Dale Earnhardt Jr. is ready for his final lap.
The legendary driver and most popular athlete in NASCAR is set to retire from the sport at the end of the 2017 season. Earnhardt held a press conference on Tuesday, April 25, to announce the news, saying that it was “incredible to see the support” from the racing community and his fans.
Earnhardt is the second major NASCAR driver to announce his retirement this year—ultra-fit driver and backflip aficionado Carl Edwards stepped away from the track ahead of the 2017 season.
Earnhardt had his retirement plans weighing on his mind when he woke up the day of the announcement:
Been up since 4. 😐
Woke up like 😳
— Ralph Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) April 25, 2017
Although he’s never won the NASCAR series cup title, Earnhardt has had one of the most successful careers of any driver in the history of the sport. In 18 seasons on the track, Junior won 26 races, two Daytona 500 titles (2004, 2014), and 14 straight Sprint Cup Series Most Popular Driver awards (2003-2016).
During the 2016 season, Earnhardt went through what might have been the toughest stretch of his career. He missed 18 races during the second half of the 2016 season after suffering from concussion-like symptoms and wondered whether he’d ever race again. Earnhardt made it back into the car for the season opener at Daytona, but that’ll be his last run in the “Great American Race.”
At the time of the Daytona 500, Earnhardt may have had an inkling of his future plans. The driver told Men’s Fitness that he didn’t feel as much pressure on the track as he did during the early part of his career and that he was happy with his career accomplishments up to that point.
“When I was younger I probably put more pressure on myself because I had a lot to prove, but at this point in my career I’m pretty satisfied with what I’ve done,” Earnhardt told Men’s Fitness. “Anything I can add to it would be icing on the cake.”
Barring any injury issues, Earnhardt will have his final race at Homestead-Miami Speedway for the Ford Ecoboost 400 on Nov. 19.
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