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NASCAR fans flock to Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s last spring race at RIR: ‘I almost cried’

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- People from all over the country came out to Richmond International Raceway on Sunday to see Dale Earnhardt Jr. drive in his last spring race in Richmond.

The 42-year-old announced he would retire from racing on Tuesday.

"I followed Earnhardt my whole life. It was a sad day when I found out,” said fan Paul Potter Sunday.

Kara Nitkowski and fiancé Travis Dunn came to Richmond from New Jersey for the Toyota Owners 400.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

"I almost cried yesterday seeing him practice. It's sad,” Nitkowski said.

“We’re huge Junior fans. When we found out he was retiring, we added seven races to this year,” Dunn said.

They're not alone. Earnhardt Jr.’s presence in the sport, along with that last name, is revered among fans.

NASCAR fans

NASCAR fans

“I love the races, always have since I was a little kid. And I love Dale Earnhardt Jr. Sad to see him retire but I know he wants to have a family and it's a good time for him,” Ashlee Edwards said.

"I grew up following Dale Senior so now I'm following Dale Junior. Soon I'll be following Kerry's son,” NASCAR fan Bobby Parker said.

Richmond International Raceway President Dennis Bickmeier says when the news came out, they saw a spike in ticket sales for Sunday's race.

"The day of the announcement, we had to bring some operators in earlier who were scheduled to work later in the day because of the call volume,” Bickmeier said.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Earnhardt missed a majority of last season because of a concussion. He's won three times at RIR.

"His impact on the sport, I think, is immeasurable. I mean, what he does on the racetrack and off the racetrack as well. Especially with his fans--Junior Nation is really strong,” Bickmeier said.

"I've never seen Dale Jr. win in person. So seven time this year we'll see him...hopefully we'll get one or seven,” Dunn said.

Earnhardt Jr. will be back at RIR in the fall.