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Dale Earnhardt Jr. to retire at end of 2017 NASCAR season

Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide

Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet, walks through the garage area during practice for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway on April 22, 2017 in Bristol, Tenn. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Jared C. Tilton

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR’s most popular driver, announced Tuesday that he will retire at the end of the season.

The two-time Daytona 500 winner set an afternoon news conference with team owner Rick Hendrick to discuss his decision. Hendrick Motorsports said in a news release that Earnhardt informed his team of his decision early Tuesday.

A third-generation NASCAR driver, Earnhardt has been plagued by concussions the last several years, and he missed half of last season recovering from the latest head injury. It’s caused him to delay contract talks on an extension to drive the No. 88 Chevrolet, and now he appears ready to call it quits.

Earnhardt turns 43 in October, was married during the offseason and has stated he wants a family. He’s become a vocal advocate for research of sports-related brain injuries.

Earnhardt has won NASCAR’s most popular driver award a record 14 times. He has 26 career Cup victories, and that includes a pair of wins in the Daytona 500.

Earnhardt is a two-time champion in NASCAR’s second-tier series. But the son of the late seven-time champion has never won a Cup title.

Earnhardt has driven for Hendrick since 2008 after a nasty split with Dale Earnhardt Inc., the team founded by his father but run by his stepmother. He was unhappy with the direction of DEI since his father’s 2001 death in a last-lap accident at the Daytona 500, and a frosty relationship with his stepmother led him to bolt to NASCAR’s most powerful team.

Hendrick Motorsports said Earnhardt first discussed retirement with his boss on March 29.

Earnhardt made his first career Cup Series start on May 30, 1999, at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The Kannapolis native is in his 18th full-time season at the Cup level and he made his 600th career series start earlier this year at California.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s notable achievements

1998: Wins the Busch Grand National Series points championship for the first time at the age 24.

2000: Earns his first Winston Cup victory at DirecTV 500 in Fort Worth, Texas. The victory came in just his 12th career Winston Cup start.

2000: Wins his second Busch Series points title.

2001: In the first race held at Daytona International Speedway since his father was killed in a crash on the final lap of the Daytona 500, Earnhardt Jr. wins the Pepsi 400. He jumps to the hood of his car after the race, throws his fists in the air and then hugs 2001 Daytona 500 champion and Dale Earnhardt Inc. teammate Michael Waltrip.

2001: In the first NASCAR event since the 9/11 attacks, Earnhardt wins the Cal Ripken Jr. 400 at Dover, Delaware. He carries a large American flag during his victory lap.

2003: Captures Aaron’s 499 title to win at Talladega Superspeedway for a record fourth straight time.

2004: Earns his first Daytona 500 title exactly six years to the day after his father’s lone Daytona 500 championship. One of his career-high six titles that season.

2004: Wins an October race at Talladega but gets fined $10,000 and is docked 25 points for swearing during an NBC interview after the race. Penalty drops him out of the lead in the points race at the time.

2007: Announces he is moving from Dale Earnhardt Inc. to Hendrick Motorsports, effective in 2008.

2008: Ends a 76-race title drought by winning at Michigan International Speedway when he goes the final 55 laps without stopping for gas.

2012: Ends another long drought at Michigan again when he earns his first Sprint Cup victory since 2008. He had gone 143 races without a title.

2014: Captures his second Daytona 500 title in a race that included a rain delay lasting 6 hours, 22 minutes. Launches a comeback year in which Earnhardt also records season sweep at Pocono Raceway (also launches Twitter account that now has over 2 million followers).

2015: Wins the Coke Zero 400 in another rain-delayed race at Daytona for his 10th career victory on a restrictor-plate track. He would earn his 26th - and most recent - career victory later that year in Phoenix.

2016: Named NASCAR’s most popular driver for a 14th consecutive season despite missing half the year due to concussion-like symptoms. Bill Elliott is the only person to be named the most popular driver more often.

2017: Announces on April 25 that he will retire at the end of the season.

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