After suffering a concussion earlier this Nascar season and being forced to miss the last 18 races, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. returned to the track last week for the first time.
He completed 185 laps at Darlington race track and drove for nearly five hours under the supervision of his Hendrick Motorsports team and some Nascar officials.
Earnhardt said that he felt great and was excited to be back to racing; he has been officially cleared to return to racing next year at the Daytona 500 in February.
Earnhardt is Nascar’s leading man and for the past 14 years has earned the honor of being Nascar’s most popular driver. Due to being the son of legendary racer Dale Earnhardt, Sr., Dale Jr. has had a lot of pressure heaped on his shoulders ever since he first entered a race car to live up to the lofty heights his dad set.
Although he hasn’t had as much success on the race track as his father, he has been on the best driver’s of his generation with 26 career wins, 148 top five finishes, 252 top ten finishes and 412 top 20 finishes in 595 races in his career. Stats, aside, he has been a main reason as to why Nascar has been popularized on a national and global scale as his pretty boy looks perfectly transitions into the rough and ruggedness of professional racing and has given Nascar a definitive face in this new generation.
This global brand that he has created has brought in billions of dollars for the racing industry alone. By himself, just on the race track, Dale Jr. has earned over $100 million and outside of the track, has opened up many doors for some of the newer racing stars to get major endorsement deals and be an attraction to companies even as a race car driver.
For these and many other reasons, when Dale, Jr. goes down in a crash and sustains an injury, Nascar itself takes a hit as well. Even beyond all of that, Earnhardt getting into a heavy crash is something that all race fans never wanted to hear again, especially Dale himself.
As before mentioned, Dale Earnhardt, Sr. was one of the greatest race car drivers that ever lived. He won 76 races in his career with 281 top five and 428 top ten finishes in 676 races. He won seven Winston Cup championships which is tied for the most all time with Richard Petty and Jimmie Johnson, who just won it again this season. He was affectionately known as “The Intimidator” for his pedal to the metal style of racing where he wasn’t afraid to be aggressive and mix it up with other cars in order to win.
Ultimately, the same style of racing that made him famous and endeared was the same style that ultimately got him killed.
In the 2001 Daytona 500, Earnhardt went through a severe crash with driver Ken Schrader on the final lap of the race and died instantly. This is a moment that has scarred many race fans and the racing industry thereafter and has caused many drivers to tone down their aggressiveness as this is a dangerous game.
This is an event that has particularly scarred Dale, Jr. the most as for his entire life he watched his dad dominate races in hopes of one day racing against him. When he made it to the Nascar circuit and had the opportunity to do so, he had to witness the death of his father while racing on the same track.
For this reason, you can see why Dale, Jr. getting into a severe crash can cause a lot of stir and worry by not only him, but the entire racing world.
Getting back to the track after missing so much time and being willing to do everything during his recovery to do so is a main reason as to why he is Nascar’s most popular driver. After suffering a concussion and most likely thinking back to what happened to his own father, he would have every reason to have second thoughts about coming back. It’s clear however, that racing is truly in his blood and that he lives for this sport, the same sport that his dad gave his life to, as well.
I hope that in 2017, Dale Jr. will come back better than ever and reassert himself into the fold as one of the best drivers of our generation.
Would you have come back if you were Dale Earnhardt, Jr.? Let’s talk about it here of find me on Twitter @Phenombc3.