154_Anthem Annual 2017 February Edition.p1

2017 Anthem Annual February

Cole Pearn, crew chief for Martin Truex Jr., couldn’t agree more about Earnhardt Jr.’s impact. “He’s so much the lifeblood of this sport,” Pearn said. The effects of Earnhardt Jr.’s absence from the No. 88 were also felt around the sprawling Hendrick Motorsports campus in Concord, North Carolina. “We are as big a fan of Dale’s as the rest of the NASCAR community,” said NASCAR Hall of Famer Rick Hendrick, Earnhardt Jr.’s boss and team owner since 2008. “When you’ve got the most popular driver in the sport, you lose him and he is a big spark plug to this place. Having him out of the car kind of deflated the place.” Of course, no one was more bothered by the situation than Earnhardt Jr. himself. A two-time DAYTONA 500 champion, winner of 26 NASCAR premier series races and twotime NASCAR XFINITY Series champion, Earnhardt Jr. was intent on doing whatever had to be done for him to come back in 2017. After months of uncertainty and some real anxiety about his future, Earnhardt Jr. received the necessary medical go-ahead after participating in a closed test session at Darlington Raceway in December. For Earnhardt Jr., the anticipation of getting back in his race car was like being a kid at Christmas. “I have nerves and butterflies every time I get in a race car, but I was certainly very anxious to get in the car,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “As soon as I got my feet on the ground in Darlington, I was in my suit and over there by the door wondering if the car was ready to go. I couldn’t wait to get in there and just go ahead and get out there and see what it felt like and see what I felt like. I was having a hard time sleeping the night before, but it had been a long, long time since I had drove a car.  “It is so rare to have that long of a break. The off-season doesn’t seem like it’s that long, plus you do a little bit of testing in the off-season, but it was really odd. As soon as I got out there, after about three laps, it came right back to me. It wasn’t like I sort of had to relearn to do it all over again. It felt very comfortable.” Despite suffering multiple concussions throughout his career, Earnhardt Jr. is also comfortable with choosing to race again. The decision wasn’t made without the complete blessing of his doctors, who include some of the medical profession’s best in the areas of concussions and head trauma. “I wouldn’t be coming back to the seat and wanting to drive and excited about driving cars if there was any risk, other than the typical risk that every driver faces on Sunday,” said Earnhardt, who turns 43 years old in October. “I feel very confident in what I’ve seen in myself and my improvement, and I feel confident in what my doctors are telling me about my future and the risks that I’m taking, and my ability to be able to withstand the normal wear and tear of not only driving a race, but getting in that unfortunate accident from time to time. We all feel pretty confident that not only am I as healthy as I was before the symptoms came last year, but I’m actually stronger.” This much is certain: As a sport, from top to bottom, NASCAR is stronger with Earnhardt Jr. in a race car. “It’s definitely not the same without him,” driver Denny Hamlin said. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has competed full time in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series since 2000. Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images “I wouldn’t be coming back to the seat and wanting to drive and excited about driving cars if there was any risk, other than the typical risk that every driver faces on Sunday.” — Dale Earnhardt Jr. 154 ANTHEM MOTORSPORTS ANNUAL


2017 Anthem Annual February
To see the actual publication please follow the link above