Dale Earnhardt Jr. to retire after 2017 NASCAR season; 2 Xfinity Series races planned in 2018

(WJHL/AP) Dale Earnhardt Jr. recently discussed his decision to retire at an afternoon news conference.

Earnhardt says he has two Xfinity Series races planned for 2018. ‘You have not seen the last of me on the race track,” he said.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will retire following the 2017 NASCAR season.  Hendrick Motorsports revealed the news Tuesday morning on social media.

Fan-favorite, Dale Jr., is retiring after 18 seasons and will bring his Cup Series career to an end this season. The 42-year-old has been behind the wheel of a race car more than 600 times.

According to a news release, Dale Jr. shared news of his retirement with his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports team this morning. Hendrick Motorsports says it will announce plans for its 2018 team at a later date.

He is a 14-time winner of NASCAR’s most popular driver award. He has 26 career Cup victories, and that includes a pair of wins in the Daytona 500.  In addition, he is a two-time champion in NASCAR’s second-tier series. But the son of the late seven-time champion has never won a Cup title.

Dale Jr. turns 43 in October, was married during the offseason and has stated he wants a family.

He’s also been plagued by concussions and missed half of last season after suffering yet another one. He’s become an advocate for research of sports-related brain injuries.

Fellow drivers are offering tributes.

“I’m proud of my great friend DaleJr for everything he’s done for this sport,” tweeted Tony Stewart, who retired at the end of the 2016 season. “I’m even more proud of who he is as a man. Love you friend.”

Jeff Gordon issued a statement through Fox Sports, where he works as an analyst. Gordon retired after the 2015 season but filled in as the No. 88 driver last year for part of the season when concussion-like symptoms prevented Earnhardt from racing.

“Dale Jr. has had a huge impact on our sport – and you can see that every week with his legion of fans and Junior Nation,” Gordon said. “He has a tremendous sense of the history of NASCAR and, while he shares his father’s name, Dale has made a name for himself with his accomplishments in racing. While we will miss Dale on the track next year, he loves this sport, those working in the industry and the fans too much to ever be too far away.”

Jimmie Johnson, a seven-time points champion, paid tribute to his Hendrick Motorsports teammate on Twitter, calling him “a hell of a friend and teammate.”

Dale Jr. ‘s retirement follows those of Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon in the past two years, creating a major void in NASCAR star power.

Earnhardt says he is “super excited” about the stock car series’ future, given its promising young drivers.

“Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, just to name two of probably a dozen guys that I’m excited about,” he said. “That’s all I read about on Twitter yesterday was how awesome the race was and how much fun it is to watch Larson. It’s true. He’s a real talent…all those guys have great attitudes, great personalities. I know them well enough to be excited about how fans are going to know them in the future.”

Earnhardt is a third-generation racer.

Dale Jr. was asked what his late father would have said to him upon hearing his decision.

“I’ve always let other people tell me what they think Dad would think in a certain situation,” Earnhardt said. “I never would assume that he was proud of me when he was alive. I certainly wouldn’t make that mistake after he passed.”

“I just never felt like I was worthy of assuming that of him. I always was open to hearing from people that know him really well, what they think he would think. I’ve talked to some people in the past 24 hours that know him pretty well, and they’re pretty confident that he would be very proud.”

Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick also responded.

“I knew your daddy pretty well,” Hendrick said. “I knew him real well. He would be proud of the man that you are and what you’ve done for so many, all the charities and all the goodwill that you’ve done. He would be – and is – very, very proud of you.”

Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt, who won seven titles and was known as “The Intimidator,” was one of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history. He was killed in 2001 in a last-lap accident at the Daytona 500.

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