Current and ex-drivers, fans stand by Dale Jr.

Mike Hembree, Special for USA TODAY Sports
11:05 p.m. EDT September 3, 2016

USA TODAY Sports’ Jeff Gluck explains why Dale Earnhardt Jr. is done for the season and which drivers will replace him during his absence.

DARLINGTON, S.C. — The Dale Earnhardt Jr. T-shirt is faded and ripped across the bottom but still worn proudly by Tommy Carlson of Columbia, S.C.

Earnhardt Jr., still recovering from concussion issues and, as announced Friday, absent from Sprint Cup racing for the rest of the season, won’t race at Darlington in Sunday’s iconic Southern 500. His fans, however, still make up a significant slice of the speedway population.

They refuse to make the final turn into the garage.

“We were hoping he would be back by now,” Carlson said. “But we’re still here for the 88 car and those guys. It would be great to see it in victory lane again. It will be again, for sure, when Junior is back.”

For the first time since 1979, the Southern 500 field will take the green flag without Dale Earnhardt Sr. or Dale…

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