NASCAR Cup: Dale Earnhardt Jr. cleared for return
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (center) with his No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet team (photo courtesy of Dale Earnhardt Jr. via Twitter)
By AMANDA VINCENT
Dale Earnhardt Jr. underwent a test Wednesday at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, running 185 laps during a five-hour session. After the test, he was cleared for NASCAR competition by Dr. Micky Collins, the Medical Director of the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program in Pittsgurgh, and Charolotte neurosurgeon Dr. Jerry Petty. Petty was at the test.
“Yesterday was a great day to go to the track and cut some laps! Happy to be back to work. The final box is checked!” Earnhardt tweeted (@DaleJr
) Thursday morning.
Earnhardt ran only half of the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season before being sidelined by a concussion his doctors believe he sustained in a crash at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn in June. For the second half of the season, Alex Bowman and Jeff Gordon shared driving duties behind the wheel of Earnhardt’s No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
Earnhardt’s treatment and rehabilitation program included racing simulation. Over the course of treatment and rehab, he logged over 15 hours in a simulator.
“I feel great, and I’m excited to officially be back,” Earnhardt said Thursday. “I expected things to go really well yesterday (in the Darlington test), and that’s exactly what happened. Actually, getting in a race car was an important final step, and it gives me a ton of confidence going into 2017. Thanks to the staff at Darlington for hosting our team and to NASCAR for giving us the opportunity to put a car on the track. I’ll do more testing in January to help knock the rust off. When it’s time to go to Daytona, I’ll be ready.”
Earnhardt’s first taste of NASCAR premier-series competition upon his turn will be the Daytona 500 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway on Feb. 26. Earnhardt is qualified for the Feb. 18 Clash at Daytona exhibition race, but Bowman will drive the No. 88 for that event.