After missing 18 races this season in the aftermath of a concussion, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been medically cleared to resume NASCAR competition. He will return to the wheel of the No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports in the 2017 Daytona 500.
Charlotte neurosurgeon Dr. Jerry Petty.He turned 185 laps during the session, which followed more than 15 hours in a racing simulator as part of his recovery plan.
Earnhardt was cleared Wednesday evening by Dr. Micky Collins, medical director of the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program in Pittsburgh, in consultation with Dr. Petty.
“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. 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.”
In Earnhardt’s absence, Alex Bowman ran 10 races in the No. 88 Chevrolet, with four-time NASCAR premier series champion Jeff Gordon driving eight times. Bowman earned the team’s lone Coors Light Pole Award, at Phoenix International Raceway. Earnhardt and Hendrick Motorsports have elected to have Bowman drive the car in the season-opening, non-points Clash at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 18.
“Alex did such a great job in the car this year, and I felt like he deserved another opportunity,” Earnhardt explained. “When I spoke with Rick (Hendrick) 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 (Gordon) for what they did for our team, and I’m glad Alex is getting another run with us.”