Dale Earnhardt Jr. cleared to return to NASCAR competition in 2017
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has gained official medical clearance to race in the 2017 Daytona 500.
Earnhardt, 42, has been sidelined since July with symptoms stemming from a concussion. He battled vision stability and balance issues throughout his recovery.
But now, NASCAR's Most Popular Driver has been given the green flag after taking part in a private test at Darlington Raceway on Wednesday. Dr. Micky Collins, medical director of the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program in Pittsburgh, in consultation with Charlotte neurosurgeon Dr. Jerry Petty had the final say.
“Dale is one of the hardest-working patients I’ve ever encountered,” complimented Collins.“He’s done everything we’ve asked, and we believe he is ready to compete at a professional level again and can withstand the normal forces of a race car driver. Dale has been very open with us, and we’ve had plenty of time for his treatment, so we feel very good about his long-term prospects and how this has been managed by everyone involved.”
According to a release from Hendrick Motorsports, he ran 185 laps during a nearly five-hour session at the 1.366 mile track. In addition to that, he logged more than 15 hours on racing simulators while sidelined during the 2016 season.
“I feel great, and I’m excited to officially be back,” said Earnhardt. “I expected things to go really well yesterday, 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.”
Alex Bowman (ten races) and Jeff Gordon (eight races) shared driving duties behind the wheel of the No. 88 in Earnhardt's absence. Bowman will return to the seat of the No. 88 in NASCAR's season-opening exhibition race at Daytona known as 'The Clash.' Earnhardt will skip the event and focus solely on the 500.
“Dale deserves so much credit,” commented Rick Hendrick. “I’m proud of him for listening to his body and standing up to take responsibility for his health. He’s worked extremely hard and set a terrific example for others. It’s great news as we go into the off-season, and we can’t wait to see him back on the racetrack at Daytona.”
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|Drivers||Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Gordon , Alex Bowman|