Dale Earnhardt Jr. is retiring after 18 seasons in NASCAR on his own terms but he isn't done racing quite yet.
Junior said during an emotional retirement press conference Tuesday at Hendrick Motorsports he still plans to race two Xfinity Series races in 2018 with the team he owns and still plans to be involved in NASCAR, a sport his father, Dale Earnhardt Sr. needed persuasion to let him join.
Earnhardt thanked his family, friends, drivers, tracks, sponsors, fans and co-workers, saying he wanted to go out on his own terms and not be held back by recent concussion concerns which forced him to miss the final 18 races of last season.
"To my father, Dale Earnhardt, I would not have been a racecar driver if not for him believing in me," he said. "It might have taken a bit of encouragement from Tony Eury Sr. but eventually dad came around. I appreciate my father, everything he put into my career and all the guys on the old AC Delco team that gave me a shot."
A future Hall of Famer, Earnhardt has been voted NASCAR's most popular driver the past 14 seasons and he thanked those who appreciated him for more than just his last name.
"To my fans one thing that has this career its incredible ride it has been has been Junior Nation," Earnhardt said. "The fan support I received straight out of the gate was in large part to my famous last name but throughout the ups and downs it occurred to me that the fans that stuck it out and the new ones that joined us — they were there because of the person I was and not who they wanted me to be.
"By the end of my career, thanks in part to social media, I have really gained a new appreciation for their dedication, their enthusiasm when we succeed and their encouragement when we fall short of our goals."
Earnhardt told team owner Rick Hendrick his intentions to retire on March 29, and had made the decision himself shortly before that. His contract with Hendrick Motorsports was set to expire after this year, but most had expected the 42-year-old to re-sign and continue racing.
He was initially injured in a wreck at Michigan last June. It's possible Earnhardt was driving with a minor concussion during a wreck at the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona in July. The wreck forced him to seek medical attention and quit racing under doctors’ orders at New Hampshire nearly four weeks later. He experienced balance and vision issues for weeks after the initial wreck.
Earnhardt first endured a concussion in the Fontana race in April 2002 but did not disclose the injury until September while continuing to race. Ten years later, Earnhardt sustained two concussions in six weeks, one he self-diagnosed at a tire test in Kansas and another after a big crash at Talladega. Afterward, he voluntarily went to a doctor for an evaluation and had to sit out two Chase races in October because of the injury.
Earnhardt made his first career Cup Series start on May 30, 1999, at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Since then, the Kannapolis, North Carolina, native has captured 26 points-paying Cup race wins and qualified for the NASCAR playoffs eight times.
Now in the midst of his 18th full-time season at the elite Cup level, Earnhardt made his 600th career series start on March 26 at Fontana, California. He will compete in his final NASCAR Cup Series race on Nov. 19 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Hendrick Motorsports will announce plans for its 2018 team alignment at a later date, but as Hendrick said Tuesday, there will be only one Dale Earnhardt Jr.
“He’s like a son and we’ve had many, many years of a tremendous relationship,” said Hendrick. “I really appreciate what we’ve been able to accomplish together and I appreciate what kind of a guy who are."