Dale Earnhardt Jr. will not be racing in 2016, but will he return in 2017? Hendrick Motorsports announced Friday that NASCAR’s most popular driver will miss the final 12 races of the season as he continues to recover from concussion like symptoms.
Earnhardt 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 because of the injury. He was involved in two crashes this season, one at Michigan and the other at Daytona. Doctors believe the crash at Michigan in June caused his latest issue.
Earnhardt met with the media last prior to Watkins Glen in August. At the time, Earnhardt said he did not believe his latest injury is career ending.
“When I went to see Dr. Petty for the first time in 2012 and then he set me up with the guys in Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania) they told me that our process was to get better and go back to racing,” Earnhardt said. “This one is no different. When I first went to see my doctor in this particular instance it was I need to get right because I need to get back in the car as soon as I can.
“I’m surprised that I’ve missed this many races. I never thought this would take this long. I didn’t have a massive accident and I didn’t have really crazy symptoms. This thing happened so awkward where we had the accident in Michigan and then the symptoms crept in very slowly like two weeks later. I didn’t think this was that serious, but it had gotten to a point to where I definitely didn’t need to be in the racecar. At that point you’ve got to go get checked out and get ahold of it and figure out how to fix it. But, from the very onset of this it was ‘man this will go away in a couple of weeks. I’m going to have to miss a race or two and we will get back in the car and we will get going again.’ I’m thinking about, well it’s going to put more pressure on me to win a race to get in the Chase and all that stuff.
“I have every intention of honoring my current contract,” Earnhardt said. “I sat with Rick (Hendrick) before this happened a couple of months ago to talk about an extension. That is the direction that we are going. As soon as I can get healthy and get confident in how I feel and feel like I can drive a car and be great driving it then I want to drive. I want to race. I miss the competition. I miss being here. I miss the people and as Rick likes to say ‘we’ve got unfinished business.’ I’m not ready to stop racing. I’m not ready to quit. It’s a slower process, I wish it wasn’t. I don’t know how long it’s going to take. As impatient as I am I worry about everyone else’s patients as well. But, I’m not going to go in the car until the doctors clear me. The doctors won’t let me race. This is not my decision, but it’s the right decision and I trust what my doctors are telling me. When they say I’m good to go I believe them. If they say I’m healthy and I can race I’m going to race.”
In Friday’s announcement, Earnhardt said he is focusing “100 percent” on his recovery and that his doctors are seeing “good progress”.
“I plan to be healthy and ready to compete at Daytona in February,” Earnhardt stated Friday. “I’m working toward that.”
Based on his statements and the medical information on concussions, there is nothing to indicate that Dale Earnhardt Jr. won’t be back starting in 2017. The world will no more Sunday as Earnhardt Jr. and car owner Rick Hendrick will meet with the media at 2:30 p.m. ET in the Darlington Raceway media center. They will be joined by Dr. Micky Collins of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program.