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  • NASCAR star Earnhardt cleared to race again after concussion (The Associated Press)

    FILE - In this July 1, 2016, file photo, Dale Earnhardt Jr. prepares before the start of practice at Daytona International Speedway, in Daytona Beach, Fla. Earnhardt, who missed the final 18 races of last season because of a concussion, has been medically cleared to return next year. Hendrick Motorsports announced Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016, that Earnhardt will take part in the season-opening Daytona 500. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

    NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr., who missed the final 18 races of last season because of a concussion, has been medically cleared to return next year. Hendrick Motorsports announced Thursday that Earnhardt will take part in the season-opening Daytona 500 on Feb. 26. Dr. Micky Collins, medical director of the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program in Pittsburgh, in consultation with Charlotte neurosurgeon Dr. Jerry Petty, cleared the 42-year-old driver Wednesday following a test session at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina.


  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. reflects on long concussion recovery (The Associated Press)

    FILE - In this Feb. 18, 2016, file photo, Dale Earnhardt Jr prepares to climb into his car to practice for NASCAR's Daytona 500 Sprint Cup series auto race at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla. Dale Earnhardt Jr. should be medically cleared from his concussion in December and ready to race in the 2017 Daytona 500. Team owner Rick Hendrick said Earnhardt recently sent a text that said he was just waiting for Daytona. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

    The longer Dale Earnhardt Jr. couldn't drive because of the debilitating effects of a concussion, the more uptight he became. ''When I did that I became a better version of myself,'' Earnhardt said. Earnhardt spoke to reporters Friday night after accepting the award as NASCAR's most popular driver for a record 14th straight year.


  • Johnson, Stewart, Earnhardt honored as NASCAR closes 2016 (The Associated Press)

    Dale Earnhardt Jr. speaks during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series auto racing awards Friday, Dec. 2, 2016, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

    Jimmie Johnson called winning a record-tying seventh NASCAR Sprint Cup title ''insane'' Friday night, while Tony Stewart was sent off into retirement and Dale Earnhardt Jr. told his adoring fans at the season-ending banquet that he'll be ready to race in 2017. Johnson's dramatic victory in the finale last month at Homestead moved him into a tie with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt for the most series championships. Johnson was introduced by 23-time Olympic gold medalist swimmer Michael Phelps at the Wynn Las Vegas.


  • NASCAR hopes sponsor Monster attracts needed younger fans (The Associated Press)
    NASCAR's top circuit has been called the Winston Cup, Nextel Cup and Sprint Cup. Starting in 2017, the sport could have a Cup-less name, one of many changes expected as Monster Energy takes over as title sponsor with a desire to attract younger fans to a sagging sport. ''Young people set trends in fashion and then older people adapt,'' said Mark Hall, Monster's chief marketing officer.
  • Happy, healthy Stewart leaving NASCAR so he can race more (The Associated Press)

    Tony Stewart stands on stage during the NASCAR NMPA Myers Brothers Awards Luncheon, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

    Tony Stewart sat in a casino ballroom wearing a coat and tie he no doubt wanted to rip off and brushed off a question about whether he was happy his NASCAR career was over. ''It's not over yet,'' Stewart said. Stewart's signature biting and cutting remarks arrived on cue this week at NASCAR's awards event that culminated with Friday night's season-ending banquet.