Eight races into a disappointing NASCAR season, Dale Earnhardt Jr. on Tuesday announced that the 2017 campaign will be his last.
The winner of NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver award a record 14 years running, Earnhardt, 42, broke the news to his Hendrick Motorsports teammates in the morning, shortly before HMS publicly made the announcement on its website.
Just one day earlier, Earnhardt had been forced out of a race at Bristol because of an oil system failure, ultimately finishing the race 38th out of 40 cars in the field.
Earnhardt sits 24th in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver standings, with 134 points and zero wins in 2017.
Even with Earnhardt’s struggles this season and after missing the final 18 races of 2016 because of concussion symptoms, the timing of the announcement was a shock. Earnhardt repeatedly has told reporters that he feels healthy, and he talked generally with the media Monday about his car’s performance, making no hint that retirement was on his mind.
In all, Earnhardt, son of NASCAR legend Dale Earnhardt Sr., will have spent 18 full-time seasons at the Cup level, starting more than 600 races. He has posted 26 career victories and qualified for NASCAR’s playoffs eight times, but he never has won a championship.
Earnhardt’s retirement marks the third major departure of a NASCAR star from full-time racing in the last three years, after Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart called it quits in 2015 and 2016, respectively.
Thumbnail photo via Allan Henry/USA TODAY Sports Images