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CONCORD, N.C. -- For No. 88 team crew chief Greg Ives, a little time away with family over the holidays was certainly welcomed.

But now that the calendar has turned to 2017, there's no question where his focus lies -- Daytona International Speedway.

“It’s going to be really nice to be able to get back to the grind and have Dale (Earnhardt Jr.) behind the wheel for us again," Ives said. "It’s almost kind of like getting a rookie back, somebody who’s really intense and really wanting to just get back behind the wheel. I know that’s re-energized and rejuvenated a lot of the guys on the team -- especially myself."

After a 2016 campaign that saw Earnhardt miss the final 18 races of the season -- resulting in Jeff Gordon and Alex Bowman serving as fill-in drivers down the stretch -- Ives is thrilled to have Earnhardt back in the driver's seat.

In December, Earnhardt was medically cleared to resume NASCAR competition after making a full recovery from a concussion.

"It’s tough to see not only your driver but your friend being in a situation like he was and not knowing what the future held, so we’re going to go into Daytona and have a lot of fun," Ives said.

Since 2010, Earnhardt's average starting and finishing positions at the Daytona 500 are both inside the top 10. In that stretch, he has accumulated four top-two finishes -- including a win in 2014 -- and four top-three starts -- including a pole in 2011.

For Ives and the No. 88 team, late Februrary can't come soon enough.

"In the end we’re a bunch of racers," the crew chief said. "We’re a group of guys that all we want to do is contend for wins and be at the racetrack. We’re looking forward to everything that’s happening, not only within the No. 88 team as individuals growing together but also Hendrick Motorsports as a group.”

"I'm ready to go."