Having announced his retirement from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series at the end of 2017, Dale Earnhardt Jr. will miss a few things on the weekly circus of NASCAR racing.
After holding one of the quickest cars any time the field takes the green in Hendrick Motorsports, Earnhardt has earned nine wins for Rick Hendrick, with another 17 wins before their partnership began in 2008. Among those, victories at Martinsville Speedway and the 2014 Daytona 500 saw Earnhardt happy as a child in Victory Lane.
Those trophies, however, are not what Earnhardt will miss most after this season.
“I do love winning races, but it isn’t the priority,” Earnhardt said. “It’s not the thing I enjoy the most. The thing I enjoy the most is my relationships with my team, my friendships with those guys. The wins were still important, but the relationship you make are what will last forever.”
Having missed 18 races in 2016 due to a concussion, Earnhardt said he wants to go out on his own terms. Earnhardt said he believes it’s more about the team than the result.
“When we win races, we celebrate together and that’s awesome,” he said. “Winning races is not that much fun when you don’t enjoy who you’re doing it with. No success is as sweet when the people you’re doing it with isn’t someone you connect to.
“I think I got much better at that in my career. When I was young I was good at running everyone out of the shop, running my mouth. Now, I’m better at getting everyone together and getting everyone excited about what were doing. I’ve matured.”
With 28 races to run in 2017, Earnhardt is thankful for his success through 603 Cup starts even if he doesn’t win again.
“I accomplished way more than I ever dreamed. Way more,” he said. “So, I’m good. 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 fans. There’s been some tears.”