Following the announcement that Dale Earnhardt, Jr. will not race for the remainder of the 2016 Sprint Cup Series season, the word “retirement” has made its rounds throughout NASCAR nation.
As the 41-year-old continues to heal from a concussion, the No. 88 Chevrolet will instead be piloted by Jeff Gordon in Sunday’s Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
Though he’ll miss 18 races to end the 2016 season with a head injury, Earnhardt has not put any thought toward retirement at the time being.
“[Retirement] is not something I think about,” he said Sunday at Darlington. “We’re trying to focus on just getting well and getting normal. I intentionally put all those thoughts, concerns and considerations on the backburner until I can just say that I feel normal. Getting normal and having a good quality of life going forward is the first goal.”
With 595 Cup starts in his pocket, including 26 victories, the question of “why” is a sturdy one. Why go through the difficult work of coming back to something you have already succeeded in?
For Earnhardt, it’s because racing is all he’s ever known and his drive to get back into a racecar is his ultimate goal.
“I have the passion and desire to drive. I enjoy it,” he said. “I have an amazing team, great owner. My heart is there to continue and if my doctor says I’m physically able to continue, that’s an easier decision for me to make.”
With an eye on his post-racing life, Earnhardt, nevertheless, is making a decision many will take seriously for years to come in sports.
“I’m only 41, I think I have some years left,” he concluded. “I haven’t put a whole lot of thought into the future until I get well. My heart wants me to continue to work with the guys I have. I think I’m as good as I’ve ever been in the car. I feel like I’m still an asset to the team.”