151_Anthem Annual 2017 February Edition.p1

2017 Anthem Annual February

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Returns in 2017 After more than seven months of Junior deprivation, Junior Nation’s long national nightmare is finally history. With the start of Daytona Speedweeks and the 2017 NASCAR season, Dale Earnhardt Jr. returns to the driver’s seat of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Voted NASCAR’s most popular driver in each of the past 14 years, Earnhardt Jr. missed the final 18 races of the 2016 season in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series while recovering from the effects of a concussion. The impact of Earnhardt Jr.’s absence the second half of the season reverberated throughout the sport as fans felt his loss. Earnhardt Jr., who underwent rigorous rehab and medical testing before doctors announced in December that he’d been cleared to race, considers himself a changed man. “Personally, just going through that process, you learn a lot,” said Earnhardt Jr., who remained in close contact with his team and others in the sport throughout his time away. “You certainly realize the things that you might be taking for granted, and learn to appreciate a lot of different parts and aspects of your life a lot more. When you get something kind of taken away from you, you certainly realize what it is worth.  “We drivers gripe about our schedule and this and that and the other, but once you are not doing it and you are watching all your friends out there on the track and watching your crew work without you, it really puts things into perspective. It helps you kind of appreciate really what you’ve got. I definitely feel recharged and energized about the opportunity to be able to come back and race.” Earnhardt Jr.’s first official race back in his familiar No. 88 Chevrolet will be the 59th annual DAYTONA 500 on February 26. The thirdgeneration driver’s presence at Daytona Speedweeks is bound to create an even more palpable buzz than there would usually be around an event that is already hands-down the biggest and most anticipated on the NASCAR schedule. Dale Earnhardt Jr. last drove the No. 88 Chevrolet in a formal capacity at Kentucky Speedway on July 9, 2016. Matt Hazlett/ NASCAR via Getty Images ANTHEM MOTORSPORTS ANNUAL 151


2017 Anthem Annual February
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