NASCAR’s 14-time Most Popular Driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. is slated to wrap up his NASCAR Cup Series career at the end of the 2017 season. However, a slow start halfway through the regular season has prompted some to wonder if he should hang up his helmet before the season is over.
Heading into Dover this weekend Dale Earnhardt Jr. finds himself 23rd in the standings. 12 races into the 2017 season Earnhardt is winless with one top-five finish and a pair of top-10 finishes. Through the first 12 races of the season Earnhardt has an average finishing position of 22.7, the last time he finished a season with a number that bad was in 2009.
As a result of the slow start, some are wondering aloud if Earnhardt Jr. should retire before the end of the 2017 season. A recent article on Beyond The Flag, suggests that Earnhardt (by his own omission) has nothing left to prove and is racing this season for his fans and all of those who have supported him. The article asserts that the combination of him having nothing left to prove, the inherent risk of racing and his age is a formula that spells it being smarter for him to retire now as opposed to at the end of the season.
While I agree with the article in that Earnhardt’s fans would support him if he were to make that decision, I disagree that it would be the right decision for him to make if everything remains as it is now. Heading into this weekend at Dover, Earnhardt is in good health. As long as Earnhardt remains in good health there is zero reason for him to consider stepping away before the end of the season.
It’s no secret that the No. 88 team has struggled through the first 12 races. That being said, the last time Earnhardt won a race was 2015. Winning again this season would be special on several levels for Earnhardt and all of his fans. Earnhardt still has the talent to win races and he still races for one of the better teams in NASCAR. Moreover, today’s NASCAR is setup in such a way that winning a race at the right time and stringing together some consistent finishes could put a driver in position to win a championship. A win over the next 14 races will secure Earnhardt a spot in the Chase. Consistent finishes in the Chase and a well-timed win (like his 2015 win at Phoenix) could easily put Earnhardt into the final-four in Miami with a shot to win a title.
Is Earnhardt a favorite to win a title this season? I would say probably not. However, if he still thinks he can win races and his teams believes that they can put themselves in a position to make a run, why not see it through? One of the worst things in life is regret and if Earnhardt Jr. were to walk away from NASCAR this weekend one would have to assume he would take with him a great deal of wonder and regret. He would most likely wonder if he could have turned this season around and made one or two more memories for himself and his fans. Eventually that wonder would turn to regret and in that end that’s not good for anyone.
NASCAR is dangerous, it’s something that we all know and understand. This weekend Earnhardt Jr. could get turned into the wall, suffer a concussion and be forced to retire before the season ends. Then again, this weekend Earnhardt Jr. could also win and put his team into the playoffs for one more run at a title before the season is over. Life is filled with possibilities, both positive and negative. I for one am happy that Earnhardt is choosing not to let the negative possibilities force his hand.
Like I said before, if all remains as it is today there is zero reason for Earnhardt to walk away from NASCAR before the end of the season. So with that in mind, let’s spend the next few months cheering on the face that has been the face of the sport for the last 14 seasons. One of the greatest things about sports is that it allows for fairy tales to become reality. Nobody knows what the end holds for Earnhardt but he has done more than enough for all of us to hope for the fairy tale ending.