Johnson encouraged by progress of Earnhardt’s recovery

Jeff Gordon (L), driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet, talks with NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Citizen Solider 400 at Dover International Speedway on October 1, 2016 in Dover, Delaware. (Getty Images)

DOVER, Del. –  Most race car drivers would rather wreck than watch someone else drive their cars.

From that perspective, Jimmie Johnson can understand why Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. hasn’t been frequenting NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race tracks as he spends the rest of the season recovering from a concussion.

Yes, Earnhardt made a brief appearance at Watkins Glen in August, and he participated in a longer press conference at Darlington a month later. But Sunday will be the first time Earnhardt will stay for a Sprint Cup race.

“I completely understand how difficult it is to come to the track and feel productive,” Johnson said. “But I guess many of you haven’t had a chance to see him in our team meetings, at the shop, and various ways we interact and being a part of the discussions week-to-week on what’s happened when we’re getting ready for the next week.

“He’s been deeply involved in all of that. I can only imagine how hard it is to go to the track and watch your car race, and then also how boring it would be, because we do have the coolest job to sit in that race car. And then just to come to a track and watch, I don’t know if I could do it.

“It’s great from a public perception that he’s coming and that people can really see how hard he’s working and then kind of tie that together with his recovery process. But I’ve seen a lot of him and I know he’s dying to get back in the race car and eager to feel amazing again, and I think he’s on a great road of progress right now.”

Part of Earnhardt’s recovery involves participation in high-stress public situations. On Friday, before coming to Dover, he attended a high school football game at his alma mater, Mooresville High School.


Saturday morning’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice was shortened because of light rain, but not before Jeff Gordon, subbing for Dale Earnhardt Jr. this weekend, posted the fastest lap of the session at 160.514 mph. Gordon ran 41 laps before the session was curtailed at the 40-minute mark, second only to Jamie McMurray’s 42. … Interestingly, there were no Chase drivers in the top six on the speed chart in the Saturday morning session. Behind Gordon were Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne, Paul Menard and Clint Bowyer. Kyle Larson, who led Friday’s opening practice at the Monster Mile, was the fastest of the Chase drivers on Saturday, recording a best lap of 158.898 mph…

Saturday’s final Sprint Cup practice was cancelled because of rain.


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