Given his ongoing issues with
concussion symptoms, it wasn’t the
greatest of surprises when Dale
Earnhardt Jr. announced that the 2017
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series
would be his last in NASCAR’s premier
division. But the loss of stock car racing’s
most popular driver – as validated by fan
voting 14 straight years – made it huge
news nonetheless, as well as a significant
challenge for the sport to overcome.
“I wanted the opportunity to go out on
my own terms,” said Earnhardt (BELOW),
who revealed his decision was made
back in March. “I wanted to honor my
commitment to Rick [Hendrick], to my
sponsors, to my team, and to the fans.”
Dale Earnhardts Sr. and Jr. shared a
Corvette GT car at Daytona in 2001, and Sr.
had talked of racing at Le Mans, before
tragedy struck him down. Could Junior’s
post-Cup future follow a similar path?
Earnhardt’s impending exit leaves big shoes to fill
JOURNEY’S END FOR JUNIOR
The name itself assured stardom,
but Dale Earnhardt Jr. backed it up,
proving himself a speedway natural
from the start.
After scoring back-to-back Busch
Series wins with Dale Earnhardt Inc.,
Earnhardt Jr. graduated to Cup
competition with his father’s team
for a limited program in 1999,
showing he was ready for “The Bigs.”
The following year he became the
first rookie winner of NASCAR’s
All-Star Race, and backed it up with
his maiden points win at Texas – the
first of his 26 Cup triumphs to date.
Two victories in the Daytona 500
in 2004 (ABOVE) and ’ 14 top that
list, the latter coming with Hendrick
Motorsports, Junior having left the
DEI team his father had founded in
’08. However, the Cup Series
championship his father won a
record-equaling seven times
continued to elude him. Earnhardt
Jr.’s best points finish to date has
been a third place, back in ’03.
Follow-up act to the legendary Dale
Earnhardt Sr. was a huge task, but the
son clearly inherited the father’s skills.
After his fast start
to 2017, Kyle
Larson was on a lot
more lips than just
Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s
when talk took off
about who might
replace Junior in
the No. 88 Chevy.
has a potential new
ace in Chase Elliott,
who’s also striving
to emulate his own
conversations to find out.”
Junior said he’s confident Hendrick
– and NASCAR – has plenty of young
talent coming into its own to take his
place. “Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, just to
name two of probably a dozen guys that
I’m excited about,” Earnhardt noted.
Whether they can take Earnhardt’s place
in the hearts of the fans is a different
question that only time can answer.
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“I wanted to honor my commitment
to Rick [Hendrick], to my sponsors,
to my team, and to the fans”
DALE EARNHARDT JR.
His team owner wants to keep
Earnhardt involved at Hendrick
Motorsports, where he’s driven since
2008. Already co-owner of an Xfinity
Series program, JR Motorsports,
Earnhardt affirmed he wants to remain
a part of the racing community.
“I’m certainly open to sitting down and
seeing how I can be useful,” Earnhardt
said. “I will say I enjoyed my fun in the
(television) booth. If that’s an opportunity
for me, I’m certainly going to have those
Junior Nation will face a
different world when the
focal point of NASCAR
fandom stands down from
Cup competition in 2018.