The retirement carousel in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series keeps turning, this time with fan-favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. announcing he will retire from competition following the 2017 season.
Superstars Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart retired from competition over the last couple seasons, and while Carl Edwards didn't use the term “retire” when he stepped away prior to this season, it's likely that he won't be back.
With Earnhardt's announcement, the number of drivers who were competing at the turn of the century is next to nothing. In Earnhardt's rookie Cup Series season of 2000, the only drivers on the roster besides Earnhardt who are still competing full-time are Matt Kenseth, also a rookie that year, and Kurt Busch, who started only four races that season. Elliot Sadler, who was in his second Cup season in 2000, competes full-time in NASCAR's XFINITY Series.
Earnhardt, who drives the No. 88 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, missed the second half of last season due to a concussion suffered in a crash at Michigan. The 42-year-old married longtime girlfriend Amy Reimann earlier this year and has stated he wants to start a family.
Earnhardt has 26 wins in 603 Cup Series starts, including two Daytona 500 victories, and finished a career-high third in points in 2003 while driving for Dale Earnhardt Incorporated.
While Earnhardt wasn't able to replicate the massive NASCAR success of his seven-time Cup champion father Dale Earnhardt Sr., Junior has won NASCAR's Most Popular Driver Award for fourteen consecutive years. Earnhardt Sr. was killed in a crash on the final lap of the Daytona 500 in 2001.
Since moving to Hendrick's team in 2008, Earnhardt's highest points finish was fifth in 2013. He is also co-owner of JR Motorsports with teams in the NASCAR XFINITY Series and Camping World Truck Series.
While Earnhardt's decision is not a complete surprise, it will no doubt be one of the most talked about topics throughout the remainder of the racing season. It brings to mind the decision by Verizon IndyCar Series star Dario Franchitti to retire following a massive crash that left him with fractures and a concussion near the end of the 2013 season.
Earnhardt will hold a press conference at 2 p.m. today along with team owner Rick Hendrick to discuss his decision.