BRISTOL, TN- The Food City 500 ended with a busted oil cooler for Dale Earnhardt Jr. on Monday. Less than 24 hours later, Earnhardt Jr. decided on a time his career would end.
“I wanted the opportunity to go out on my own terms,” said Earnhardt Jr. the opportunity to stand here at this podium to announce my choice rather than some fate that was decided for me.”
The expectations for Junior were high the moment he got behind the wheel because of the Earnhardt name. But Earnhardt Jr. created his own path and the fans gravitated towards him because of that.
“The fan support that I received straight out of the gate was in large part because my famous last name,” said Earnhardt Jr. “But througout the ups and downs it occured to me that the fans were there because of the person I was, not the person who they wanted me to be.”
Junior will forever be connected with Bristol Motor Speedway thanks to his phrase, ‘It’s bristol Baby!’ which he coined during his weekend sweep in 2004. Hearing a date now associated with Earnhardt Jr.’s retirement hit the track harder than most on Tuesday.
“I was a bit surprised,” said Bristol Motor Speedway General Manager Jerry Caldwell. “Glad he’s able to do this on his terms as he has wanted to do. His family, they are such a part of this sport. Darrell Waltrip or a Rusty Wallace, they continue to make an impact on our sport and I think you’re going to see that with Dale Earnhardt Jr. He’s going to be around in this sport.”
With the burden of his retirement news off of his shoulders, Junior can begin to enjoy his 2017 farewell tour.
“I don’t think that anything in my professional career has meant more to me than the treatment that I’ve received from track to track by the fans that so dearly love our sport,” said Earnhardt Jr.
“If I’m a race fan, I want to see him on the high banks that one last time,” said Caldwell.