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Rick Hendrick : Junior is 'like a son' to me
Rick Hendrick showers Dale Earnhardt Jr. in praise at the announcement of his retirement following the 2017 season.
Earnhardt Jr. to retire following 2017 season
RELATED: Reactions " Relive every Dale Jr. win " Top quotes from day CONCORD, N.C. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced his retirement from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series after the 2017 season on Tuesday, saying that he wanted to leave stock-car racing competition on his own terms. But his words also struck a tone of optimism, that his involvement with the sport would remain strong. The emotional, engaging hourlong press conference came six hours after his Hendrick Motorsports team made the surprising news public Tuesday morning. That six-hour stretch included an outpouring of support through social media; which a gracious Earnhardt recognized in his opening statement. It was a decision not easily reached and a day that was "bittersweet," but one that he indicated brought a certain degree of peace. "I accomplished way more than I ever dreamed, way more than I ever thought I'd accomplish," Earnhardt said. "So I'm good, you know. I'm good on that front. I'm so blessed and fortunate on what I was able to achieve but I'm very sad because it's definitely disappointing for a lot of people to wake up to that news this morning." Hendrick Motorsports indicated that team owner Rick Hendrick and Earnhardt Jr. first met to discuss the driver's decision on March 29. Earnhardt acknowledged that his recent health concerns -- which caused him to miss half of the 2016 season -- were a factor in making his choice now, to finish out the final year of his contract with the team. Junior says 'hardest part' was telling Hendrick " Hendrick : Junior 'like a son' "I wanted to honor my commitment to Rick, to my sponsors, to my team and to the fans," Earnhardt said. "I'll admit that having an influence over my exit only became meaningful when it started to seem most unlikely. As you know, I missed a few races last year and during that time I had to face the realization that my driving career may have already ended without me so much as getting a vote at the table. Of course, in life we're not promised a vote and that's especially true in racing." Earnhardt, 42, returned to competition in the No. 88 Chevrolet this year after a concussion and lingering symptoms sidelined him from NASCAR's top series for the final 18 races last season. Through his rehabilitation process, Earnhardt has become a vocal advocate for research of sports-related brain injuries. But his stint away from the drivers' seat, he said, also gave him the benefit of 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." The 14-time Most Popular Driver has won 26 times in 603 starts over a career that began at age 24 in 1999. Among his accomplishments are two Daytona 500 crowns (2004, 2014) and two championships (1998, 1999) in what is now called the NASCAR XFINITY Series. RELATED: Go deeper in Dale Jr.'s career stats Earnhardt said he'd return to the track for two races in that series next season with the JR Motorsports team that he owns through an alliance with Hendrick . And while he described himself as "eager" to see what the next wave of racing talent can do in NASCAR's national ranks, he said his plan was to maintain a strong presence in the sport as it reaches future generations. "I don't see myself really detaching from NASCAR," Earnhardt said. "My intention is still to be involved in the sport on some level. ... Even after this season is over, you have not seen the last of me on the race track. But more than that, I want to be a part of the future of the sport for years to come." Earnhardt's best finish in eight starts this season was fifth place at Texas Motor Speedway on April 9. He is currently ranked 24th in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings, with finishes of 30th or worse in half the races. He indicated a faster start to the season wouldn't necessarily have changed his mind about retirement. "I'm excited about the races that I have left," Earnhardt said. "It's like the practices in the mornings that I get excited for, I used to complain about the season and how long it is, but this one here can drag on for a while if it's all right." Hendrick Motorsports said in a news release that it would announce its 2018 plans for the No. 88 team at a later date. KENNY BRUCE: Junior as a kid, a son, a race, a fan favorite Earnhardt began his premier-series career on May 30, 1999 at Charlotte Motor Speedway with a 16th-place finish in the Coca-Cola 600. That step in his NASCAR career came after years of driving Late Models at the weekly and touring level before making his mark in the XFINITY tour. Earnhardt followed the steps of his famous father, initially driving cars owned by NASCAR Hall of Famer and icon Dale Earnhardt. His earliest entries in the premier series carried No. 8, the number favored by his grandfather, Ralph Earnhardt. The early part of Earnhardt's career was met with tragedy, with the death of his father in a last-lap crash in the 2001 Daytona 500. Earnhardt Jr. won in the series' return trip to Daytona International Speedway that summer, going 1-2 with teammate Michael Waltrip in an emotional victory for Dale Earnhardt Inc. MORE: Junior ponders what his dad would think of him " Pictures of father, son Earnhardt's most prolific year with DEI was a six-win season in 2004 that included his first Daytona 500 victory. By then, he had exhibited a mastery on the sport's biggest and fastest ovals, winning six times at Talladega Superspeedway, including a four-race win streak that stretched from 2001-03. After an acrimonious departure from his father's race team -- which continued under the leadership of his stepmother, Teresa Earnhardt -- Earnhardt's free-agency period in 2007 ended with his choice of Hendrick Motorsports . That move fulfilled a half-joking "lifetime contract" he'd jotted down on a napkin and issued to team owner Hendrick as a teenager in 1991. That relationship with Hendrick , who joined Earnhardt on the stage Tuesday, has budded into more than a driver-owner partnership. Hendrick said when Earnhardt informed him of his intentions late last month, he told him he loved him and offered his support. "He's like a son and we've had many, many years of a tremendous relationship," Hendrick said. "I really appreciate what we've been able to do together, and I appreciate the kind of guy you are and what you've done for the sport, for NASCAR, for me personally, our company, the sponsors and everyone." Earnhardt is now in his 10th season driving for Hendrick , a span that has ebbed and flowed with both triumph and setbacks. After winning at Michigan International Speedway in his first year with the team, he went four seasons before winning again -- also at Michigan. Earnhardt caught stride again in 2014 and '15, combining for seven wins in that two-year stretch. That included his second Daytona 500 crown in 2014. VOTE: Your favorie Dale Jr. win But his tenure with Hendrick was also marked by injuries. After a pair of concussions in a six-week stretch, Earnhardt sat out two races in the 2012 playoffs. Two severe wrecks during the middle portions of last year left him sidelined for the final 18 races of the season. The time outside the car gave him a new perspective about the effects of brain injuries on athletes, and Earnhardt advocated for change in working with NASCAR to develop its concussion protocol. Just two months before his 2016 injury, Earnhardt announced that he would donate his brain for scientific research upon his passing. Even as his rehabilitation lingered through the second half of 2016, Earnhardt expressed an interest in returning to competition. Last December, he was certified to return to the track after a test session at Darlington Raceway. Those preparations came during an offseason of personal change as well, as Earnhardt wed Amy Reimann in a New Year's ceremony. RELATED: Photos from Reimann-Earnhardt wedding Through it all, Earnhardt has remained wildly popular, first inheriting his father's legions of fans and attracting new ones with his authentic personality and more recently, through his folksy, humorous and straight-shooting approach to social media. Earnhardt made his grand entrance onto Twitter from Victory Lane in the 2014 Daytona 500, and has since used the app as a forum for showing both his appreciation of stock-car racing history and for expressing his thoughts with unwavering honesty. Earnhardt has also interacted through recent forays into broadcast media, with appearances on FOX Sports' race coverage and through his popular radio podcast, the Dale Jr. Download. The engagement with his fans has led to 14 straight seasons of being voted the National Motorsports Press Association's NASCAR Most Popular Driver. Only Bill Elliott, a 16-time recipient, has more most popular awards. Which is why Earnhardt was quick to thank his supporters, the "nation" that has been among the sport's most vocal fans. "One thing that has made this career the incredible ride that it's been is Junior Nation," Earnhardt said. "The fan support that I received straight out of the gate was in large part because of my famous last name, but throughout the ups and downs, it occurred to me that the fans stuck it out and the new ones that joined us, they were there because of the person I was and not who they wanted me to be." &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Bruce on Junior: A kid, a son, a racer and fan favorite
RELATED: Junior announces retirement after '17 season " Reaction to news The pressure was probably there from the first time he slid behind the wheel of a race car. Before that, he was just "Dale's kid." No real burdens, few expectations. Hanging out at the track on occasion, playing with the kids of other competitors. He was a child, the son of a racer for sure, but just a child and nothing more. But once he became Dale Earnhardt Jr., racer, everything changed. Once he became a racer, he became the son of a seven-time champion, the son of one of NASCAR's most legendary figures. Once he became a racer, nearly every single thing took on an entirely different meaning. Expectations didn't grow, they exploded. He raced and he won and his popularity grew, in part because of folks that were also fans of his father, but maybe more because he was new and fresh and cutting edge, and younger fans in the sport found someone with whom they could relate. He listened to Nirvana. He was featured in "Rolling Stone" and "Playboy." MTV featured him on its popular "MTV Cribs" show. He was the new face for the sport. And then the horrific 2001 accident took the life of his father and fans of his dad flocked to Earnhardt Jr., hoping to keep the memory of their hero alive, hoping to keep "their" sport alive through the son. MORE: Dale and Dale: Pictures of father and son Earnhardt Jr. never, ever discounted those who came to him as fans of his father. He embraced them, understood them and welcomed them. They were old school and as Earnhardt Jr. matured and grew and became more and more involved in all aspects of the sport, he became old school, too. Maybe he didn't "become" old school as much as he began to embrace it. You want a history lesson on NASCAR? Earnhardt might not be a professor, but his depth of knowledge and his love of the sport's colorful past are unrivaled. Now he's stepping out of the driver's seat after winning two XFINITY Series championships in 1998 and '99, 26 career races in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and two Daytona 500 victories. RELATED: Recap every win " Full Dale Jr. stats It's been an incredible journey for Earnhardt Jr., who in addition to his duties as driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports is also co-owner of an XFINITY Series operation -- JR Motorsports -- that fields four full-time entries. But it's been an incredible journey for his fans as well, who have voted him the series most popular driver for 14 consecutive years. Most saw him win for the first time in the top series at Texas in 2000 and then weeks later when he got the big ol' bear hug from his father in Victory Lane after winning the series' All-Star Race at Charlotte. Fifteen years later he was still winning, and who knows, perhaps his winning hasn't stopped just yet. His father's passing and the eventual surprise move to Hendrick Motorsports , and through it all the winning and contending for wins and his fans yearning and hoping and wishing for a championship that has yet to arrive. He's been a kid and a son and a racer and a champion and fan favorite. And now a husband and he's talked about children so yeah, he may be a father some day, too. MORE: Dale and Amy through the years " Wedding album He's a brand and a spokesperson and there are many in the garage that share their time and talent and resources with those less fortunate, but Earnhardt is among those at the top of the list. And the entire time he's let everyone in, let 'em come along for the ride, because the kid who used to change oil in cars at his father's dealership knows race fans about as well as he knows himself. He's traveled his own path and enjoyed a racing career and at the end of the day you look back and say, well, that's life. One chapter ends and another begins. &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;&lt;span _rtetemp=&quot;spchk&quot; style=&quot;background-color: #ffffaa;&quot; _rtespchksugg=&quot;Lt"alt"ult"flt"let"lit"lat"lot"ltd"t&quot;&gt;am&lt;/span&gt;p;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
How to watch Tuesday's Dale Jr. press conference
RELATED: Junior to step away after 2017 " Drivers react Hendrick Motorsports driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced via a team press release Tuesday that he would retire following the 2017 season. Earnhardt Jr. and team owner Rick Hendrick will have a joint a press conference at 3 p.m. ET to discuss the driver's decision. NASCAR.com will live stream the press conference. Stay tuned to NASCAR.com for complete Earnhardt Jr. coverage, and bookmark this link for the live stream at 3 p.m. ET: www.nascar.com/presspass . &amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Amy Earnhardt: 'I'm so proud of Dale'
MORE: Junior announces retirement after '17 season " Reactions Amy Earnhardt, wife of Dale Earnhardt Jr., released a statement via Twitter on Tuesday about her husband's decision to retire from full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series competition following the 2017 season. pic.twitter.com/GaAPFJKx8V — Amy Earnhardt (@AmyEarnhardt) April 25, 2017 NASCAR's 14-time Most Popular Driver unveiled the news with Hendrick Motorsports on Tuesday morning. MORE: Earnhardt's wedding gallery " Every Dale Jr. win The pair wed on New Year's Eve before Junior's return in the 2017 Daytona 500 after missing the final 18 races of the 2016 season. During his recovery from a concussion, Junior often cited the positive influence Amy had on him to get healthy and get back in the car. &amp;<span _rtetemp="spchk" style="background-color: #ffffaa;" _rtespchksugg="Lt"alt"ult"flt"let"lit"lat"lot"ltd"t">am</span>p;lt;/p&amp;amp;gt;
NASCAR reacts to Dale Jr.'s retirement announcement
READ MORE: Dale Jr. announces retirement after 2017 season Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Hendrick Motorsports announced Tuesday that 2017 would be Junior's final full-time season. Here's how the NASCAR community paid its respects. This story will be updated throughout the day. Proud of all @DaleJr has accomplished & what he's meant to @NASCAR . But more proud of who he is as a person. — Jeff Gordon (@JeffGordonWeb) April 25, 2017 You're a hell of a friend and teammate @DaleJr , I'm really happy for you and @AmyEarnhardt . — Jimmie Johnson (@JimmieJohnson) April 25, 2017 I'm proud of my great friend @DaleJr for everything he's done for this sport. I'm even more proud of who he is as a man. Love you friend — Tony Stewart (@TonyStewart) April 25, 2017 Happy for ya @DaleJr , nothing but respect. Let's end it on a good note this year — Chase Elliott (@chaseelliott) April 25, 2017 Now we know why... You've helped make this a better sport for so many of us, we wish you all the best in your retirement. https://t.co/9Ze6JZgZ70 — Brad Keselowski (@keselowski) April 25, 2017 Don't think @DaleJr could've been any classier delivering one of the hardest things he's ever had to do. Glad my career has had him in it. — Clint Bowyer (@ClintBowyer) April 25, 2017 I'm really excited for the next chapter in @DaleJr and @AmyEarnhardt lives. JR has made #NASCAR so much better and will continue to do so. — Mark Martin (@markmartin) April 25, 2017 pic.twitter.com/GaAPFJKx8V — Amy Earnhardt (@AmyEarnhardt) April 25, 2017 I'm kind of new in the sport but what a great guy @DaleJr is in and out of the race track. Wish you the best my friend! — Daniel Suárez (@Daniel_SuarezG) April 25, 2017 Great memories racing @DaleJr for the last 9 years. Thanks for all you have done & will continue to do for our awesome sport! #NASCAR — Joey Logano (@joeylogano) April 25, 2017 Congrats on a great career @DaleJr , finish strong! Thx 4 all u have given this sport. All the best to u n Amy w the next chapter n ur lives — Kyle Busch (@KyleBusch) April 25, 2017 If you weren't a @DaleJr fan before I'd guess you are now. #honesty #sincerity #heart — Michael Waltrip (@MW55) April 25, 2017 Thank you, @DaleJr . Ready for one final season. #FinishStrong pic.twitter.com/5bV0icYAOy — Team Chevy (@TeamChevy) April 25, 2017 Excited to see what the future holds for @DaleJr , think he will be just as captivating and influential off track as he was while on track. — Alex Bowman (@AlexBRacing) April 25, 2017 In sports-athletes like @DaleJr come along once in a lifetime-talented-popular-humble-honest-real-you don't get that combo often-well done! — Steve O'Donnell (@odsteve) April 25, 2017 @DaleJr has made the sport of @NASCAR better for fans and competitors. True racer 1st ballet HOF 4 sure! Enjoy the rest of the season! — David Ragan (@DavidRagan) April 25, 2017 Congrats to @DaleJr on one helluva run. I didn't think they would announce Carl's return till end of year though? Hmm! — Clint Bowyer (@ClintBowyer) April 25, 2017 Great memories racing @DaleJr I am pretty sure when you google "cool". Your picture shows up — Bobby Labonte (@Bobby_Labonte) April 25, 2017 Ive always enjoyed watching @DaleJr wheel it around the track. He is and will always be an icon in this sport. All the best to him and Amy! — Ben Kennedy (@BenKennedy33) April 25, 2017 My favorite post race celebration. Thanks @DaleJr and congrats on a great career. Proud to call you my friend. pic.twitter.com/y3zZSm7JOl — Michael Waltrip (@MW55) April 25, 2017 Woke up to the news about @DaleJr great career son. Wanna come race a Funny Car? @TeamChevy pic.twitter.com/VlS6Qijzmt — John Force (@JohnForce_FC) April 25, 2017 Gonna be different not watching my boss but also one of my closes friends in the sport retire but so proud of him and what he represents!! https://t.co/elXxIW6TD9 — Elliott Sadler (@Elliott_Sadler) April 25, 2017 Wishing all the best to our friends @DaleJr and @AmyEarnhardt on the next chapter! Still gonna text you for style advice Amy ❤️ — Paige (@PaigeKeselowski) April 25, 2017 Excited 4 new chapters professionally w/ @DaleJr & our team of great people. And for he & @AmyEarnhardt & family time for us all! — Kelley Earnhardt (@EarnhardtKelley) April 25, 2017 Best of luck to @DaleJr , congrats on a great #NASCAR career and thanks for all of the memories! pic.twitter.com/FE345PClsx — RCR (@RCRracing) April 25, 2017 Happy for @DaleJr and wish him nothing but the best.. He has made all of us better through his career in many different ways.. pic.twitter.com/NUOZKo4jVa — Rodney Childers (@RodneyChilders4) April 25, 2017 Amazing what @DaleJr has done for the sport and the impact he's had on all of us. It'll be cool to watch him finish out this year strong — William Byron (@WilliamByron) April 25, 2017 I'll miss watching you on the track, @DaleJr . You've made fans out of all of us. #NASCAR pic.twitter.com/BNaizTQzRy — Michael Annett (@MichaelAnnett) April 25, 2017 Been trying to think what to say, but my mind keeps stoping at Incredible...That's exactly what you've been for our sport! Thank You @DaleJr — Daniel Hemric (@DanielHemric) April 25, 2017 Wish nothing but the best for @DaleJr . He has had a great career! — Jeb Burton (@JebBurtonRacing) April 25, 2017 Wishing you nothing but the absolute best, @DaleJr . pic.twitter.com/nF8EWcpCXW — Richmond Raceway (@RIRInsider) April 25, 2017 We'll miss you @DaleJr ! https://t.co/3ntl1lOXZi — MISpeedway (@MISpeedway) April 25, 2017 We love you, @DaleJr ! — TalladegaSuperspdwy (@TalladegaSuperS) April 25, 2017 Good reason to be up early, congrats my friend on an amazing career, enjoy the heck out of the next 6 months #futurehalloffamer https://t.co/lBVcGkgeX3 — Regan Smith (@ReganSmith) April 25, 2017 Really bummed to see a career come to an end, but crazy excited to see where it goes from here. #Bossman #Hero @DaleJr https://t.co/0WsWVb10Dz — Justin Allgaier (@J_Allgaier) April 25, 2017 Thanks for all you've done and will continue to do for NASCAR, @DaleJr . Kick butt the rest of 2017. See you here in September pic.twitter.com/bA2v00FE1f — Chicagoland Speedway (@ChicagolndSpdwy) April 25, 2017 Thankful for everything @DaleJr has done and will continue to do for our sport! He is such a genuine guy and I'm lucky to call him a friend — Matthew DiBenedetto (@mattdracing) April 25, 2017 &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Dale Earnhardt Jr.: By the numbers
BUY TICKETS: See the races at Richmond RELATED: Dale Jr. announces retirement " Amy's message to Dale A statistical look at the NASCAR career of Dale Earnhardt Jr., with numbers as of April 25, the day he announced his retirement from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series at the end of the 2017 season. For a deeper statistical dive, visit Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s page at racing-reference.info . 0 -- The number of laps completed in Earnhardt Jr.'s shortest race, the result of a first-lap crash in the 2001 Dura Lube 400 at Rockingham. The event was the first for NASCAR after the death of Dale Earnhardt Sr. in a last-lap crash in the Daytona 500. 1 -- The number of NASCAR All-Star Race victories in Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s career. He became the invitational event's first rookie winner in 2000. 2 -- The number of Daytona 500 victories recorded by Dale Earnhardt Jr. 3 -- The car number made famous by his father, NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt. Also, Earnhardt Jr.'s highest-ranking finish in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings, in 2003. 6 -- The number of wins recorded by Earnhardt Jr. at Talladega Superspeedway, the most among active drivers. Also, the number of victories Earnhardt achieved in his winningest season (2004). RELATED: All of Junior's wins " Dale Jr. through the years 8 -- Earnhardt Jr.'s first car number in NASCAR premier-series competition. Also, his starting spot in his premier series debut in the 1999 Coca-Cola 600. 10 -- The number of seasons that Dale Earnhardt Jr. has driven for Hendrick Motorsports , which fields his No. 88 Chevrolet. 11.3 -- The best average finish in a single full season in Earnhardt Jr.'s career, recorded in his three-win campaign of 2015. 12 -- The number of tracks where Dale Earnhardt Jr. won in his premier-series career -- Talladega (6), Daytona (4), Phoenix (3), Richmond (3), Pocono (2), Michigan (2), and one each at Atlanta, Martinsville, Bristol, Chicagoland, Texas and Dover. RELATED: Best paint schemes " Junior plans to run two XFINITY races in '18 13 -- The number of Coors Light Pole Awards that Earnhardt has collected in his career in NASCAR's top division. 20 -- Over two seasons (2012 and 2016), the number of races that Earnhardt missed due to concussions. 21 -- The age at which Dale Earnhardt Jr. made his debut in what is now the NASCAR XFINITY Series. He finished 14th on June 22, 1996 at Myrtle Beach (S.C.) Speedway. 22 -- The number of top-10 finishes Earnhardt Jr. posted in both of his NASCAR XFINITY Series championship seasons. 24 -- The age at which Dale Earnhardt Jr. made his debut in NASCAR's premier series. 42 -- The age at which Dale Earnhardt Jr. made his decision to retire from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. RELATED: Dale Jr. explains his decision -- best quotes from the No. 88 driver and Rick Hendrick 50 -- The number of NASCAR national series victories for Dale Earnhardt Jr., with 26 in premier-series competition and 24 in what is now known as the XFINITY Series. 88 -- The car number the Dale Earnhardt Jr. has campaigned since moving to Hendrick Motorsports in 2008. 100 -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. reached this milestone number of premier-series starts on Sept. 1, 2002 in the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. He finished 16th. 143 -- The number of races in the longest losing skid of Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s career, spanning 2008-12. Both wins that bookended the dry spell were recorded at Michigan International Speedway. 149 -- The number of top-five finishes that Earnhardt Jr has registered in his career at NASCAR's top level. 291 -- The number of starts that Earnhardt Jr. made for Dale Earnhardt Inc., the team founded by his father that gave him his start in what is now the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. 312 -- The number of starts -- as of April 25, 2017 -- made by Dale Earnhardt Jr. for Hendrick Motorsports . 426 -- The number of laps led by Earnhardt in his first full season (2000) in NASCAR's top division. 540 -- The number of times that Dale Earnhardt Jr. was scored as running at the finish in his career, an 89.6 percent rate. 595.5 -- The number of miles Dale Earnhardt Jr. completed in his big-league debut May 30, 1999 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Earnhardt placed 16th, three laps down in the Coca-Cola 600. 600 -- The milestone number of premier-series starts Earnhardt achieved in March 2017 at Auto Club Speedway. 1,131 -- The number of laps led in Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s most prolific season (2004) in that category. 8,195 -- The number of laps led in Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s career to date. </p>
Earnhardt: With young talent, 'sky's the limit for NASCAR'
RELATED: Blaney on Dale Jr.'s influence on him CONCORD, N.C. -- High-profile departures have been a recent trend in NASCAR's top division, a development that began with transcendent four-time champion Jeff Gordon's retirement at the end of the 2015 season. Popular three-time champ Tony Stewart followed after 2016, then fellow star Carl Edwards stepped away just before this season. That list will include the most popular of all -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. -- at the end of 2017, a move he signaled in a Tuesday announcement at the Hendrick Motorsports compound. But instead of sounding an alarm about a possible void, Earnhardt issued a strong vote of confidence for the sport's future with positive remarks about the stock-car racing's recent influx of spellbinding talent, a group of young stars that have the potential to dazzle fans for future generations. RELATED: Larson, Elliott top point standings "We definitely have tons of talent. There is no question, but I love the people they are," Earnhardt said, naming 21-year-old teammate Chase Elliott and current Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points leader Kyle Larson, 24, as two brilliant examples. Being marketable, approachable and having a level of savvy with social media certainly hasn't hurt. "These guys are effortless at it," he added. "So once they start to pick it up and understand the power of what they have at their fingertips, the sky's the limit for NASCAR. I'm super excited about the future." MORE: Dale Jr. announces retirement " Vote: Favorite Junior win Earnhardt has done plenty himself to help cultivate the next crop of stock-car prodigies, fielding JR Motorsports' four-car effort in the NASCAR XFINITY Series as a developmental program for next-gen stars. Among those is 19-year-old William Byron, a product of the NASCAR Next youth initiative and a top prospect for success at the sport's highest level. It's why team owner Rick Hendrick was quick to echo Earnhardt's sentiment. "I've never seen so much young talent," the 67-year-old team owner said. "I can remember when the question was all of our drivers are in their 40s or they're going to be, what are we going to do when they retire? I think we've got the answer. They're here, they're young, they're aggressive, they're fun." RELATED: Hendrick : Dale Jr. is 'like a son' to me The current group of 20-somethings -- or younger -- includes a diverse group of Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidates in the Monster Energy Series. Erik Jones, 20, was the first to throw his hat into the rookie race with a full-time jump hitched to a newly expanded Furniture Row Racing operation. Ty Dillon and Daniel Suarez, both 25, followed with their offseason announcements. Their task now: To become better acquainted with fans who have long-running associations of support for Gordon, Stewart, Edwards and Earnhardt. Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer, said that transition and exposure to a broader stage will come in time. "It's something that evolves," O'Donnell said. "That's you getting to know them more, them being in Victory Lane more. People like winners. … As they win and compete for top fives and are exposed more, we have no doubt that people will see their personalities and then it'll be up to them as well to take those personalities outside the sport also." &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Speeding penalty foils Larson at Bristol -- but he still put on a show
BUY TICKETS: See the races at Richmond BRISTOL, Tenn. – Kyle Larson's No. 42 Chevrolet was incredibly fast on the high banks of Bristol Motor Speedway during Monday's rain-delayed running of the Food City 500. Unfortunately, it was a bit too fast on pit road, too, and the misstep changed the team's pit strategy, and likely cost the Chip Ganassi Racing driver a shot a second victory through eight Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races this season. Sixth in the final rundown, the 24-year-old Larson put on quite a show right up until the end of the race. "Yeah, I knew I gave the race away there," Larson, who won earlier this season at Auto Club Speedway, said of the infraction which came on Lap 422 of the 500-lap race. "I was surprised that I was able to line up with an opportunity there at the end. We lucked out taking two (tires), and then the 78 (of Martin Truex Jr.) sped and it lined us up fourth (for the final restart)." Larson, the points leader and pole winner (the latter coming when rain forced officials to cancel qualifying on Friday), dominated the opening 125-lap Stage 1 Monday, leading every lap. He was nearly as invincible in the second stage, leading 77 circuits around the .533-mile oval before finally yielding the point to Truex. Larson ran in the top five for much of the final 250-lap stage and was second when he dropped onto pit road following the race's eighth caution period. The speeding penalty sent him to the rear, but he was 12th when a final caution flag flew for an incident involving Kasey Kahne ( Hendrick Motorsports ) and Paul Menard (Richard Childress Racing). Larson was one of a handful of drivers able to run both the high and low lines around Bristol seemingly picking his spots and picking off cars at will. Fifth on the final restart, he quickly made his way to second and was closing on leader Kevin Harvick (Stewart-Haas Racing), when Jimmie Johnson ( Hendrick Motorsports ) and Clint Bowyer (SHR) began running down the two. "I thought maybe if I could get the top going quick and get by Kevin, I could get the win," Larson said. "But I think even if I was able to get into the lead, I don't think I would have won because Jimmie and Clint were way faster than I was. They were a straightaway ahead of us, I think, at the checkered flag." Johnson took the win, his 82nd , with Bowyer earning runner-up honors. Harvick, Matt Kenseth (Joe Gibbs Racing) and Joey Logano (Team Penske) completed the top five. "I think I speed on pit road every time I come to Bristol," Larson said. "So I've got to clean that up." Larson has five top-five and six top-10 finishes this season. Chase Elliott (HMS) finished seventh and trails Larson by 27 points. </p>
Jimmie Johnson moves closer to NASCAR legends
Jimmie Johnson reeled off back-to-back wins with his Bristol conquest on Monday, and now a much larger goal looms in front of him. Mr. Johnson, meet Mr. Yarborough. Mr. Allison and Mr. Waltrip, you're next. The Hendrick Motorsports driver and seven-time premier series champion continued to climb NASCAR's all-time wins list with his "Colosseum" conquest, and he is homing in on passing a triumvirate of legends with every victory. Now with 82 career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series wins, Johnson is one behind Cale Yarborough (83) for sixth place on the all-time wins list. Beyond Yarborough are Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip at 84. That's just two more wins than Johnson currently has. Yes, it is conceivable -- perhaps even probable -- that Johnson will pass all three on the list in the same season and end 2017 fourth on the all-time wins tally. "It's mind-blowing," Johnson said. "I cannot believe that we're sitting here with 82 wins. That is such a big number. Yeah, and to be 7 or 8 years old, whatever I was, traveling around the country racing dirt bikes and walking into my first Hardee's, and I thought it was a race shop for Cale Yarborough and then I realized it was a hamburger stand. ... To be in this position is quite an honor. But I honestly wouldn't be in this position if it wasn't for (crew chief) Chad Knaus and (team owner) Rick Hendrick and Jeff Gordon, Lowe's, all the consistent things that I've had through my career. This has really been the environment for me to thrive in." Sit back and enjoy it. History is at hand.