152_Anthem Annual 2017 February Edition.p1

2017 Anthem Annual February

“I’m excited for the sport,” said four-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon, who returns to the FOX NASCAR broadcast booth at Daytona after being one of two drivers who subbed for Earnhardt Jr. last season in the No. 88. “I think the fans are going to be overwhelmed … or overwhelm him with their reception of having him back in the car. It is going to be a big deal that it is happening at Daytona.” Jimmy Makar, a former crew chief who is now the senior vice president of racing operations at Joe Gibbs Racing, considers Earnhardt Jr.’s return a game-changer — regardless of where it’s happening. “It’s going to be good for all of us,” Makar said. “It’s going to be good for the sport, for the fan base, for Junior, and that all helps us as an industry.” Those who will be sharing a track with Earnhardt Jr. this season are equally thrilled to have the Hendrick Motorsports driver back in the fold on Sunday afternoons. “Do we need him? Hell, yes, we need him,” Clint Bowyer said. “We need him as a friend, as a fellow driver, as a human being in the sport. He’s such a big part of this sport whether he wants to be or not. Selfishly, as fans of Dale Jr., as we all are, we want him here and we need him here, and that’s selfishly for us. For him, I want him to be happy. He’s done so much for this sport and carried the flag for such a long time.” Even though Earnhardt Jr. visited the racetrack more than once while sidelined, his absence from competition was impossible for some to overlook. “I actually live in a house on his property near him,” driver Ryan Blaney said. “I’ve told him before, ‘Man, it’s a lot different in the garage without you there.’ Just kind of the atmosphere and the vibe around the garage is different without Dale Earnhardt Jr. there.” In December, Dale Earnhardt Jr. accepted NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver Award for the 14th year in a row. Ethan Miller/ NASCAR via Getty Images Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s enormous popularity is unmatched by any other NASCAR premier series driver, making his presence greatly missed during his time off the grid last season. Streeter Lecka/NASCAR via Getty Images 152 ANTHEM MOTORSPORTS ANNUAL


2017 Anthem Annual February
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