A few weeks ago, Hendrick Motorsports announced Dale Earnhardt Jr. would not return to Sprint Cup action in 2016. Suffering from concussion-like symptoms, balance and vision issues, his short time behind the wheel this season was subpar at best. In 18 starts, Earnhardt racked up only six top ten finishes, with an average finish of 15.56.  This is his worst average since 2010. However, overall, the entire HMS team has deteriorated compared to the stats of the last few years.

One of the biggest questions heading into the NASCAR offseason will be if the third generation driver will return to competition in 2017, or if his health issues will force him into early retirement. In many interviews and social media posts, Dale has been quite confident that he will return better than ever.

While the North Carolina native has been on the sidelines, Rick Hendrick has signed young William Byron to an Xfinity series contract. Because of this, people have pointed to him as the future of the company, along with Chase Elliott. A few team officials have noted that they planned on pursuing Byron regardless of Jr’s situation.

There’s no question that when Dale Earnhardt Jr. is healthy and his equipment is firing on all cylinders, he is one of the most talented drivers in the garage. If his doctors can get him right and Hendrick Motorsports can pick up their performance, Earnhardt will have a serious chance at his first championship next season. He’ll be a favorite to win his third Daytona 500 right out of the gate in February. NASCAR’s most popular driver did not race his last event this season, he will be back!