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Dale Earnhardt Jr. cleared for take-off!

Photography by Logan Whitton

Photography by Logan Whitton

Following a test session Wednesday afternoon at Darlington Raceway, Hendrick Motorsports driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. , driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet SS has been medically cleared to resume NASCAR competition after making a full recovery from a concussion. He will return for the beginning of the 2017 season at the Feb. 26 Daytona 500.

The news has surely caused a resounding cheer from Junior Nation. We’ll wait.

We have Dr. Micky Collins and Dr. Jerry Petty to thank for this clearance. Dr. Petty attended the test at the 1.366-mile South Carolina racetrack.

Dr. Collins described Dale as “…one of the hardest-working patients I’ve ever encountered,”

“He’s done everything we’ve asked, and we believe he is ready to compete at a professional level again and can withstand the normal forces of a race car driver. Dale has been very open with us, and we’ve had plenty of time for his treatment, so we feel very good about his long-term prospects and how this has been managed by everyone involved.”

Earnhardt completed 185 laps during a nearly five-hour session at Darlington under the guidance of his crew chief, Greg Ives and has logged more than 15 hours in a racing simulator during his recovery.

Dale said: “I feel great, and I’m excited to officially be back,” Nearly as excited as the millions of devotees who, just a week ago, helped crown him the National Motorsports Press Association Sprint Most Popular Driver for the 14th consecutive year. Although he missed one half of the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season due to injury, race fans still overwhelmingly selected Dale Earnhardt Jr. Talk about dedication!

Rising star, Alex Bowman and four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon (ten races and eight races, respectively) handled substitute driving duties for the No. 88 team during Earnhardt’s recovery.

His boss, Rick Hendrick speaks with pride when he commends Dale for “listening to his body and standing up to take responsibility for his health.” I think we all are. The driver sent shockwaves throughout the sports community and caused us to revisit the subject of concussions. We all wish Junior the best and expect the excitement to be heightened during the next 70 days as we applaud his return to Daytona.

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