Dale Earnhardt Jr. thanks dad, Junior Nation in emotional retirement speech

NASCAR World Reacts to Dale Earnhardt Jr. Retirement

NASCAR World Reacts to Dale Earnhardt Jr. Retirement

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR's most popular driver, announced Tuesday that he will retire at the end of the season. Hendrick Motorsports said in a news release that Earnhardt informed his team of his decision early Tuesday. Earnhardt Jr., the current NASCAR Busch Series points leader, will drive a Budweiser-sponsored vehicle in five select Winston Cup races in 1999 while racing a full Busch Series schedule. The NASCAR Busch Series was born in 1982 - it was originally called NASCAR Budweiser Late Model Sportsman Series - and the first race was won by Earnhardt. "You're wondering why I reached this decision, it's really simple".

The elder Earnhardt, one of NASCAR greatest legends, perished in a last-lap crash in the 2001 Daytona 500 just as Michael Waltrip and Earnhardt Jr. were about to finish 1-2 in cars owned by Earnhardt.

According to Hendrick Motorsports, Earnhardt has appeared on more than 150 magazine covers and has been featured in high-profile publications such as Maxim, Rolling Stone, GQ, Men's Journal, Sports Illustrated, People Magazine, The New York Times Magazine, Men's Fitness and TV Guide. Asked how the sport will survive in his absence, Earnhardt said although the transition between generations of drivers may not be seamless, he's confident in a crop of about a dozen young personalities, including Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson.

After successive Xfinity Series championships, Earnhardt made the jump to NASCAR's top division in 2000.

Fans and friends of Dale Earnhardt reacted quickly to news of his retirement plans at the end of the racing season. So I'm good on that front.

This past January, Earnhardt Jr. announced at the annual NASCAR Media Tour that he would be returning to the sport, but he seemed very tentative about his long-term position as he adopted a wait-and-see position on his future.

Earnhardt said while he's leaving Cup series, he plans on staying involved in the sport. Earnhardt will race at the track for the final times on June 11 and July 30.

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Bowman made 10 starts in the 88 Chevrolet, won a pole at Phoenix and had three top-fives.

Earnhardt did go on to say that he would be racing in two Xfinity Series races next year for his team, JR Motorsports, and that he would be open to running more Xfinity races in the future when it benefits the race team.

Earnhardt missed half of last season because of concussion issues, returning at the start of this season only after long and hard rehabilitation.

"Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I would be in a Winston cup vehicle so soon", Earnhardt Jr. said.

Earnhardt has driven for Hendrick since 2008 after a nasty split with Dale Earnhardt Inc., the team founded by his late father but run by his stepmother. I love driving. I enjoy it as much as I ever have. (Gordon filled in temporarily a year ago when Earnhardt was unable to race.) The AP writes that the high-profile departures leave "a major void in NASCAR star power".

He's also been plagued by concussions and missed half of last season after suffering yet another one.

Earnhardt's most prolific year with DEI was a six-win season in 2004 that included his first Daytona 500 victory. In March, he announced that he would be donating his brain to head-injury researchers after his death.

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