Superstar NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., who missed several races after suffering a concussion, has scheduled his final lap around the speedway. The 2017 season will be Dale Junior’s last.
Racing is in Earnhardt Jr.’s blood. Following in the steps of his famous father, Hall of Famer and icon Dale Earnhardt, Dale Jr. started racing in the NASCAR Busch Series in 1996. In those early days, Junior’s car carried No. 8, a number favored by his grandfather, stock car racer Ralph Earnhardt.
The first few years of Earnhardt Jr.’s career were marked with tragedy. He saw the death of his father in a last-lap crash in the 2001 Daytona 500. That summer, Earnhardt Jr. rallied and won the return trip to Daytona International Speedway, going 1-2 with teammate Michael Waltrip in an emotional victory.
Since 1999 debut, Junior has won 26 times in 603 starts and has snagged the sport’s Most Popular Driver award 14 times. The star driver’s awards include two Daytona 500 crowns (2004, 2014) and two championships (1998, 1999) in the NASCAR XFINITY Series.
Earnhardt, 42, returned to competition in his No. 88 Chevrolet this year after suffering some setbacks – two wrecks and a concussion during the middle portions of last year left him sidelined for the final 18 races of the season. Since his injuries, Junior has become an advocate for research of sports-related brain injuries. His rehabilitation time gave him a new perspective about the effects of brain injuries on athletes and prompted him to work with NASCAR to streamline its concussion protocol.
Watch Earnhardt’s emotional speech during a press conference at Hendrick Motorsports earlier today thanking his friends and family for the encouragement and support.
I hate to see Dale Jr. hang up his helmet. He’s been one of NASCAR’s real joys. But his health has to come first. I wonder if we’ll see similar concussion-driven prime-of-career exits from the NFL in coming years?