18 Cup seasons later.... April 25th, 2017. A day that put the NASCAR world in a state of denial and awe, Dale Earnhardt Jr announced his retirement that will happen at the end of the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season. 42 years old still yet in his prime, but with multiple concussions throughout his career he has chosen to hang up his helmet with 26 Cup wins with possibly still yet to follow. Although the stats have yet to fully tallied we couldn't ask ourselves for a better ambassador for the sport of NASCAR. They say no one is bigger than the game. In reality that is nothing but the truth. Why is it so gut wrenching that Earnhardt Jr is retiring? The name to fans is what makes that bigger than the game. Having his name in it just being there was something we didn't think about it not ever being there someday. Many will shame Jr's success to his fathers name Earnhardt Sr. That isn't why. Jr is his own and has been through the years. The part you can't deny however is Dale Sr did start the name, but the torch was rightfully passed to Jr to continue it. One generation made the sport what it was with Sr and the other made the sport what it was and is for this part of the 21st century. The name does stick in your mind when you think of NASCAR. To me it's a word association that makes me think of NASCAR right away. April 25 2017 I felt impact with the thought of there not being an active Earnhardt name in it is a hard concept of reality to settle in in your thought pattern being a NASCAR fan. Jr has put in a ton of effort with multiple top 5 & 10 finishes and a best of third place championship finish. Not to say that's a lack there of, but the fact he was there you just knew the comfort of Jr being in the race no matter where he finished those days. Think about 2018... we will still have the sport go on as normal. February will come around as it always does with the calendar year. Daytona speed weeks will lead up to the 500. We will still have 40 of the best drivers that any Motorsports fan could ask for. We will have the Euphoria of excitement and the carnage. Reality will go as normal as will the event, but you can't help think about knowing who isn't in the 88 but still have respect for who is driving in it next. Dale will still be very involved at the track. I know Dale drove the Batman car, but as we see legends come and go, I refer to them as Superman. The word Superman being a Superhero in the comic books doesn't mean no one can be called a hero because they do not hold the powers of ultimate greatness. The hero part can be seen as saving thousands of people like the Troops do and making an impact on an individual's life like Jr did with so many. Supermen and Women also come in the forms of our Fathers and Mothers and friends. Dale at his press conference described all those who helped him shape who he was to get where he is at today. A Superman is that. Being his health to be the main factor, imagine Superman still being a major character but his power flight was damaged, that's only his flight. His influence cannot be tarnished. He's been here making us proud for many years. Years that made us as a fan base proud to be a nation through thick and thin. That's why Jr makes me proud.
All photos used with permission by Nascar Media.