CONCORD, N.C. – Whenever Dale Earnhardt Jr. thought of retirement, one crucial factor continued to push to the forefront.
The opportunity to “go out on my own terms.”
So, when a concussion last season threatened to make the decision for him, it put everything into perspective.
"During my rehab, I was given something else that I wasn't accustomed to, and that was time,” Earnhardt explained. “Time to understand what's important to me. Time to realize the incredible support system I have in my wife, my team and my doctors. And time to work like hell to wrestle back some semblance of say-so in this whole matter.
“So that became my motivation. The opportunity to stand here at this podium to announce my choice."
That’s exactly what he did Tuesday afternoon on the Hendrick Motorsports campus in a poignant speech that explained the driver’s thought process behind the decision to conclude his NASCAR Cup Series career after the 2017 season – and the emotions that have followed.
The hardest part of the process for Earnhardt, “without a shadow of a doubt,” was discussing the decision with Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick.
"His response?” Earnhardt recalled. “He told me he loved me."
When the driver closed his speech, Hendrick joined him onstage.
"I'm fortunate today, because you and I have a lot more left to do,” he told Earnhardt. “There will never be another Dale Earnhardt Jr. You're the one. I'm just super excited, very appreciative of what you've meant to me personally and what you've done for our company, but most of all what you mean in my life."
“There will never be another Dale Earnhardt Jr. You're the one."Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick
Looking ahead to the next chapter, Earnhardt said he still plans to be part of the sport of NASCAR “for many years to come.”
And in the short-term, he and the No. 88 team have their sights set on capitalizing on the rest of the 2017 campaign – and finding Victory Lane along the way.
“This isn’t the end of the road,” Earnhardt said. “Those guys are fired up. Especially after today and talking to them this morning, we have a lot of urgency to go out there and try to make some things happen this year.”
From the very first day he arrived at Hendrick Motorsports, Earnhardt said he was always looking to leave an imprint on the organization.
Hendrick said he did more than just that – he left his mark on the entire sport.
And as the press conference wound down, Earnhardt was asked if his late father, Dale Earnhardt Sr., would have been proud of him.
“I just never felt like I was worthy of assuming that of him,” Earnhardt said. “I always was open to hearing from people that knew him really well what they think he would think.”
At that, Hendrick spoke up.
“I knew your daddy pretty well, and he would be proud of the man that you are and what you've done for so many,” he said.
“He would be – and is – very, very proud of you."