Earnhardt Jr. Taking Home Final Ride

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

"I’m going to take this thing back home. It’s got a little scuff here and there. We ran into (Martin) Truex on the back straightaway high-fiving him with our racecar." (Photo: Getty Images)

HOMESTEAD, Fla. - Dale Earnhardt Jr. will take home the car he made his final Monster Energy Cup start with in Sunday's Ford EcoBoost 400.

Earnhardt finished 25th in the race, but thanks to a deal he made with owner Rick Hendrick he will get to keep the No. 88 Chevrolet that carried a special paint scheme that resembled his rookie car.

“The deal I had with Rick was if I finished the race with the car in one piece, I’d get the car and he’d get the helmet." Earnhardt Jr. said after finishing the race. "So, yeah, I’m going to take this thing back home. It’s got a little scuff here and there. We ran into (Martin) Truex on the back straightaway high-fiving him with our racecar."

Forced to start at the rear of the field after an engine change earlier in the weekend, Earnhardt Jr. moved up to the middle of the pack but fell a lap down to the leaders on the 56th circuit.

From there he was forced to play catch-up the entire race and was never a factor in a bittersweet ending to a full-time Cup career that finished with 631 starts.

“Yeah, my thoughts are the beer cooler just got put on the trunk of the car,” Earnhardt Jr. said when asked about his thoughts after the race. “ I’m going to have a beer with my team right here, right now and we had a lot of fun tonight. We got the car rolling pretty good and then I hit the wall and had a flat (tire) there at the end, but had a lot of fun out there. This is a fun old race track.”

After a week of build-up to his final race, Earnhardt Jr. was finally able to come to grips with the end of his full-time career once the checkered flag flew Sunday night.

“I was happy for Martin (Truex Jr.),” Earnhardt Jr. said of the race winner and champion. "I was just thinking about Martin, really. But I knew that I’d finish this race so we was going to meet on pit road with the cooler and have some beers with my team. These guys are like my brothers and we really fight for each other and lean on each other and these are the friendships that I’ll have long beyond my racing days. So, this is a good moment with them.”

Once the race came to a close and Earnhardt Jr. got out of the car, he said the emotions started to flow.

“Well, I’m not sure. I’m not sure what the feeling is,” he said. "Didn’t cry until I was hugging Rick’s (Hendrick’s) neck. Man, he’s been like a father to me with the things he’s done for me personally, and in personal stuff. He’s really helped me more than anybody will ever know.

“And he’s done that for a lot of people and so I will miss trying to make him proud. I know I will still be able to do things that will make him proud because he’s like a daddy. I’ll miss driving his cars and trying to make him proud on the race track.”

Earnhardt Jr. addressed the outpouring he’s received from the fans and reminded them despite not driving regularly, he’s looking forward to remaining in the sport as a team owner and broadcaster next season with NBC.

“We’ll be at the race track a little bit next year with our XFINITY stuff and run a couple of races and be able to say hey to everybody when we come back and do that. And obviously we’re going to be in the booth,” he said.

“So, we’ll be around. I still want to have a purpose in this sport. After driving you’ve got to find something to be passionate about that matters to you and I think I might have found that with broadcasting and obviously still owning JR Motorsports. We’re going to be competitive and the competitor inside will still be on fire and trying to keep that team going.”

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