Dale Earnhardt Jr. retires from NASCAR as a fans driver

Dale Earnhardt Jr. ., Nascar

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will retire from NASCAR beloved by fans.

After Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup series finale at Homestead-Miami Dale Earnhardt Jr. will retire from being a NASCAR driver.

In addition to Earnhardt Homestead, this could be the final NASCAR race for Matt Kenseth and will be the next to last NASCAR ride for Danica Patrick.

Earnhardt entered the Cup series in 2000, along with Kenseth, who could be competing in his final Cup series race on Sunday. Last year he missed half the season due to a concussion. He returned this year and decided to hang up his driver’s suit at the end of this year.

“It’s time for somebody else to get in that car and get out of it what they can,” he told Yahoo Sports. “I’ve felt very good about that decision before the race at Daytona started in February. That this was it. And I was happy — I was more thankful to be able to compete this year than I was to ever question whether I should go farther.”

Earnhardt has 26 career wins in the Cup series, 17 of them came while he was at this fathers team Dale Earnhardt Inc. However, his last win came two years ago in Phoenix. He didn’t win a Cup title, something his father Dale Earnhardt was able to do seven times. Not winning a title is something he regrets.

"It's regrettable to me that I never won a championship," he said via Al.com. "But you don't let it define you as a person. You go on in life with or without the championship trophy. I did way more than I thought I would."

He added, "But I'm real happy with the wins, the competitiveness I had. I never expected to match the success of my father."

His father was racing and NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt, who won 76 races and seven championships. Unfortunately, Dale Earnhardt was killed on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. However, Junior helped heal the sport from that loss by winning the first race at Daytona since his father’s death that July. After his father’s death, Junior had to live in the shadows of his legendary father.

"I don't know that you are always out from under it, but it didn't bother me," he told Bob Pockrass of ESPN. "I was always compared to him and compared to his success, the person he was, people either liked I was different or didn't like that I was different and wanted me to be just like him or whatever."

Junior is no longer in the shadow of his father. Noone is comparing him to his father anymore and he has made a name for himself. He has made his career his own and his father would be proud of what his son has done.

So what is Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s legacy? Rick Hendrick, who Junior has driven for since 2008, told USA Today that he thinks Junior’s legacy is this year and that he’s always been real. Fans may go further, saying Earnhardt’s legacy is that he is a fans driver and he helped build and maintain the Earnhardt legacy. Junior has been NASCAR’s most popular driver for 14 years (this year will be number 15). He has helped bring in young and new fans and has always done what he can do for the fans.

He won the Daytona 500 twice (four wins at Daytona in all), won six times at Talladega, where his father won a lot. He also made the NASCAR playoffs eight times. That success on the track kept the Earnhardt tradition of winning alive and made sure that the Earnhardt legacy didn’t die when Dale Sr. died.

Next year Earnhardt will be a part of NBC’s NASCAR coverage.

Congrats on a great career Dale and thanks for giving us an incredible ride over the years.

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