt, whose contract expires at the end of this season. Before suffering a concussion last year, Earnhardt had planned to sign a contract extension. As of a month ago, he said he planned to talk to team owner Rick Hendrick about extending the deal.
Earlier this year, when discussing the sudden decision of Carl Edwards to step out of his car, Earnhardt talked about trying to decide whether to continue racing.
“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.
“You’ve seen a lot of people, athletes, retire in the past. It seems a very difficult statement to make, a very difficult press conference to have. But when I’m ready to do that, I’ll be making that decision knowing it’s the right thing to do.”
Three weeks ago, Earnhardt said he had no lingering effects from the concussions.
“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.”
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SOURCE: ESPN, Bob Pockrass