Dale Earnhardt Jr. kicked off the beginning of the final lap of his NASCAR Cup career Sunday at Sonoma Raceway.
From this point on, Earnhardt will visit the majority of tracks for the final time as a Cup driver.
Sure, he’s already made his last appearances at Atlanta, Las Vegas and Fontana, but Sonoma and the next 20 races – many for the second time this season – will put a stamp of finality on Earnhardt’s career.
Earnhardt finished sixth at Sonoma Sunday, his second-best career finish at the 1.99-mile road course north of San Francisco.
His recent runs there made it seem like he was just getting started, finishing a career-best third in 2014, seventh in 2015 (plus 11th in 2016) and sixth in his last start – the only top-10s he’s earned there.
Earnhardt grew philosophical after Sunday’s race when he spoke about the legacy he hopes he’ll leave after he makes his final Cup start in November at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“I think the wins and everything are great, I enjoyed celebrating those,” Earnhardt told Fox Sports 1. “But, long after your career, guys come along and win races and some of your accomplishments on the track sort of get forgotten.
“But, who you are as a person never gets forgotten. People never forget who you were.”
Earnhardt at first struggled to find the right words, but then said what could be construed as a self-epitaph of sorts.
“I hope people just thought I was good and honest and represented the sport well,” he said. “I hope people that work with me enjoyed working with me, whether it was in the Late Model ranks or whatever; and I hope the guys I raced against enjoyed racing with me.
“That’s really all that will matter and what people, I think, will remember, as long as you’re alive and beyond.
“Hopefully I left a good impression. I’ve had a lot of fun.”