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Dale Jr.: I wouldn't come back if there was any (added) risk

Dale Earnhardt Jr. says his private test at Darlington Raceway "couldn't have gone any better" as he prepares to return to NASCAR competition in 2017.

Dale Jr.: I wouldn't come back if there was any (added) risk
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet new Nationwide livery
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet and his team
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet new Nationwide livery
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports and fiancée Amy Reimann
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet new Nationwide livery
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, heads to the garage after a wreck
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports
Alex Bowman, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Rick Hendrick
Hendrick Motorsport Logo
Rick Hendrick, Hendrick Motorsports

Earnhardt was granted medical clearance by his doctors after completing 185 laps at the South Carolina oval on Wednesday.

"It’s nice to be able to kind of get some personal reassurance and confidence," said the Hendrick Motorsports driver during a Friday teleconference "I was really happy to have the opportunity. We got to the racetrack, the weather was great and we just ran laps. We put tires on, run 15 laps at a time; take about a 20 minute break, Dr. (Jerry) Petty was there. We did a personal evaluation before we got in the car to set a baseline and Dr. Petty was evaluating me after each run to see if everything was good. A lot of the things that he was checking, visual and balance and so forth, actually strengthened throughout the process."

The 42-year-old was pleasantly surprised to see his senses strengthen as the test progressed, adding that he felt completely fine at the conclusion of the session.

"I felt like throughout the day I got more and more comfortable in the car and it felt like an old shoe by the end of the day. I was happy with the speed we had. That wasn’t really the ultimate goal, but we had great speed. The car drove really good and we just continued to put tires on it and go out and run 30 laps at a time.  And come in, get out, think about it, talk about it, get checked out and by the end of the day we felt really confident that health wise I was 100 percent and ready to get back in the car.”

Appreciating what you have

NASCAR's 14-time Most Popular Driver explained that the experience of being pushed out of the car for the entire last half of the season gave him a whole new perspective and made him more appreciative of what he has.

"When you get something kind of taken away from you, you certainly realize what it is worth. We gripe about our schedule and this and that and the other, but once you are not doing it and you are watching all your friends out there on the track and watching your crew work without you it really puts thing into perspective. It helps you kind of appreciate really what you’ve got. Definitely feel recharged and energized about the opportunity to be able to come back and race. I felt like I had a lot left in the tank. I’m excited about getting to Daytona."

Added risk?

He has another test scheduled before the 2017 season, which will take place at Phoenix International Raceway in Arizona. He also addressed the concern of being more susceptible to future concussions, having sustained three in just the last four years. But Earnhardt asserted that he "wouldn't be coming back to the seat and wanting to drive and excited about driving cars if there was any risk, other than the typical risk that every driver faces on Sunday

"I feel very confident in what I’ve seen in myself and my improvement and I feel confident in what my doctors are telling me about my future and the risks that I’m taking and my ability to be able to withstand the normal wear and tear of not only driving a race, but getting in that unfortunate accident from time to time. We all feel pretty confident that not only am I as healthy as I was before the symptoms came last year, but I’m actually stronger. Having gone through this before also gives me additional confidence. This isn’t uncharted territory for me, so I know what I need to feel personally to know that I’m as strong as I need to be and healthy.  I’m certainly feeling that way, but I’m also hearing the affirmation from my doctors that I can go back and drive racecars."

What his return has done for the team

Rick Hendrick, who was also on hand for the call, said that having Earnhardt "out of the car kind of deflated (the team).

"When that test finished and he came through with such flying colors and just the text I got and the conversation I had you could feel it in the place today when we were with the rest of the team it just elevated the whole place. I think Dale being back in a car and Jimmie’s (Johnson) championship, man; it’s going to be a really nice Christmas here for all of us.”

As for renewal of his contract with Hendrick Motorsports, Earnhardt said those talks were happening prior to being sidelined and that they will revisit them during the off season, saying, "That is definitely something on our list to get done.”

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About this article

Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Teams Hendrick Motorsports
Author Nick DeGroot
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