I've got to admit it was strange for me to watch Dale Earnhardt, Jr., perfectly dressed in a suit, delivering such a thoughtful and sincere monolog as he laid out his retirement plan. It struck me there it was for everyone to see just how far he had come from the kid kicking around the track with his dad, to the young, partying NASCAR superstar, to finally just a normal guy who's become really comfortable in his own skin.

It was certainly as wriggly as a road course to get to this point.  After all, he first had to deal with growing up, then coping with his dad's tragedy and the personal turmoil that ensued all out in the middle of the public eye. Having lost your father, how many of us could have handled being reminded about it every single day or being bombarded by it when we went to work? I doubt I could have, but Junior did.

And how would you have liked it if your father's death left you working for a stepmom you could make the argument never really cared for you or even respected you? Under the same circumstances, some of us would have abandoned ship as quickly as we could, but Junior didn't. He soldiered on, carrying DEI, until there was nothing left for him to do but leave the team his dad started. The lack of criticism proved everyone understood he had taken all he could.

It was then perfect timing Rick Hendrick was there to help Junior with the next chapter of his life. Right from the beginning they seemed to be kindred spirits, both having experienced heartbreak few others could understand, and Junior started morphing into a different person on and off the track. He was a more serious racer and took on the added responsibility of owning his own Xfinity Series team.

The final piece that came into place was his wife Amy.  She helped supply Junior with a contentment he had never known and the confidence that was on full display last week when he stood before the Junior nation and said the ride was about to end.

I'm genuinely happy for Junior. He's come a long way professionally and personally. He's survived, persevered, grown and he's come out the other side grateful the rocky road has made him the man he is.

This week's BY THE NUMBERS…

Dale Jr. has won 26 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races, but did you know he's finished in second place 31 times.

With two victories, Dale Jr. is one of just 11 drivers to be a multiple winner of the Daytona 500.

In the opening eight Cup races of the season, Matt Kenseth did not lead a single lap before leading 164 circuits at Richmond. That vaulted him all the way up to number eight in laps led in 2017.

In the opening eight Cup races, NASCAR called only one pit road commitment line violation before handing out six such penalties at Richmond.