In his first public appearance since he was sidelined because of the effects of a concussion, Dale Earnhardt Jr. said there was no hard timeline for his return to the Sprint Cup Series because of the nature of his injury.
Junior has missed three races after suffering a concussion from a crash at Michigan in June. Junior drove three races after the Michigan crash but started experiencing delayed-onset symptoms at Kentucky.
“You just don’t know when the symptoms will stop,” Junior said Friday. “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. There is no common history that will tell you that ‘man, this is going to last a month’, or this is going to last … and I’ve talked to other people with this history that didn’t last this long. That is why it is frustrating. My past history didn’t take this long and cleared up; and you could see the progress, feel the progress every day. It is a little bit different. The symptoms I am having this time are different, but not uncommon.”
Earnhardt Jr., who came to the track Friday for the first time since Kentucky, has said he’s been experiencing vision and balance issues (which he believes are tied together) with this concussion. He’s also unsure how a timeline of events would work for a racing return once he does stop experiencing symptoms. Will he immediately be cleared to race? Will there be a waiting period of sorts?
He does want to get back in a car for a testing session before he returns to a race.
“I don’t know what [the doctor] will do,” Junior said. “We haven’t really talked about that. I personally would like to get in a race car and drive it at a closed course somewhere. Whether that is one of my late models, or if NASCAR would lift the restrictions on the testing policy to go to Gresham or someplace I want to get in the car and run for a day. I think I should do that. That would be the smartest thing to do before actually trying to accomplish an entire race weekend.”
Jeff Gordon has driven the last two races in Earnhardt Jr.’s absence and is filling in at Watkins Glen on Sunday and at Bristol on Aug. 20. After that, the situation is still fluid. Junior is undoubtedly out of Chase contention as a driver but the team can still make the owner’s Chase.
— brant james (@brantjames) August 5, 2016
Gordon is making his 800th career start at the Glen, a track where he’s won four times. However, Gordon hasn’t finished better than ninth at the track since his final win in 2001.
Junior was introspective and open Friday in discussing his concussion and what he’s been experiencing. He said earlier in the week he hoped other people could be positively impacted with what he’s shared and said Friday he was surprised he will have missed at least five races because of the concussion.
One thing he hasn’t thought about during his absence from the Series? Retirement.
“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,’” Junior said. “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. I sat with [team owner 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.”
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