When the checkered flag stops flying and the fans have filed out of Homestead Miami Speedway following Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400, the career of one of NASCAR’s biggest names will come to an end.
Plenty of fans are going to pile into the grandstands to see who will be crowned champion of the Monster Energy Series – but just as many, if not more, will be there to see Dale Earnhardt Jr. take his final laps as a full time NASCAR driver after announcing his retirement in April.
"We want to end well. We want to be competitive. We want to work...we want to put in a good effort this weekend. That will be fun to try to figure out if we have a competitive car. I look forward to getting to work on it," Earnhardt Jr. said.
The son of NASCAR legend Dale Sr., the driver known as “Little E” joined his father in the sport’s top level in 1999. He finished second in the 2001 Daytona 500 in which his father crashed into a wall and died at an area hospital – thrusting Dale Jr. into the spotlight of not only making his own name, but living up to his father’s legacy.
Over his 19 season career, Earnhardt Jr. won 26 Monster Energy Series races and was consistently voted the most popular driver in the sport – all while never being able to bring home a championship that his father won seven times during his career.
His final race will come at a Homestead track where he hasn't had much success, finishing 10th or better just twice in his career.
"I'm looking forward to getting on the track and get our car handling, and see if we can make the thing get around there pretty good so we can have some fun on Sunday," he said.
Earnhardt Jr. has battle concussions throughout his career, including one that sidelined him for the second half of the 2016 season. After getting married last New Year’s Eve and expecting a baby in early 2018, Dale Jr. knows he has plenty of excitement coming despite leaving the track.
"I've felt very good about that decision before the race in Daytona started in February, that this was it. And I was more thankful to be able to compete this year than I was to ever question whether I should go farther," said Earnhardt Jr.
He won’t be leaving the sport, though, as Earnhardt Jr. will join the NBC Sports team as a color commentator of NASCAR coverage on the network starting in 2018.
Earnhardt Jr. is one of three drivers who will be closing out their careers this weekend in Homestead. Matt Kenseth, a long time friend of "Little E", announced this season will be his last as did Danica Patrick, who made the shocking announcement this weekend that she will retire from NASCAR after this weekend and racing all together after next year's Indy 500.