After 18 seasons and more than 600 races behind the wheel, Dale Earnhardt Jr. will bring his NASCAR Cup Series driving career to a close at the conclusion of 2017. Today, he shared the news with members of his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports team.
The fan favorite and two-time Daytona 500 champion will discuss his decision in a press conference this afternoon. He will be joined by Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick, for whom Earnhardt has driven since 2008. The two first met about the driver's decision on March 29.
Earnhardt, who will turn 43 in October, 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 been voted by fans as NASCAR's Most Popular Driver a record 14 consecutive years. He has 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.
DALE EARNHARDT JR. BIO:
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a third-generation driver in a family forever connected to the sport of stock-car racing, and while his innate ability behind the wheel comes from Earnhardt DNA, his competitive driving style and business savvy are all his own. His common-sense charisma and flair for originality have helped propel him to become one of the most popular figures in sports. Race fans have selected him a record 14 consecutive times as NASCAR's Most Popular Driver. Earnhardt tops all NASCAR and IndyCar drivers on MVPindex's social media power rankings. His appeal is not limited to loyal race fans, as Earnhardt has appeared on Harris Interactive's annual survey of America's Top 10 Favorite Athletes, frequenting the list with such names as LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Peyton Manning and Derek Jeter.
The 2017 season marks Earnhardt's 18th full-time year in NASCAR Cup Series competition. The native of Kannapolis, North Carolina, has amassed 26 career victories, including the 2004 and 2014 Daytona 500s. His 26 victories tie him for 29th on NASCAR's all-time race winners list. He also has 13 pole positions and eight non-points wins (five in the Daytona 500 qualifying Duel, two in The Clash and one All-Star Race victory). Even though he was sidelined for the second half of the 2016 season with a concussion, Earnhardt still managed to find success, scoring a victory in his preseason Daytona 500 qualifying Duel and earning four runner-up finishes through the first 18 races. Overall, Earnhardt has qualified for the NASCAR playoffs eight times (2004, 2006, 2008, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015).
Earnhardt is the only third-generation NASCAR champion, achieved when he won the 1998 and 1999 NASCAR XFINITY Series titles. He follows his legendary father, Dale Earnhardt Sr., a seven-time Cup champion and winner of 76 races, and his grandfather, Ralph Earnhardt, the 1956 NASCAR Sportsman champion. In October 2009, Earnhardt Sr. was selected as a posthumous inductee in the inaugural 2010 class for the NASCAR Hall of Fame. In 2007, Ralph Earnhardt was inducted posthumously into the National Dirt Late Model Hall of Fame. Both his father and grandfather were selected among NASCAR's 50 Greatest Drivers of all time in 1999. The three Earnhardts combine for 10 NASCAR championships.
Until 2008, Earnhardt Jr.'s career as a full-time driver was solely within the confines of the family-owned business, Dale Earnhardt Inc., where he accumulated 39 victories in the XFINITY and Cup Series from 1998-2007. But the 2008 season marked one of significant change, as Earnhardt made the boldest decision of his young career by signing with NASCAR Hall of Fame team owner Rick Hendrick to drive the No. 88 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports.
Earnhardt's role as a team owner and businessman continues to enjoy its own ascent separate from his driving career. JR Motorsports employs more than 140 people and fields four full-time entries in the XFINITY Series, in addition to two late model stock cars competing regionally in the Southeast. From its inception in 2006, JR Motorsports has scored 32 XFINITY Series wins after adding five in 2016 and one thus far in 2017. Chase Elliott earned the company's first XFINITY Series championship in 2014 with teammate Regan Smith completing a one-two sweep of the top spots in the driver standings. Josh Berry secured track championship honors for the JRM late model program racing at Motor Mile Speedway (2012) and Hickory Motor Speedway (2014).
Earnhardt's first turn at ownership began with Chance 2, a team started in 2002 and jointly operated with Dale Earnhardt Inc. With that team, Earnhardt was co-owner of the 2004 and 2005 XFINITY Series championship teams with driver Martin Truex Jr.
Fans and media selected Earnhardt as one of the top-three XFINITY Series drivers of all-time in a 2006 NASCAR poll. Earnhardt's 24 victories rank him tied for 10th on the all-time series wins list. His two championships, in 1998 and 1999, introduced him to the NASCAR history books, and his accomplishments throughout the ensuing decade reinforced his place. On July 2, 2010, Earnhardt scored a popular victory at Daytona International Speedway in a throwback blue and yellow No. 3 Chevrolet made famous by his father in the mid-1980s. It was Earnhardt's sixth XFINITY Series victory at Daytona, which ranks second all-time behind Tony Stewart and Earnhardt Sr. with seven apiece. On April 23, 2016, Earnhardt Jr. scored his most recent XFINITY series victory, and his first in a JRM entry, at Richmond International Raceway.
With crossover appeal that stretches beyond his accomplishments as an athlete in NASCAR, Earnhardt continues to garner media attention worldwide. He has appeared on more than 150 magazine covers and has been featured in high-profile publications such as Maxim, Rolling Stone, GQ, Men's Journal, Sports Illustrated, People Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, Men's Fitness and TV Guide.
In 2009, Earnhardt appeared on country music's biggest stage as a presenter at the 43rd annual Country Music Awards. The live telecast on ABC was watched by 35.8 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research. It marked Earnhardt's first appearance at a major pop-culture awards show since he was a presenter at the 2002 MTV Music Awards. He has been a guest on "60 Minutes," "The Late Show with David Letterman," "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," "Late Night with Conan O'Brien," "The Today Show," "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," "Jimmy Kimmel Live!," "Good Morning America," "Live with Regis and Kelly," "Chelsea," "The Soup," "CBS This Morning" and "Larry King Live." He has played cameo roles in major motion pictures "Talladega Nights" and "Cars" and was the subject of an episode of MTV's "Diary" and VH1's "Driven." In 2004, he played a cameo role on the CBS sitcom "Yes Dear." In 2010, he was featured in an episode of "Shaq Vs." - ABC's fall primetime reality show in which NBA superstar Shaquille O'Neal went one-on-one against America's top athletes and entertainers in their respective professions. The same year he was the voice of Chase Crawford, one of the central characters in Disney Channel's "Handy Manny" primetime special. In 2012, he was featured in "CBS This Morning's" Note to Self, and wrote a letter to his 16-year-old self about his relationship with his father, his racing career and building confidence within. In 2013, Earnhardt teamed up with Diet Mountain Dew and Discovery Channel's "Fast 'N Loud" to restore and customize a 1956 Chevy Nomad. The episode broke a series viewership record with 2.7 million viewers tuning into the cable network. In 2016, Earnhardt appeared in the season finale of Animal Planet's "Treehouse Masters," which delivered a season-high 1.3 million total viewers. After appearing previously in their YouTube videos, Earnhardt teamed up with Dude Perfect in the CMT series premiere of "The Dude Perfect Show," which earned a total of 3.4 million viewers and ranked as CMT's highest rated original debut ever with teens 12-17. Earnhardt also appeared in the premiere episode of DIRECTV's "Religion of Sports" series, which examines unique examples where sports profoundly influence societies and cultures in a manner that extends far beyond merely entertainment value, from executive producers Tom Brady, Gotham Chopra and Michael Strahan. Earnhardt also spent time in the radio and television broadcast booths in 2016, calling several NASCAR XFINITY and Cup Series races for FOX Sports, NBC Sports and MRN Radio. During Super Bowl LI, FOX used its hit series "The Simpsons" to promote the 2017 Daytona 500 by featuring Earnhardt's animated character behind the wheel with Homer Simpson riding shotgun.
Earnhardt's eclectic taste in music is reflected in the diverse list of artists that have featured him in their music videos, including Jay-Z, Staind, Sheryl Crow, Three Doors Down, Trace Adkins, O.A.R., the Matthew Good Band and Nickelback. Earnhardt became a best-selling author in 2001 with "Driver 8," a documentation of his rookie season in the NASCAR Cup Series. The book landed on The New York Times best-seller list for 17 weeks, and online retailer Amazon.com named "Driver 8" the top-selling sports book of the year.
In 2012, Forbes magazine ranked Earnhardt seventh overall on its list of "Most Influential Athletes." In January 2013, BusinessWeek magazine named Earnhardt to its top-100 most influential people in sports. The Charlotte Observer listed him sixth among the top-25 most influential in NASCAR in 2014. In July 2014, Harris Poll rated Earnhardt tied for fifth in its "America's Favorite Sports Star" rankings, and rated him tied for eighth in the category in September 2015, marking his 11th appearance in the top 10. In May 2016, ESPN ranked Earnhardt as the most famous auto racing driver in the world. Earnhardt tops all NASCAR and IndyCar drivers on MVPindex's 2016 social media power rankings. He has a following of more than 5.5 million across his three main social media platforms - Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Earnhardt's business sense extends beyond the track. In 2006, he started Hammerhead Entertainment, a one-stop-shop production company that produces shows for multiple national television networks. In April 2008, Earnhardt extended his entrepreneurship into the Charlotte, North Carolina, entertainment scene, as he opened Whisky River, an uptown bar and nightclub located in the EpiCentre. In May 2015, Whisky River expanded to include a location at the Charlotte Douglas International Airport. Earnhardt launched "Dirty Mo Radio," a podcast network, in February 2013, which features race recaps as well as behind-the-scenes insight from Earnhardt, team members, family members and others. The free podcasts can be found on dalejr.com and other outlets such as iTunes, SoundCloud and Stitcher.
While the obligations of being a driver and team owner occupy much of his time, Earnhardt is active in charities and non-profit organizations. In 2007, he launched The Dale Jr. Foundation, a charity dedicated to giving underprivileged individuals, with a focus on youth, the resources to improve their confidence, education and the opportunity to achieve extraordinary goals. The Dale Jr. Foundation has contributed to more than 400 local and national organizations. He also is involved with the Make-A-Wish Foundation. In May 2010, Make-A-Wish recognized Earnhardt as one of only a handful of athletes who has facilitated more than 200 "wishes" for kids battling terminal or life-threatening illnesses. The occasion was documented by the ESPN "SportsCenter" My Wish series. In recognition of his career achievements as a champion driver, team owner and philanthropist, Earnhardt was named the recipient of the 2014 NMPA Myers Brothers Award, a prestigious accolade recognizing those who have made outstanding contributions to the sport of stock car racing. In 2016, a harmless tweet from Earnhardt about his sandwich of choice, Hellmann's mayonnaise and banana on white bread, went viral and triggered an outpouring of donations for Blessings in a Backpack, which provides food for children who face hunger on weekends when they are out of school. More than 1,195 donors contributed, while The Dale Jr. Foundation and Hellmann's each pledged to donate $50,000, raising a total of $159,935.33 for the charity.
Earnhardt's hobbies include listening to music, traveling and continuously quenching his thirst for NASCAR history. He enjoys spending time on his property affectionately known as Dirty Mo Acres. It consists of a vintage Western-style town, a treehouse, a paintball course and five miles of ATV trails. He married wife Amy in a New Year's Eve ceremony on Dec. 31, 2016.