FS1’s NASCAR RACE HUB Analysts React to News of Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Retirement Following Conclusion of 2017 NASCAR Season
Joy: ‘In listening to this announcement, I heard so much of the words of Neil Bonnett, who was Dale Jr.’s dad’s best friend on the track and off.’

CHARLOTTE, NC – Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR’s 14-time most popular driver, announced Tuesday he will retire from the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series following the conclusion of the 2017 season. Earnhardt, who missed the final 18 races of the 2016 season due to a concussion, will step away from racing after a career spanning 18 years and more than 600 starts.

Below are quotes from FOX NASCAR play-by-play announcer Mike Joy and analysts Darrell Waltrip, Larry McReynolds, Jeff Hammond and Michael Waltrip from Tuesday’s special edition of NASCAR RACE HUB on FS1:

NASCAR RACE HUB: What was your reaction to the announcement today?
“He said it best. It’s one of those bittersweet days. It’s a day we all saw coming, but it’s a day we didn’t look forward to. But then you look back at his accomplishments, who he is and what he has meant to the sport, and you find the sweet in the bittersweet.”
–Darrell Waltrip, FOX NASCAR analyst

NASCAR RACE HUB: What did you see from Dale Earnhardt Jr. during his press conference?
“I saw just what I expected — genuine, heartfelt appreciation for the people who love him and appreciation for the people who have done so much for him. It was hard for him to go to Rick (Hendrick) and explain that he was ready to retire, but it was something he knew he needed to do. I was his teammate on the track; heck, I was his teammate in the (FOX Sports) booth, too. Just to get to know Dale Jr. makes people better. People around him want to be better because of him. His heart is huge. I was so thankful to see that look on his face. You could tell that every single word was exactly what he meant. None of it was manufactured; none of it was made up. It was just honest feelings about being able to do something he loved all his life. I sure appreciated one thing he said – he knew at an early age that the shadow (of his late father Dale Earnhardt Sr.) was going to be huge. That’s kind of the way I grew up. I knew my brother’s shadow (FOX NASCAR analyst Darrell Waltrip) was going to cast a big one on me. I just wanted to race a car. I didn’t care about all of that, and that’s exactly what Dale Jr. said.”
–Michael Waltrip, FOX NASCAR analyst and former Earnhardt teammate at Dale Earnhardt Inc. (DEI)

“I have known Dale Earnhardt Jr. for well more than 20 years, and he has changed and matured a lot. But one thing that hasn’t changed, and it came across today, was his genuineness and sincerity. He was that way when he made the announcement and in every question he answered.”
–Larry McReynolds, FOX NASCAR analyst

NASCAR RACE HUB: Dale Earnhardt Jr. sat out 18 races last fall. How much do you think that time away impacted his decision to retire?
“I have to believe it weighed in. We all live in a rat race and go, go, go. We never take time to stop and reflect, but he had that time last fall. I also think he’s in the best place he’s ever been personally and professionally. JR Motorsports is on top of its game now. He is happy and content with his accomplishments, and for the first time in his life, he has someone to share things with – his new wife, Amy. I’m sure there are a lot of people who will say it’s because of the way he is performing right now. I think this ship had sailed shortly after the season started, though. He sat down with Rick Hendrick just a month after the season started, so I don’t think the performance of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports team had anything to do with it.”
–Larry McReynolds, FOX NASCAR analyst

NASCAR RACE HUB: How difficult do you think it was for Dale Earnhardt Jr. to tell Rick Hendrick he wanted to retire?
“Their relationship is so unique and so special. Here’s a son who lost a father. Here’s a father who lost a son, and the bond between them is probably stronger than any other at Hendrick Motorsports, at least for that reason. In listening to this announcement, I heard so much of the words of Neil Bonnett, who was Dale Jr.’s dad’s best friend on the track and off. When Neil was sidelined by injury, he did great things in television, but he so wanted to be back in the race car. He said, time after time, ‘I don’t want someone else to tell me that I can’t drive a race car. When that time comes, I want to make that decision for myself.’ I’m sure Neil had those conversations with Dale Sr. I’m sure Junior was aware of those. I hear so much of Neil’s words. Neil did return to racing, and sadly, we lost him in a practice crash at Daytona. I don’t want to say that weighs on Dale Jr. and affects this decision, but he said several times today, that he wants to decide how and when this decision is made. He doesn’t want someone telling him he can’t be in the race car anymore. Just being able to make that decision probably gives him peace.”
–Mike Joy, FOX NASCAR play-by-play announcer

“Having worked for Rick Hendrick myself, it’s easy to understand where he is coming from because Rick is that father figure, even if you’re the same age. He is such an unbelievable individual that you want to talk to him. He gives you that comfort level, and with what he has meant to Dale Jr. and to him making the transition from DEI to Hendrick, that bond has grown to the point it’s almost like going in there and telling Dale Sr. that you want to retire.”
–Jeff Hammond, FOX NASCAR analyst

NASCAR RACE HUB: Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he was sad he had to deliver the news because he knew how disappointing it would be for some. How much of the weight of the sport has he carried over the years?
“Sports Business Journal cited that he accounts for 25-percent of the driver merchandise sold in NASCAR. Those are Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan numbers. Saying that Dale Jr. has somewhat carried the popularity of the sport on his back for many years is not inaccurate. I first met him when he showed up in Martinsville one day in his cadet uniform of Oak Ridge Military Academy to see his dad. That was my first encounter with him, and today I saw a very confident young man fully at peace with his decision. Making this announcement now gives his fans almost an entire season to rally behind him and give him a great send-off for a decision that’s truly his. I seen him content and happy but certainly concerned about the sport and its future.:
–Mike Joy, FOX NASCAR play-by-play announcer

NASCAR RACE HUB: What do you think his legacy in the sport will be?
“The best thing about Dale Jr. was expressed in a column by Jeff Gluck. He starts out saying Dale Jr. is a normal guy trapped in a superstar’s life. The key to his appeal is he responds to situations much as his fans would. He’s plain-spoken. He’s enthusiastic. He doesn’t get into sponsor-speak and he is very genuine. That resonates with his fans and with all NASCAR fans.”
–Mike Joy, FOX NASCAR play-by-play announcer

NASCAR RACE HUB: When he was cleared to race again, he said he was glad he was able to make the decision and it was not made for him. We heard the same thing from him today — that he was able to make the decision to retire. Both scenarios seemed important to him.
“I heard the same thing, and I heard him say several times ‘on my own terms.’ Pause for a second and think about his dad. When I heard him say that a couple of times, I thought, ‘What does he mean by that?’ But Dale Sr. didn’t get the opportunity to retire on his own terms. I believe that a lot of things Dale does and believes are things he learned from his dad. I think he saw some mistakes he thought he could learn from. He stepped up to the mic as composed and as together as I’ve ever seen any athlete when doing what he did today. I was impressed with what he said and how he handled himself. But I think he and all his fans would have loved to have seen Dale Sr. be able to do the same thing. That could have been in the back of his mind when he stepped up to the mic.”
–Darrell Waltrip, FOX NASCAR analyst

NASCAR RACE HUB: How do you think Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s relationship with Rick Hendrick has filled the void of losing his father?
“No one can replace your dad or your son. I can’t speak for either, but as I have watched their relationship grow, it’s like they have helped fill that void in their lives since they lost their dad and son.”
–Larry McReynolds, FOX NASCAR analyst

“You look for partners in life. You look for people you can lean on. Your teammates, if you will, whether at the races or off the track. I think Rick was both his teammate at the races and off the track, as well … someone he could turn to, confide in and trust. Rick certainly has filled a void in Dale Jr.’s life.”
–Michael Waltrip, FOX NASCAR analyst and former Earnhardt teammate at Dale Earnhardt Inc. (DEI)