The 15-time Most Popular Driver is about to climb back into the NASCAR Next Gen Chevrolet Camaro. Dale Earnhardt Jr. will join Hendrick Motorsports for the upcoming organizational tests at Daytona International Speedway on January 11-12.
Hendrick Motorsports announced the news with a pair of photos. The championship-winning organization said that it was bringing a pair of Daytona winners to the test and showed two sets of helmets and gloves. One set featured Axalta colors and sat in front of William Byron’s No. 24 Chevrolet. The second set included Earnhardt’s signature skeleton finger gloves.
Hendrick Motorsports did not explicitly state that Earnhardt would be the second driver for the test session at Daytona International Speedway. However, the social media team tagged both Earnhardt and Byron in the tweet as a confirmation that the former driver of the No. 88 HMS Chevrolet will suit up for the test sessions.
The Return Does Not Tease a Cup Series Start
With Earnhardt returning to a Cup Series car for another test, there were inevitable questions about whether he would suit up for a regular-season race. The answer remains no. Earnhardt will make his lone start in the Xfinity Series, but he won’t return to the Cup Series.
The longtime driver-turned-analyst provided further context about the test session on January 10. He confirmed that he will take part in both days of testing and said that the reason for his return is the opportunity to gain knowledge for his work at NBC.
“Excited to get more time behind the wheel of this new car,” Earnhardt tweeted on January 10. “It’s absolutely necessary for me to do my best in the broadcast booth.”
Another explanation why Earnhardt joined the fold for the test session is that three of the Hendrick Motorsports drivers are off in Oklahoma. Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, and Alex Bowman are all competing in the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals, which take place the same week as the Next Gen test at Daytona International Speedway.
Earnhardt Took Part in a Previous Next Gen Test
The tests at Daytona International Speedway will mark the second Next Gen test for Earnhardt, but it will be noticeably different than the first. He previously took over the new stock car for a session at Bowman Gray Stadium, a quarter-mile track.
Earnhardt and fellow analyst Clint Bowyer both took 50 laps each in the Next Gen car to gain more knowledge for NBC and FOX, respectively. They both came away with strong comments about the car, as well as the “carnage” that awaits the drivers in the Busch Light Clash at the LA Memorial Coliseum.
“It does everything better,” Earnhardt told NASCAR’s Alex Weaver after completing his session. “I drove the car around the track, and it brakes… the brake performance is going to take me a while to get used to or any of these guys to get used to. That was probably the thing that I found myself improving the most as I ran.”
Now that Earnhardt has a test session at Daytona International Speedway on the books, he will have extensive knowledge about the Next Gen car and how it handles on different styles of tracks. He will have seat time at the shortest oval, as well as one of the longest.