CONCORD, N.C. – After 400 miles at Homestead-Miami Speedway last Sunday, the checkered flag waved on Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s NASCAR Cup Series career.
Earnhardt pulled his car onto pit road, where Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick was right there to embrace him, marking the end of an era.
“I got very emotional talking to Rick,” Earnhardt said. “He’s been like a father to me. It’s easy to tell him thank you for making me a driver for your team. Thank you for hiring me. It’s easy to say those things. But to try to thank him for being what he’s been to me as a person and a friend and a father figure is very hard.”
After a heartfelt conversation, the driver then presented Hendrick with his final helmet – fulfilling his part of an agreement the two made before the race.
“The deal I had with Rick was if I finished the race with the car in one piece, I’d get the car and he’d get the helmet,” Earnhardt smiled. “So, yeah, I’m going to take this thing back home.”
Earnhardt hasn’t been the only driver to gift Hendrick his final helmet. The gesture had the owner thinking back to when four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon also offered his helmet to him after his final race in 2015.
“I still can’t believe I’ve seen these two guys grow up,” Hendrick said. “I’ve known Jeff since the early days of his career and Dale since he was about 12 years old.”
And the owner was touched by the gift.
“That meant so much,” he said.