I am not a Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan of any sort. Only a slight few times have I ever cheered for him to win a race, mainly because my other favorites had wrecked out. At the beginning of this season, Dale announced that he would be retiring from NASCAR’s top series, the Monster Energy Cup Series. He has been in NASCAR’s top series for the last 19 years.
I have been watching NASCAR since I was about 7 or 8 years old -- now I am 20. I have not seen a NASCAR season without Jr. The closest I have come was when he was hurt in the 2016 season and was out three-quarters of the season. Even then, seeing another driver in his car, it was just plain odd to me.
If I'm being honest, I don't think I want to see a season without him.
NASCAR’s season runs from mid-February to mid-November. It is a very long season when it first started this year I knew that it would be a year all about Dale, and I have been right. Every track has used, ‘See Dale’s last ride’ or something of that nature. I was at his last race at Kansas Motor Speedway, and they said it what felt like every 10 laps. But now that Championship Weekend has rolled around, it has started to hit me. Dale is not coming back. I know it has and still is hitting Jr. Nation Hard, but now it is me too.
Dale has been the most popular driver for as long as I can remember, and I sit here now and wonder, who is going to take it next year? Part of me thinks that somehow, he will earn the title next year. He has an announcing job lined up for NBC, he should be better than Jeff Gordan. But how can Jr not be on the track? Its really something that has started to just creep up on me, but I can’t stop thinking of it, how can Jr not be in NASCAR. There is even a Twitter hashtag, #Appreci88tion, it has been used all year, but just about everyone. Most of the tracks have even given Dale a going away type gift.
I remember when Dale went from the 8 to the 88. Even then, that was a huge change. You can go to any given Walmart, especially during the summer, and you have a huge chance of seeing an 8 or now an 88 tattoo. It is just how life works. But what driver are people going to tattoo on themselves now who is the most popular? When Dale changed sponsors over the years, that has been a huge change. But is him not being in the car a change that NASCAR as a sport will ever get over?
Dale Jr., in a way, is a face of NASCAR.
You can go out into any town, anywhere in the United States and start going around to the people you see and asking them what they know about Dale Earnhardt Jr. You are going to get so many correct answers out of so many people. People that have never watched a single race, seem to know exactly who he is, or at least his number. I’m sorry, but that is a feat to how big he actually is.
This is a loss I’m not sure that NASCAR will ever get over. For anyone that watched NASCAR and watched his father, they basically saw Jr. grow up. Sure, he has never won a championship like his Dad, and it seems like forever since he got his last win, but it is Jr. If I am going to be honest, a large part of me doesn’t want him to go. Some people like to say that Dale has shaped NASCAR, I would agree with these people.
My best wishes are with Dale, his wife Amy and their child they will be having next year. Dale has been successful thus far in his life, so he will still be. But I hope that maybe one day he will come back as a driver. I mean, even if it is for one race. Dale, we are going to miss you on track.