Missing any races over the course of a season virtually eliminates a driver from championship contention, especially in the tightly packed Chase for the Sprint Cup. And yet that's just what Dale Earnhardt Jr. has chosen to do, skipping last week's race at Charlotte and this week's event at Kansas to recover from a concussion.
Unfortunately, Earnhardt Jr.'s injury has brought to a halt the best season of his five-year Hendrick Motorsports career. He ended a four-year winless drought at Michigan this summer, while his 18 top-10's are his strongest mark since he still raced for Dale Earnhardt Inc. in the early 2000s.
But all great athletes bounce back from setbacks like these, and there's no doubt in the minds of many that Earnhardt Jr. is the kind of driver who can—and will—come back swinging in next year's title fight. Why the confidence? Here are just some of the reasons why next year could be a career year for the sport's most popular driver: