Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR’s 14-time Most Popular Driver, is retiring following the 2017 season.
Hendrick Motorsports announced the decision Tuesday morning, shortly after Earnhardt himself addressed his No. 88 team with the news. A press conference will be held later this afternoon with Earnhardt and team principals.
Health has become a major question mark for Earnhardt, 42. Concussions last year forced the North Carolinian to sit out the second half of the season. He made it known before 2017 began that he was going to wait a couple of months before signing an extension to his expiring Hendrick Motorsports contract to ensure his health would be up to the task.
The son of Hall of Famer and seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt, Junior has had a solid career all his own. Highlights include two back-to-back XFINITY Series championships in the late 1990s, two Daytona 500 wins and 14 straight NASCAR Most Popular Driver awards.
However, he’s never won a championship, finishing no higher than fifth in points during the Chase era. (He was third in 2003).
Earnhardt will spend his entire career driving for just two teams. He ran with the family operation, Dale Earnhardt Inc., from 1999-2007 and then aligned himself with Hendrick beginning in 2008. He has a total of 26 wins in 603 Cup Series starts along with 13 pole positions.
This season, though Earnhardt has noticeably struggled, with an average finish of 23.8 and just one top-five result. He’s also crashed three times in the first eight races, a difficult return after wrecks caused that recurrence of post-concussion syndrome in 2016.
No 2018 driver plans were announced in the release. Alex Bowman, currently employed by Hendrick as a test driver, would seem to be the favorite for the ride, however. Sponsor Nationwide seems to like him after his superb substitute job in the No. 88 last season.
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