There comes a point in every legendary sports career when the star reaches the end of the road. For Dale Earnhardt Jr., that moment came in 2017. While the motorsports icon has still been known to climb behind the wheel on a handful of occasions, his proper Cup Series career came to an end with the final race of the 2017 campaign.
In 2020, though, Dale Earnhardt Jr. “dreamed” of making a comeback and replacing Kyle Larson after his use of a racial slur. Junior, however, ultimately decided against heading back to the track; at this point in his life, family has to come first.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a legendary NASCAR career
If you asked 100 people to name a NASCAR driver, a good chunk of them would probably pick Dale Earnhardt Jr. There’s a good reason for that reality.
While he didn’t always plan on being a motorsports star—he actually earned an automotive degree and worked in his father’s dealership—Dale Jr. eventually found his way behind the wheel. At first, he wasn’t exactly driving for the love of racing; his talent, however, was undeniable and shone through.
Junior began racing on the short track scene before moving up to the Busch Series in 1996; two years later, he made his Winston Cup Series debut. Although there were some major bumps in the road, the driver still put together quite the career.
Although Dale Earnhardt Jr. didn’t quite reach the same heights as his father, the younger man’s racing resume was still pretty impressive when he (mostly) called it a career in 2017. He won 50 races across the Cup Series and what’s currently called the Xfinity Series, took the top spot at two Daytona 500s, and was a 15-time winner of NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver title. He also built up an estimated $300 million fortune along the way, which isn’t a bad consolation prize.
Kyle Larson landed in hot water after using a racial slur
While Kyle Larson might not have reached Dale Earnhardt Jr.-levels of popularity, he’s still a pretty big name on the NASCAR scene. In April 2020, however, he landed in hot water after a pretty egregious act.
As documented by CNN, Larson was participating in a live-streamed iRacing event when he used a racial slur, seemingly thinking he had lost communication with the other drivers. He was promptly suspended without pay. Chip Ganassi Racing fired him soon after.
Larson’s NASCAR career, however, didn’t end there. In October 2020, he inked a deal with Hendrick Motorsports; as of January 2021, the driver has also been reinstated by NASCAR, allowing him to compete when the campaign begins.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. ‘dreamed’ of replacing Larson but put his family first
Even though he ‘retired’ after the 2017 campaign, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is still pretty involved with NASCAR. Driving full-time, however, is a bit different, and, with Kyle Larson out of a job, Junior started dreaming about climbing back behind the wheel.
“Can’t lie, man, I did dream about the opportunity of driving that car,” Earnhardt Jr. explained on his podcast, according to NESN.“You’re not a race car driver if you don’t have any competitive blood flowing through your veins whenever a car opens up. I don’t care who it is or what situation it is.”
Dreaming about driving and actually doing it, though, are two separate things. After a conversation with his wife, Earnhardt Jr. decided that it was best to stay on the sidelines; at this point in his life, there’s more on the table than just chasing the checkered flag.
“Me and [Amy] had a conversation about it,” he explained. “Because I really had to think hard about whether it’s something I wanted to try to pursue. I told her, I said look, ‘If we weren’t married and I was single, I’d be in that car in a heartbeat. I probably would’ve never stopped.’ … And that’s to say that I would not preserve myself, or take care of myself or have any reason to take care of myself, for Isla and our new daughter coming down the road, to be a part of their lives 10, 15, 20 years from now when they’re going through some key moments when they’re going to need their dad — and they’re going to need their dad 100 percent.”
It’s unclear if Dale Earnhardt Jr. would have even had the chance to replace Kyle Larson, though. Chip Ganassi Racing ended up picking Matt Kenseth to fill the void.