CONCORD, N.C. -- There are two overpowering emotions left in the wake of Tuesday's announcement that Dale Earnhardt Jr. will step away from NASCAR Cup Series competition following the 2017 season: both happiness and sadness.
Hendrick Motorsports General Manager Doug Duchardt said those are the two predominant emotions most might be feeling following the announcement.
"Selfishly, you’re sad because we enjoy having him drive our race cars and then for him personally, I’m very happy for him," Duchardt said. "I know that he seems very at ease with his decision. As he said, the first thing he said was to be able to go out on his own terms. So you just try to balance those two emotions, basically."
Duchardt said that Earnhardt's absence will be felt by all involved with the organization -- not just as a driver on the track, but as a teammate on the Hendrick Motorsports campus.
"How you saw Dale yesterday, the thoughtfulness, caring about other’s feelings, how he thinks through everything, that’s why he’s such a good teammate," the general manager said. "That’s the part you’ll miss: the sense of humor, his insightfulness in debriefs, those are the things that as he grew into the person he is today, why he’s such a great teammate. So, we’ll miss that part of Dale’s support at Hendrick Motorsports."
However, Earnhardt isn't gone yet. He's still very much focused on the success of the No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet SS team, which will soon head to Richmond International Raceway.
And there's no doubt that the team has Victory Lane on their minds.
"Before Easter break," Duchardt said, "we went to a Texas track -- which by all accounts was a difficult transition for everyone with the new pavement and configuration -- and that team finished top-five. I felt like the last part of that race, the No. 88 was as good as just about any car. Those are as difficult conditions that you can come up with in our sport between now and the end of the year and that team went and excelled."
The general manager said the No. 88 team "absolutely" has the capability to win a race and clinch a spot in the playoffs, just like Jeff Gordon did in his final season in 2015.
"Then you get in the playoffs and you say, ‘Hey, let’s go see what we can do.’ Take the pressure off and just enjoy the ride," Duchardt said. "I think that’s what happened with Jeff. I feel like the No. 88 car definitely has the potential. I like feel as a group, our cars are starting to run better. That began at Texas and we’re hoping to maintain that momentum."