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CONCORD, N.C. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s return to the driver's seat of his No. 88 Chevrolet SS is nearly here -- the Daytona 500 is just 10 days away on Feb. 26.

It's been a long journey since missing the second half of the 2016 season due to a concussion. And in the latest issue of "ESPN The Magazine," that journey is chronicled by author Tommy Tomlinson.

The story begins with the test that saw Earnhardt officially medically cleared to return to NASCAR competition.

Darlington Raceway on a Wednesday in December is vast and cold and empty. Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s crew works alone in the garage, making last-minute tweaks to his race car. The car is stripped of paint and decals, down to bare primer -- gunmetal gray. There are no fans, just a NASCAR official and a Charlotte neurosurgeon. Today is not about money or trophies. It's about whether Dale Jr.'s brain has healed enough to do what his heart needs so bad.

ESPN The Magazine

The story not only delves into Earnhardt's recovery, but all the way back to his childhood and his NASCAR beginnings.

It also takes a look at what his wife, Amy, has meant to him.

After the concussion, Amy woke him up every morning to do his rehab work. He shot baskets and flung medicine balls. He did elaborate vision drills -- reading a tiny eye chart he held out in front of him while he walked forward and backward, shaking his head back and forth. He stumbled around in a dark room with swirling lights so his body could learn to get its bearings again. Nearly two months into rehab, he finally started to get better. His stress level dropped. And as it did, he noticed he had become a different man.

ESPN The Magazine

The full story can be read here, and the magazine is on newsstands tomorrow.