Mark Simendinger was wrestling to come up with something to present to Dale Earnhardt Jr. before his final Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Kentucky Speedway when it hit him in mid-stride one day.

"I was out running and it just kind of came to me while I was in the middle of my run," said Simendinger, the speedway's general manager.

Kentucky Speedway surprised Earnhardt after final practice on Friday with a customized Crosley Brands jukebox. But the jukebox will not be going home with him. Instead it will be donated on Earnhardt's behalf to the Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.

The gesture hit a soft spot with the 14-time winner of NASCAR's Most Popular Driver award who announced in April that he will be retiring at the end of this Cup Series season.

"That's awesome because I know the kids are going to love it," said Earnhardt, who announced in April that he would be retiring at season's end. "We just came from there yesterday and really enjoy being able to visit. That's going to be something that they're all going to love to mess with and play music.

"We got them a little stereo but this is going to take the cake. Thank you. That's very creative and thoughtful, very thoughtful. It will make a lot of kids smile."

The insurance company is the primary sponsor on Earnhardt's No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet this week and the hood of the car is carrying the names of fans who donated to Nationwide Children's Hospital through the "Ride with Dale Jr. to Help Kids Everywhere" fundraising program. The effort raised more than $81,000.

The overwhelming response offered further proof of Earnhardt's appeal to fans of the sport.

"All of us that make our living in this sport owe something to Dale," Simendinger said. "He shoulders a lot of responsibility but he also does a lot of good for a lot of people. We thought about something that would always signify excellence and when people saw it maybe they thought a little bit about Kentucky Speedway, thought a lot about Dale Earnhardt but also thought a lot about what he did for other people."

Earnhardt hopes to reward his fan base with one more run at the Cup Series championship that so far has eluded him. It's not been an easy go this season. Earnhardt enters Saturday's Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts in need of a victory to punch his ticket to the playoffs.

A fifth place finish in April on the repaved Texas Motor Speedway created some optimism about returning to Kentucky Speedway, which received a fresh layer of asphalt over the offseason.

"We came here thinking maybe we can apply the same things technically to the car that we did there since it's a repave," Earnhardt said. "So, mentally, we come in with that confidence or maybe that positiveness that this is a great opportunity, that if things can go as well as they did at Texas we might have a fast enough car. I don't know if I'll do that at every track but we came here on a positive front because of our experience on the last repave."

Earnhardt knows Kentucky Speedway well but the place has vexed him since the Cup Series held its inaugural Quaker State 400 in 2011. Through six career Cup Series starts at Kentucky, he owns an average finish of 14.2. His best result was a fourth place finish in 2012.

Earnhardt tested at Kentucky Speedway before it was reconfigured after the 2015 season and says it drives completely different today. That's due in part to the evolution of cars and the fact the track was repaved after the 2015 season.

"It doesn't remind me today of anything like it was back then. Nothing. Completely different. It's very strange that it's like that," he said. "This place is such a challenge to get around now."

Last year's race at Kentucky Speedway wound up being Earnhardt's final of the 2016 season. He sat out the final 18 races due to concussion-like symptoms.

"This is where it all kind of started to come to the surface, where the symptoms started to be a concern," Earnhardt said. "It is a bit of a reminder. I'm proud that we worked so hard to come back and worked hard to get healthy.

"You start racing and kind of forget about everything that happened and little dates like this will bring those memories back and remind you to be thankful and fortunate."

The announcement about his retirement was not altogether surprising considering his history of concussions and desire to leave the sport on his terms.

Nevertheless, it's still a big loss. After all, the sport watched Jeff Gordon retire after the 2015 season, Tony Stewart call it a career at the end of last season and Carl Edwards step away before this season.

The good news is there is a crop of young drivers poised and ready to pick up the torch. Names like Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Daniel Suarez, Darrell "Bubba" Wallace Jr., Erik Jones, Christopher Bell and William Byron.

Blaney, who drives the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford, earned his first career Cup Series victory earlier this season and said it's nice to be in the mix.

"In the past few years a lot of drivers have retired who have been big for the sport," Blaney said. "It's definitely going to be some change for sure. I would hope those fans still enjoy the sport and want to pick new drivers, but I don't really feel like there's any pressure to kind of take their spots.

"You know, I don't think - we're never going to be a Tony or a Jeff or a Dale Jr. We can be our own people, and hopefully the fans enjoy that."

It has not yet been announced who will replace Earnhardt in one of the sport's highest profile rides, and Earnhardt said he's not consumed with thoughts about his impending retirement.

It's business as usual when at the track.

"I just spent three hours practicing today and never once thought about my retirement or this being my last year," he said. "I was thinking about how in the hell to get that car to go a little faster. Nothing has come easy today. So on days like today, you can tell me I have five more years of this and I wouldn't know any better."