The news caught Royals manager Ned Yost by surprise on Tuesday morning.
Well, that’s not quite accurate. Yost knew this day was coming, probably soon. He just did not expect to hear Dale Earnhardt Jr. announce his retirement from NASCAR, effective at the end of this season, as Yost spent another morning here in Chicago.
“It surprised me,” Yost said. “But it didn’t surprise me.”
Yost, a longtime friend of Earnhardt Jr.’s father, the late Dale Earnhardt, spent a minute or two on Tuesday sending a text to Dale Jr. The two will catch up at some point, Yost said. But he was happy to hear that Earnhardt — who cited his history with concussions as a reason for his retirement — was going out on his own terms.
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“He’s showing everybody that his priorities are in order here,” Yost said. “There’s more to life than just racing. He just got married this winter. He’s got a great wife.
“He’s got a lot of things going for him. And he needs to enjoy it. Because Dale Sr. had a lot going for him, too, at that point.”
As he sat in his office on Tuesday, Yost scrolled through a gallery of photos from his days working on the elder Earnhardt’s pit crew during the 1994 strike. He recounted his relationship with Earnhardt and watching Dale Jr. work inside his father’s garage. He reflected on following Earnhardt Jr.’s career after the death of his father in the 2001 Daytona 500.
“He was such an ambassador to all sports,” Yost said of the younger Earnhardt. “The way he interacted with his fans, how he handled the media, how he competed his (rear) off, how he always did it with class. He’s a neat kid.”