Dale Earnhardt Jr. to miss next two races, how many beyond that is still a mystery

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Getty Images)

Dale Earnhardt Jr.
(Getty Images)

Hendrick Motorsports confirmed Wednesday that NASCAR’s most popular driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. will miss at least the next two races.  Alex Bowman will substitute for Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Michigan International Speedway this week, while four-time champion Jeff Gordon will step in the following week at Darlington Raceway.

Earnhardt has missed five races as he recovers from concussion like symptoms. He underwent further evaluation Wednesday at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program. Doctors there did not clear him for the next two upcoming races.

“We know how hard Dale is working to get back,” said Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports. “He’s following what the doctors are saying, to the letter, and doing exactly what he needs to do. Everyone wants to see him in a race car, but his health is first and foremost. We’re behind him.”

Bowman drove for the No. 88 team July 17 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Gordon, who retired at the end of last year, took over for Earnhardt at Indianapolis and raced the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports at Pocono Raceway. Gordon then raced the car at Watkins Glen and at Bristol Motor Speedway.  After qualifying at Bristol, Gordon revealed that he has another commitment this weekend. Gordon has finished 13,27, 14th and 11th in his four starts in the No. 88. Bowman finished 26th at New Hampshire in the No. 88.

NASCAR’s most popular driver was in an accident at Michigan at June, and another at Daytona in July.  It was that first accident that Earnhardt later said doctors felt cause his most recent symptoms. He has been diagnosed with at least three concussions during his racing career. He suffered a concussion at the Fontana race in April of 2002. He continued to race and didn’t reveal the injury until September.  He suffered two more concussions  in 2012 in a period of six-weeks: a hard crash during a tire test at Kansas Speedway, another big crash at Talladega Superspeedway. After the Talladega crash, Earnhardt went to a doctor for an evaluation. The doctor forced him to miss two races in October that year because of the injury.

How long Earnhardt will be out remains a mystery. He met with the media prior to Watkins Glen on August 5, and said that his doctors had not given him a timetable to return because those doctors could not tell him how long his symptoms will last.

“You just don’t know when the symptoms will stop,” Earnhardt said.  “Every day I am doing these exercises to sort of retrain the brain to fix the issues that I have with the balance and to gain stability.  It will fix itself when it decides to.”

According to Cornell University, recovery time for a concussion can last from weeks to months.  A re-occurrence of a concussion can lengthen the recovery time for the second incident, and result in permanent brain damage.  The length of time to recover from a second concussion is almost always longer than the first.

Last week Earnhardt posted a video on social media of him playing basketball. This did not mean that he has fully recovered. Symptoms of a brain injury can come and go, and in a recovery phase the length of time between symptoms can increase and a patient can only be considered fully recovered after showing no symptoms anywhere from 50-100 days.

“As a competitor, the hardest thing to do is not compete and have to wait for someone to tell you the opportunity is there,” said NASCAR on NBCSN analyst Dale Jarrett. “(Dale Jr.) and Kelley (Earnhardt Miller) have been through so many things in their lifetime together, and they have stood by each other. She is right there for him as is his fiancé Amy. He has a good group of people around him and that is certainly helping him in this situation. Kelley kept using the word frustration (during her interview this morning on SiriusXM). If you have a broken bone, you know when you are able to come back. If you work a little harder you might be able to come back a little bit sooner. That is not the case with a concussion. The unknowns about it are the most frustrating thing. As drivers, the one thing we hate to do is see someone else driving our race cars.”

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