NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver to Retire

NASCAR’s 14 time Most Popular Driver Dale Earnhardt Jr has decided that at the end of the 2017 racing season he will hang up the fire suit.

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Junior follows a number of drivers who have hung up the fire suit in the past couple of years including former team mate Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, and although he refuses to use “the R word” Carl Edwards.

The third generation driver has spent the past 18 years beating and banging around the track as one of the drivers in the Monster Energy Cup Series (previously known as the Winston Cup and the Sprint Cup) with 603 starts. The two time Daytona 500 winners has a total of 26 racing wins to his credit; along with 24 wins in the Xfinity Series (previously known as the Busch Series and the Nationwide Series) including two championships.

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There was a great deal of speculation as to whether or not Junior would return for the 2017 season after missing half of the 2016 season with his third concussion; but a New Year’s Eve wedding to long time partner Amy and a new outlook on life, Dale Jr returned to the track in Daytona ready for a new season. To date the 2017 season has not been kind to Junior with a number of mechanical issues and getting caught up in wrecks not of his own making. Currently Junior has only one top five and is ranked 24th in the standings for the championship.

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ATLANTIC OCEAN (May 1, 2008) Dale Earnhardt, Jr. signs a command ball cap for a Sailor during his visit to the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71). Earnhardt visited Theodore Roosevelt to thank Sailors for their service. The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier and embarked airwing are conducting a Composite Training Unit Exercise. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman John Suits (Released)

Earnhardt first broached the possibility of stepping down with car owner Rick Hendrick last month. Hendrick has stated that he will announce a new driver for the number 88 at a later date.

Dale Jr drives the number 88 car for Hendrick Motorsports. Junior has driven for only two car owners in his 18 year racing career, the number eight for Dale Earnhardt Incorporated (DEI) owned by his father Dale Sr and the number 88 for Rick Hendrick. Junior left DEI in 2007 after the death of his father on the last lap of the Daytona 500 in 2001 and a less than cordial relationship with new car owner and stepmother Teresa Earnhardt.

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Junior won his first Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway in only his twelfth Cup start in a win that had his father even more excited that Junior himself.

Junior’s encounter with brain injuries has led him to become a staunch advocate for safety and awareness; he has also decided to donate his brain to science and the study of brain injuries upon his death.

The 42 year old Kannapolis, North Carolina native now calls Mooresville home where he and Amy have a massive spread they call the Dirty Mo Acres where along with an old western town and a treehouse is the Race Car Graveyard where Dale Jr collects wrecked race cars.

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Dale Jr inherited the title of Most Popular Driver in NASCAR after “Awesome Bill from Dawsonville” Bill Elliott – who held the title for 16 years – retired from racing. Along with his 603 Monster Energy Cup starts, Junior has 137 Xfinity starts, has run in eight IROC – International Race of Champion races, has run a race in Japan, has run in 19 All Star race with two wins, run 16 Shootout races in Daytona with one win, and has raced in 18 Daytona 500 dual qualifying races with five wins. NASCAR is a family sport where sons follow fathers behind the wheel with a number of three generations of driver families; but the Earnhardt’s are the only family to have all three generations hold the title of a champion.

It is too early to tell what Dale Jr will do when he in no longer behind the wheel, but his popular podcasts and recent forays into the broadcast booth may lend a hint. Along with his numerous talk, late night show, and music video appearances, Junior has appeared in the films “Talladega Nights” and the original “Cars”. And Junior owns a four car racing team in the Xfinity Series JR Motorsports which also owns a pair of late model stock cars. An avid NASCAR history fan, Junior has a series called “Back in the Day” where he relives old races.

photos courtesy of:
By U.S. National Guard. The work gives no specific photo credit. – http://www.ngb.army.mil/features/NASCAR/photos.aspx, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4037892

By Nascarking – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42749256

By U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman John Suits (Released) – [1] from [2], Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4021437

By Eagle Shooter at flickr – http://www.flickr.com/photos/waynew/119439841/in/photostream/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=767012

By Dave Hogg – originally posted to Flickr as Dale Earnhardt Jr, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4221811

By Sarah Stierch – Own work, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41241034


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