CONCORD, N.C — While recovering from a concussion last year Dale Earnhardt Jr. didn’t know if he would get to decide whether or not he’d get to retire from racing on his own terms.
On Tuesday the 42-year-old Earnhardt, who returned to racing in February, announced his retirement from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and he noted that the ability to control his own destiny was a major factor in his decision-making process.
In short, he wanted to retire on his own terms.
“During my rehab I was given something I wasn’t accustom to, and that was time,” Earnhardt said Tuesday afternoon at Hendrick Motorsports. “Time to understand what is important to me, time to realize the incredible support system I have in my wife, my team, my doctors.
“The race car wasn’t my goal, it was just the vehicle that got me there,” Earnhardt continued. “I wanted to be able to make that decision myself about when I would retire and not have it made for me.”
Earnhardt has had a largely successful NASCAR career. He is a 26-time race winner in the NASCAR Cup Series, two-time Daytona 500 winner and a two-time champion of the NASCAR XFINITY Series.
He said he has accomplished more during his career than he ever thought possible.
“At a very young age all I wanted to do was make a living driving cars,” Earnhardt said. “I’ve accomplished way more than I ever dreamed. Way more than I ever thought I would accomplish. So I’m good. I’m good. I’m so blessed and fortunate as far as what I’ve been able to achieve.”
Earnhardt said the toughest part of the decision to retire was having to tell team owner Rick Hendrick. He said that happened almost a month ago on March 29, when Earnhardt walked into Hendrick’s office.
“I just didn’t want to disappoint you,” Earnhardt said to Hendrick, who was sitting in the crowd as Earnhardt made his opening remarks. “So on March 29 I drove over and had a conversation with him and his response, he told me he loved me.”
While Earnhardt’s NASCAR Cup Series career will be coming to a close at the end of this year, he will continue to race. Earnhardt revealed he still has two NASCAR XFINITY Series races on his schedule next year and he added he wouldn’t mind running a short-track race or two, particularly at Hickory (N.C.) Motor Speedway, when his schedule allowed.
“I told Amy (Earnhardt, his wife) that I might slip off and run a 40 lapper at Hickory one night,” said Earnhardt, who was married during the offseason. “So if I’m gone on a Saturday night she’ll know where I’m at.”
Earnhardt said the thing he’ll miss the most will be the camaraderie he shares with his race team at Hendrick Motorsports.
“I will miss that camaraderie and I’ll miss it the rest of my life,” Earnhardt said.
In closing Tuesday’s press conference, Earnhardt spoke about his late father (Dale Earnhardt) and what he thought he might say to him as he announced his retirement. He said that he thought his father would probably be proud of him, but he likely would have never told it directly to him. Instead, Earnhardt said, he probably would have told Hendrick instead.
“I’ve let other people what dad would think in a certain situation,” Earnhardt said. “I’ve never really assumed he was proud of me when he was alive, so I would never make that mistake after he passed. I’ve just never felt like I was worthy enough to assume that.
“I don’t think he would tell me to my face, but he would probably tell Rick,” Earnhardt said. “Then I’d have to hear it from Rick.”