Dale Earnhardt Jr. will retire from NASCAR after 2017, concluding an 18-year career. Hendrick Motorsports, the team Earnhardt, 42, has spent the last 10 seasons with, made the news official on Tuesday morning with a press release.During his career, Earnhardt has so far amassed 26 wins, two Daytona 500 victories and been honored with the sport’s Most Popular Driver Award 14 consecutive times. Hendrick noted he spoke to the entire No. 88 team crew before the news was announced.Last season, however, Junior experienced health issues stemming from a concussion that took him out of the car for half of the year. He announced his return to the sport prior to the 2017 season, but spoke vividly about the health issues and his concerns before getting back into the car.During that time, Alex Bowman and Jeff Gordon split time in the cockpit of the No. 88 car. Bowman does not currently have a full-time ride with any team, but is still considered a development driver for Hendrick.While Earnhardt didn’t let on any plans of leaving the sport, he actually spoke about the potential of retiring after 2017 before the season started, but only if he won the championship.”Hell yeah,” Earnhardt said about the possibility of retiring if he won a championship. “I would definitely not want to come back and try to race anymore if I won the championship. I would be outta here (laughter). You know, I’ve always wanted to win a championship so badly. Coming back from this injury, we worked so hard.”To come back this year, win a championship, it would be hard not to hang it up.”Apparently plans have changed.Earnhardt is nowhere near contention for making the NASCAR playoffs, much less competing for a championship. Currently sitting at 24th overall, Junior is coming off another DNF in Bristol and likely needs a win to get himself back into contention for the postseason.While this year was looked at as a comeback season for Earnhardt, it has quickly turned into a rough one for the entire team.”It’s unfortunate,” Earnhardt said following the wreck in Bristol. “We weren’t running that great, but we were working on our car and trying to figure out how to get it to run better. And get something out of today, but we are going to have another bad finish. We have had a lot of them this year. It’s going to be tough.”Regardless of how this season finishes out, Earnhardt will hang up his helmet with a solid career behind the wheel.He may have gained notoriety from his father’s name, but Junior has built an empire in racing that includes JR Motorsports and one of the most popular brands in any sport. JR Motorsports has never been more successful than it is this season, so don’t expect Earnhardt to be away from the track for years to come.As for Hendrick, there are currently no plans announced for Earnhardt’s replacement behind the wheel of the No. 88 car. Regardless of the driver or talent placed in the No. 88 machine, it will be nearly impossible to replace the fame and popularity that comes along with having Earnhardt on the track.
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