Could 2016 Be Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Final Season?


Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re a fan of the New York Yankees you know all to well about what it’s like to watch legends walk away from the sport that you love. In 2013 Yankee fans saw the departure of Mariano Rivera and then in 2014 Derek Jeter followed suit. If you’re a fan of Hendrick Motorsports you’re in the middle of watching Jeff Gordon run his final season in the Sprint Cup Series.

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The next question is about whether or not Team Hendrick teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be following in Gordon’s footsteps and stepping away after 2016.

Earnhardt Jr. spoke to Autoweek this past week about the idea of retirement. In the interview Earnhardt Jr. admitted that retirement is something that is coming.

"I’m turning 41. So it’s on the horizon, as far as my retirement.I have to watch Jeff (Gordon) and talk to Jeff (Gordon). I have to) talk to other drivers, like Dale Jarrett —guys that I trust —about their decisions and what they would have done differently and what to keep your eye on, be prepared for, what shocked them or what they weren’t prepared for. You know, what was their decision like years later? Do they feel like they made the right decision"

The idea of Earnhardt Jr. hanging them up in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series after 2016 really isn’t all that farfetched. Earnhardt Jr. has said before that he would like to finish his NASCAR career in the Xfinity Series driving for his own team (JR Motorsports). In fact, in the past he has alluded to wanting to run a few season with JR Motorsports once he decides to step away from Team Hendrick.

At the end of the 2016 season Earnhardt Jr. will be 42 years old and he will turn 43 the following season. Earnhardt Jr. is currently under contract with Team Hendrick until 2017 which means that it would make sense for him not to consider retirement until after 2017. However, watching Gordon make his final run in 2015 could have more of an impact on Earnhardt’s decision than some might think.

This season Earnhardt Jr. has a front row view of Gordon’s retirement tour. As a teammate of Gordon’s it would only make sense of Earnhardt to be seeing an inside perspective about what Gordon is thinking and feeling as he closes this chapter on his career. Earnhardt seems to be very aware of not wanting to remain in the sport too long and watching Gordon leave under his own terms (still quite competitive) might encourage him to do the same.

Another thing to look at is that one would have to assume that Earnhardt Jr. is going to want to be competitive while running with JR Motorsports. If he remains in the Sprint Cup Series for another three or four years he will be running for his own team past the age of 45 and that might not be something that he wants to do. Additionally, Earnhardt Jr. leaving the Sprint Cup Series full time doesn’t mean that he will stop running in the series. A departure from Team Hendrick will open the door for Earnhardt Jr. to run in the Sprint Cup Series under the JR Motorsports banner.

Fans of Earnhardt Jr. obviously don’t want him to retire anytime in the near future. However, I don’t foresee Earnhardt’s next move as a retirement as much as it will be a change and the start of the next and possibly final chapter in his racing career.

Next: Dale Jr. Reunites With His Dad's Barber And Shares The Hairstyle That He Wishes He Could Have