Dale Earnhardt Jr. will retire after the 2017 season, Hendrick Motorsports announced Tuesday. Stats & Info takes a look at his career highlights and statistics:
With 26 career wins, he is one of the most successful drivers to never win a Cup Series championship. Only five drivers have more recorded wins without winning a Cup Series title. His best finish was third in 2003.
Earnhardt Jr. is a two-time NASCAR Xfinity Series champion, winning in 1998 and 1999. He is also a two-time Daytona 500 winner, one of 11 drivers to win the race multiple times.
In NASCAR's modern era (since 1972), Earnhardt Jr. ranks in or near the top 20 in several categories. For some perspective, there have been 912 drivers with at least one start over that span and 89 different drivers with at least one win.
Earnhardt Jr. has been one of the most popular drivers in series history. The Cup Series has a Most Popular Driver award, decided by a fan vote, and Earnhardt Jr. has won the past 14 seasons. Only Bill Elliott (16 times) won it more often. No driver has won Most Popular Driver and a championship in the same season since Elliott in 1988.
Recent injuries and struggles
Earnhardt Jr. missed the final half of last season (18 races) due to concussion-like symptoms. He also missed two races during the 2012 playoffs after suffering a concussion. Before that, however, he hadn't missed a Cup Series race since Nov. 14, 1999, before he became a full-time Cup driver.
Junior's return in 2017 has not been a success. He has wrecked out of three of eight races this season and sits 24th in points and outside the playoff picture. After winning seven races in 2014-15, Earnhardt Jr. is winless in 26 starts since the start of 2016 with seven DNFs. He had just three DNFs in 72 races over 2014-15.
Before his 2016 concussion issues, Junior was in the midst of a career resurgence. After winning once from 2009-13 in 178 starts, Earnhardt Jr. won seven times in 72 races from 2014-15, tied for the fourth-most wins in the series.
Recent retirements in NASCAR
When Earnhardt Jr. retires at the end of the 2017 season, four of the top 30 drivers in career Cup Series wins will have retired over the past three seasons.
Jeff Gordon, a four-time champion whose 93 wins rank third, hung it up after the 2015, returning for eight races last season in place of an injured Earnhardt.
Tony Stewart, a three-time champion and 49-time winner on the Cup circuit (ranking 13th), retired after last season.
Carl Edwards, like Earnhardt one of the winningest drivers among those to never win a championship, shockingly retired following last season, when he was among the four drivers racing for a championship in the season finale.
Where does this leave the future of the sport?