“Freakin’ pumped.” Leave it to Dale Earnhardt Jr. for a succinct and plain-spoken declaration of his feelings for 2017. I don’t think his fans will have to worry about an immediate retirement announcement.
Truth be told, NASCAR’s most popular driver- sidelined by lingering concussion-related symptoms- was reportedly consistently quick in testing at Phoenix International Raceway this week. Earnhardt told the media he feels like he’s coming back from a long vacation, and he’s ready to go back to work. That’s when you know you’re still primed to do what you love. If absence hadn’t made the heart grow fonder, well, fans would have had cause for concern.
In the first session of testing, the two-time Busch Series champion and winner if 26 Cup races turned in the best times in 13 of 15 laps. A testing session does not a season make, but the performance would lead fans to conclude Earnhardt will be relevant this season.
Speaking of relevance, Clint Bowyer is eager to begin a new chapter of his career. He’s raced in Chevys, he’s raced in Toyotas, and now he will race in a Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing. Bowyer’s career hasn’t quite been the same since “Spingate” at Richmond in 2013.
Bowyer bided his time in an HScott car last season, while waiting for the retiring Tony Stewart’s ride to open up. While promoting the Daytona 500 at a Naval Air Station, Bowyer says he hasn’t been this excited about racing in a long time.
Between the retirement of Stewart and a switch of manufacturers, there’s a lot of change at SHR. Historically, Bowyer has been a strong plate racer, and he’s more than thrilled to pump this season’s edition of the Great American Race. Racing with his new team, he will have some high profile and successful support on which to fall back as Bowyer joins the likes of Kevin Harvick and and Kurt Busch, a couple of racers who know a thing or two about comebacks.
Regardless of how one feels about the dizzying array of changes made by NASCAR, the excitement expressed by Earnhardt and Bowyer is infectious. Let’s hope it portends an historic season.