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gettyimages-671505500_wide-ab3c033ac44041f0b641f1f18042fcffc55b15de-s900-c85Last Wednesday, Dale Earnhardt Jr., who has been voted NASCAR’s most popular drive for a record 14 straight years, announced he was retiring from the sport at the end of the 2017 season.

Earnhardt made the decision following a concussion that prevented him from driving for most of the 2016 season, and he wanted to go out on his own terms rather than having the choice made for him down the road. He has been racing for 19 years at NASCAR’s highest level and had 26 victories.

In an interview with professional wrestling icon Paul Heyman, Earnhardt said while the decision to retire wasn’t all that difficult, he was ready to walk away from the sport, it was very hard to share the decision with fans who have been so devoted to him over the years.

“It was the easiest decision to make but the hardest one to share with everybody,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “Wasn’t sure how people were going to receive the news and just worried about letting people down. I don’t have the chance to sit down in front of everyone and really explain one-on-one why this decision is what it is.”

Earnhardt, 42, was newly married this past off-season to his wife Amy. She supported his choice, posting on her Twitter account “I’m so proud of Dale for working so hard to get back and even prouder for his courage and self awareness to make the decision to retire. I’m sure God has many other great plans for him and us!”

Earnhardt is the son of Dale Earnhardt Sr., the seven-time Cup champion who lost his life in 2001 at the Daytona 500.

“Dale Jr. has had a huge impact on our sport — and you can see that every week with his legion of fans and Junior Nation,” former Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon said in a press release. “He has a tremendous sense of the history of NASCAR, and, while he shares his father’s name, Dale has made a name for himself with his accomplishments in racing. While we will miss Dale on the track next year, he loves this sport, those working in the industry, and the fans too much to ever be too far away.”

Jeffrey Earnhardt is the grandson of Dale Earnhardt Sr., son of former NASCAR racer Kenny Earnhardt and nephew of Earnhardt Jr. He will be the only family member racing in the Cup level come 2018.

“It’s going to be interesting,” he said. “I don’t think I could ever fill my grandfather’s shoes. I don’t think I could ever fill [Earnhardt Jr.’s] shoes. My goal is for myself to try and just keep improving as a driver and hopefully be able to keep our legacy alive and hopefully have Earnhardt fans accept me.”


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