Earnhardt Jr. Back Behind the Wheel
By: Pete Pistone - @PPistone | MRN.com on January 31, 2017 | 5:05 P.M. EST
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the first driver on track this morning.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. returned behind the wheel of his No. 88 Chevrolet on Tuesday at Phoenix Raceway as part of a two-day organizational test
It marked his first on-track time publically since being sidelined with a concussion injury halfway through the 2016 season.
Earnhardt, along with 12 other drivers, represented their respective Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series teams at the test as they dial-in the new lower downforce rules package.
"It's good to see everybody,” Earnhardt Jr. said Tuesday in Phoenix after being the first driver on track. “My guys were excited this morning when we walked into the hauler. We had a little hiccup this morning with a small brake fire, but we got underway and got to trying some stuff that we had on our list.
“(Crew chief) Greg (Ives) and the guys are motoring right through it and we’ve seen that the car has really good speed. I like the way the car feels. It's been a fun day. It didn’t really take any time to get acclimated or adjusted to anything. There’s a couple small new things - maybe with the cockpit or the dash to get used to. But as far as driving, I felt real comfortable out there."
Earnhardt Jr. completed a private test at Darlington Raceway as part of the path to be cleared for a return to action. He says that experienced helped facilitate his enthusiasm to get back behind the wheel but still believes there’s more work ahead getting acclimated.
“Now I just have to deal with my own confidence,” he said. “I feel like me and the car are working together as one unit. I felt that at Darlington when we got halfway through the test it was really comfortable. When we go to Daytona, you get out in the draft and it’s a completely different animal. You have to get back to building that confidence in that draft and making the decisions I need to make.
While he was out of the car, Earnhardt Jr. got a glimpse of the sport through a number of different eyes – XFINITY Series team owner, part-time broadcaster and a fan.
Those experiences also helped Earnhardt Jr. prepare for his return.
“We work a lot in the off-season so the little days that we do get off, we are very protective of them,” he said. “During the off-season, you kind of want to put the blinders on and not think about anything.
“Being outside of the car for so long, I don’t feel that way at all. I feel like I’ve had my vacation and it was over a long time ago and I’m ready to go back to work.”