Dale Earnhardt Jr. today announced that he will retire following the 2017 NASCAR season. 

This morning, NASCAR's 14-time Most Popular Driver broke the news to his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports race team, followed shortly thereafter by a press release from Hendrick Motorsports to publicly announce the retirement. According to the release, Earnhardt and team owner Rick Hendrick first met about the driver's decision on March 29.

Earnhardt will discuss his decision during a 3 p.m. ET press conference at Hendrick Motorsports (streamed live on NASCAR.com/presspass).

Throughout a career that spanned parts of 19 seasons and more than 600 races in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Earnhardt captured 26 wins, including two Daytona 500 victories. He came close to winning the championship on several occasions, finishing in the top five in points four times. Prior to joining NASCAR's top level, Earnhardt won consecutive titles in what is now the NASCAR XFINITY Series in 1998-99.

While driving, Earnhardt set himself up for the future, starting his own race team that competes in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. His teams have won 32 times, and captured the 2014 championship with Chase Elliott - who many believe will assume the crown as NASCAR's most popular driver.

But Earnhardt's immense legacy will lie in the relationship he forged with millions of NASCAR fans. Even during the leanest of performances, Earnhardt's bond with his fans secured him the Most Popular Driver Award following each of the last 14 seasons, which is a NASCAR record.

He was also well-respected among his peers, and the outpouring of respect on social media following the announcement was immediate and plentiful.

Tweeted teammate and seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, "You're a hell of friend and teammate @DaleJr, I'm really happy for you and [wife] @AmyEarnhardt."

Tony Stewart, who retired following the 2016 season, tweeted, "I'm proud of my great friend @DaleJr for everything he's done for this sport. I'm even more proud of who he is as a man. Love you friend."

Earnhardt, who will turn 43 in October, made his first career Monster Energy Series start on May 30, 1999, at Charlotte Motor Speedway. 

Since then, Earnhardt has experienced the sport's extreme highs and lows. In the 2001 Daytona 500, he lost his father, Dale Earnhardt, following a last lap wreck. The next time the series raced at Daytona, Earnhardt Jr. won driving the No. 8 Dale Earnhardt Inc. Chevrolet. In 2012, Earnhardt missed two races due to a concussion, but came back two win a combined seven races in 2015-16. And last year, he missed half the season with a concussion, returning this season - his final one.

It was that perseverance that endeared him to millions of fans, and earned him the respect of those closest to him.

Tweeted his wife, Amy: "I'm so proud of Dale for working so hard to get back and even prouder of his courage and self-awareness to make the decision to retire. I'm sure God has many other great plans for him and us!"