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CONCORD, N.C. -- Sidelined for the second half of the 2016 season due to a concussion, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was determined to return to his team as soon as possible.

But he knew he had work to do.

So, he went through hours and hours of rehabilitation to inch back toward feeling 100 percent healthy.

"When you’re injured and you’re sick, you feel like a completely different person and all your systems are all screwed up and nothing seems to be working right," he explained. "You notice it. When your mind gets off just a little, tiny bit, you will notice that so clearly."

That's why it was just as easy for Earnhardt to be confident when he sensed a change.

"When it sets itself right again," he said of his mind, "it’s crystal clear."

Feeling back to health, Earnhardt moved forward in the offseason with his sights set on a big 2017.

Between wedding and honeymoon plans, photo shoots and paint scheme unveils, Earnhardt was full speed ahead.

But he still had a lingering thought.

"In the back of my mind, I haven’t been in a race car yet," he said. "What’s that going to be like?"

That's why the driver felt Wednesday's test was so important.

Earnhardt and the No. 88 team headed to Darlington Raceway for a nearly five-hour test session that saw the driver log 185 laps behind the wheel of the No. 88 Chevrolet SS.

"I wanted to do the test for me," Earnhardt said, noting that it was especially helpful to have Charlotte neurosurgeon Dr. Jerry Petty in attendance. "I needed that personal reassurance for myself."

It was one final step on his road to recovery, and afterward, he was medically cleared to resume NASCAR competition. More than that, he had complete confidence in himself and his health.

"Now, I’ve got that box checked," he said. "Personally, I can go forward with a clear mind, with a peace of mind that I’m ready to go. So that test did more for me, I think, than anyone else.”

Up next is a test at Phoenix International Raceway, which Earnhardt said he is "really looking forward to." Then comes his return -- the Daytona 500.

And he expects trips to Victory Lane to follow shortly thereafter.

"In 2012, we took off four weeks and came back and won seven races the next two years," he recalled of the last time he missed races due to a concussion. "So, I’m confident that I can have the same type of success going forward."

The first chance for the driver of the No. 88 Chevy is less than 88 days away at Daytona International Speedway.

"I definitely feel recharged and energized," Earnhardt said. "I felt like I had a lot left in the tank and I’m excited about getting to Daytona."