CHARLOTTE, NC (WJHL) – Dale Earnhardt Jr. spent the second half of last season on the sidelines with a concussion, watching Jeff Gordon and Alex Bowman race the 88 in his absence. They were just keeping the seat warm, with Junior getting back behind the wheel this year and and re-discovering his passion for the sport.
“Was able to sit back and realize maybe parts of it that I was taking for granted and so I can go into this season with a bit better appreciation for what I had, where I was, what I was doing; the opportunity that I have to keep competing. [I] certainly, try not to take it for granted,” said Earnhardt.
“I think he’s in a great spot. It shows when I see him. He’s happy, he just seems like he’s loving life and enjoying what he’s doing,” said Kasey Kaine.
While Jr. gets back in, Carl Edwards has gotten out of the car, stepping away from racing earlier this month. His Joe Gibbs teammates were as surprised about the news as anyone.
“Certainly a shock to us as a team. We weren’t expecting that. We, obviously, would have liked to have known a bit earlier and made some different choices maybe on behalf of people or sponsors or Joe would have had better opportunities,” said Kyle Busch.
Gibbs chose rising star Daniel Suarez to make his cup series debut and replace Edwards in the ’19’ this season. And Suarez wasn’t sure what to think when Joe Gibbs called his cell phone.
“I got the call and it was Coach Gibbs. I was thinking, ‘OK, either I’m going to get fired or something good is happening.’ But I started thinking, ‘OK, we just won the championship, I can’t get fired.’ The last two months and half, they’ve been crazy but amazing for me,” said Suarez.
The NASCAR media tours wrapped up Charlotte, North Carolina on Wednesday as the season gears up and heads to Daytona for the first race of the season in February.See also: VIDEO: Dale Earnhardt Jr. admits he’s thought about retiring