Junior’s Last Ride

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There’s only one more race left in the 2017 NASCAR season as a champion will be crowned this Sunday in Homestead, Florida. Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., and Brad Keselowski are the four drivers who still have an opportunity to win the Monster Energy Series Championship, but there will be another story to pay attention to when the drivers rev up their engines this Sunday afternoon.

For nearly 20 years Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been a NASCAR driver and this Sunday will mark his final race on the circuit. Earnhardt will leave the NASCAR circuit without a championship, but he will forever be remembered as this generation’s “people’s champion”.

Earnhardt comes from a famous racing family which was headlined by his father Dale Sr. who was a seven-time Winston Cup Champion. The elder Earnhardt died on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500 as he was attempting secure a one-two finish for two drivers who were racing for Dale Earnhardt Inc. in Michael Waltrip and Dale Jr.

Fans immediately embraced the younger Earnhardt and he would do something that was powerful enough to make grown men cry when he won the Pepsi 400 in 2001 which was the first NASCAR race at the Daytona International Speedway following his father’s death. There was not a dry eye in the stands as well as on pit row. And when Earnhardt climbed out of Chevrolet Monte Carlo on the infield at Daytona, he was greeted by his crew, as well as that of Waltrip, and Kevin Harvick who was the driver that replaced his father in the Chevy Goodwrench.

In all Eardhardt has won 26 career races which included winning the coveted Daytona 500 twice as Daytona along with Talladega Superspeedway have always been kind to the Earnhardts. Earnhardt has had to duel with the likes of Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson who have each claimed multiple NASCAR Championships during this era of NASCAR, but he has continued to be the circuit’s most popular driver which is voted on by fans. Earnhardt’s popularity has led to him securing cameo roles in Jay-Z’s music video for “Show Me What Ya Got” and in Will Ferrell’s film “Talladega Nights”.

Earnhardt is 43-years of age, but you can make the case that his decision to walk away was influenced from his time spent as a spectator last year when he suffered a concussion that forced him to miss the final 18 races of the season. And after Dale Jr. had to see his father killed on the race track, it would make sense for him to walk away after dealing with such a serious head injury.

So as Dale Jr. is set to climb into his no. 88 Nationwide card one last time, he will share the day with Matt Kenseth who has also decided to call it a career as it is now time for him to begin the next chapter of his life. Eardhardt recently got married and he and his wife Amy are expecting their first child next year. But as Earnhardt is set to bid farewell to the sport that brought him immense fame, he does it on his terms and obviously without any regrets. NASCAR is set to crown a champion for 2017 which won’t be Earnhardt. However there is always the possibility that Junior could surprise everyone and win his first race of the year which would be a fitting way for him to ride off into the sunset. And just like it was for Dale Sr., Junior is the people’s champion of this era.

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