Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth And Danica Patrick Have Mixed Emotions On Stepping Away From Full-Time Racingby Camille Jones December 9, 2017
Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway marked the end of the season for NASCAR racers, but it also marked the end of an era as Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth, and Danica Patrick took their final laps as full-time drivers in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
All three drivers ended their run as full-time drivers with different plans leading them into the future.
Earnhardt’s final laps came after his decision to bring his career to an end and move on to working in the TV booth with NBC Sports, joining in on the list of former drivers and crew members that have taken their racing expertise to television.
Following a charity event for Nationwide Children’s Hospital during Champion’s Week events in Las Vegas, Earnhardt told ESPN’s Bob Pockrass, “It’s felt weird, to be honest with you, to be finished with the season and knowing you’re not going to go back and start another one is a weird feeling.”
Earnhardt continued, “Being away from the sport is so weird. Just being home for Thanksgiving is a very odd feeling and not a comfortable feeling at all. I think I’m always going to want to be at the track and be around the sport and be involved in the competition somehow and some way. If I ever thought I was just going to quit cold turkey, I must’ve been kidding myself.”
Following the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series banquet where Earnhardt was awarded his 15th-consecutive Most Popular Driver award, he was able to reflect on his time as a driver and his retirement.
“This is a little sad, but there’s a lot of joy,” Earnhardt said. “It’s been a great year to reflect, and I was thankful to be able to compete all season and compete one more season and close the book how we wanted to close it, do it ourselves.”
Earnhardt will continue to be a part of the sport through his ownership of his NASCAR XFINITY Series team, JR Motorsports, as well as racing in select NASCAR XFINITY Series events. From then on, he will be found in the booth for the races broadcast by NBC Sports.
“If I could be as helpful and important to the sport out of the car as I was in, that would be a win for me,” Earnhardt said. He also added that he has a lot to learn on the media and television side of the sport, but is looking forward to the new experience.
Earnhardt and his wife, Amy, are also expecting their first child in May of 2018.
Matt Kenseth leaves the sport with no set plans for the future, aside from knowing he won’t be racing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2018. With a baby on the way this month, he will use his time to be around his family.
“Just looking forward to winding down a little bit,” Kenseth told the media during Champion’s Week.
Kenseth was able to cap off his career with an emotional victory at Phoenix International Raceway in his second to final race. The 2003 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion never had a retirement tour, but he was able to end his career in the sweetest way possible.
“It was a great way to end the season and most likely my career,” Kenseth said during the banquet.
Danica Patrick moves on from her full-time career in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series with plans to race in the 2018 Daytona 500, before completing her racing career at the Indianapolis 500. She also has multiple projects that have been in the works over the past several years, including her own wine company, clothing line and fitness and health book. The Illinois native has always had a business venture going on aside from here time on the racetrack.
On the Friday before her final start as a full-time driver, Patrick told the media, “I don’t feel like I was necessarily pushed into this. I feel like I should be doing this. I feel like this is where my life should be headed, and sometimes we just get kind of nudged there. Sometimes it’s big nudges and sometimes it’s little.”
While Patrick has spoken to other retired drivers about stepping away from the cockpit, she’s not quite done just yet. Patrick won’t miss a beat come February at Daytona International Speedway, but she hasn’t driven in the Verizon IndyCar Series in a competitive setting since the 2011 season. Patrick believes that she will quickly get acclimated, but there is a level of nervousness.
“I definitely have a level of, you know, fear and nervousness about it,” Patrick said. “Just a little bit because it has been so long, but I believe that I will catch on and remember quickly.”
Patrick’s long-time boyfriend and fellow Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was present in Las Vegas for Champion’s Week, following his 12th-place finish in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs.
When asked about Patrick’s retirement, he was able to answer from a fellow driver’s point of view. Stenhouse said, “I think that was difficult for her, ending her career. Any time a racer ends up kind of saying you’re not going to move forward racing, it’s one of those things that’s hard to comprehend until you do it, I think. For race car drivers, it’s something you really don’t ever expect or really ever kind of run through your head. I think it’s really emotional when that does happen. For her, I know she’s really looking forward to the Daytona 500 and Indy 500 and I think that’s going to be really cool to see.”
NASCAR loses three strong personalities in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series with the retirement of three drivers who all ranked top-10 in the 2017 Most Popular Driver votes. Each has their own future planned out ahead of them, and while some may choose to remain close by, others seek new opportunities as they close one chapter and open another.
Photo Credit: Camille Jones/TheFourthTurn.com