Dale Earnhardt Jr has been given the all-clear to return to racing in the NASCAR top tier after passing examinations by doctors. The driver of the #88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet has been sidelined for the last eighteen races after suffering ‘concussion-like’ symptoms.
It was announced by Hendrick Motorsports this morning that Dale Jr has officially been cleared to make his return to the track and that he will do so for the season-opening Daytona 500 in February.
“Following a test session Wednesday afternoon at Darlington Raceway, Hendrick Motorsports driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been medically cleared to resume NASCAR competition after making a full recovery from a concussion. He will return for the beginning of the 2017 season at the Feb. 26 Daytona 500,” the statement read.
Earnhardt Jr will get back behind the wheel of the #88 Chevrolet for a Goodyear tyre test at Phoenix International Raceway in January before stepping back into the car at Daytona in February starting with the Daytona 500 practice sessions. He will not, however, race in the pre-season exhibition race, The Clash at Daytona International Speedway, as he isn’t eligible after not scoring a pole position last season. Instead, Alex Bowman will get back behind the wheel of the #88 for one last time, with Bowman having taken pole at Phoenix last month.
“I feel great, and I’m excited to officially be back,” Earnhardt said. “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 did such a great job in the car this year, and I felt like he deserved another opportunity,” Dale continued, “When I spoke with Rick and the team about him driving The Clash, everyone agreed that he more than earned it, and Nationwide was 100-percent on board. I’m really grateful to him and Jeff for what they did for our team, and I’m glad Alex is getting another run with us.”
Dale’s recovery from his injuries has been a rollercoaster affair. It was a wreck in the race at Michigan in June that is believed to have triggered these symptoms, but it wasn’t until three more races had passed that Earnhardt Jr’s condition worsened the point of having to miss races.
The first race he would miss would be at New Hampshire in July, with Alex Bowman taking the seat in his place. From there, there was still a hope that Dale would return to the track in no time at all after some time to recover. This wasn’t the case, however, with it being announced after several races out that he would not return for the rest of the year; with Bowman and Jeff Gordon substituting for him in the meantime.
There was even speculation that Dale Jr may not even return, with some stating that there was a chance he’d be forced to retire. However, today’s news finally gives Dale Jr’s massive fanbase – who incidentally won him NASCAR’s most popular driver award for the fourteenth straight year last week – some comfort knowing that their driver will be racing next year.
The first race of Dale Earnhardt Jr’s return to the NASCAR top tier will be the Can-Am duel qualifying race on February 23rd, with his first points paying race being the Daytona 500 that follows three days later on February 26th.
Featured image courtesy of NASCAR.com – http://static.nascar.com/content/dam/nascar/articles/2016/4/1/main/dale-main.jpg/jcr:content/renditions/original