For those who say Dale Earnhardt Jr is finished and should just hang it up, stop. Such proclamations are grossly premature. The 2017 campaign is just seven races old, and we’ve seen evidence that NASCAR’s most popular driver is coming back around.
You don’t take a half a season off without it having an effect on your conditioning, and your competitive edge. The serious fan already knows this, and Earnhardt pointed this out: stepping away from motorsports is no different than stepping away from the stick and ball sports. You get that rare bird who can pick up where they left off, but they are the exception and not the rule. You’ve got the physical conditioning, the mental edge to adjust to in-race conditions, and your team has been setting your car up for someone else’s preferences for the past several months.
If you’re a Dale Earnhardt Jr fan, there’s ample reason for hope. First, there’s his top five finish at Texas. His performance demonstrates his ability to compete at a high level, and that he’s got the horse to ride.
Fans familiar with his temperament will note his demeanor. Those who recall is darker days in racing earlier in this decade will remember the visible frustration and dejection. While he wants to be back in top form now, there’s a certain calm and coolness you don’t see in someone overeager and desperate.
All the better is the upcoming schedule on the Monster Energy Cup schedule. Among his 26 victories at NASCAR’s highest level, Dale Earnhardt Jr has three career wins at Richmond, a win at Bristol and six at Talladega. If you really want a measurement of where the winner of 26 Cup races stands at this juncture in his career, these races will offer a more representative sampling.
Let’s give this a little bit of time. To be sure, Dale Earnhardt Jr has less track in front of him than behind him. He’s a married man now, has other growing priorities, and has options for his life other than driving the 88. With that having been said, absence made the heart growing fonder during his time away from the track, and there’s no reason YET to think it’s time to seriously consider hanging up his helmet, and trading in his driver’s seat for an office seat, or maybe even a spot in the broadcast booth.
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