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Dale Earnhardt Jr. cleared to race again after concussion

Driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been cleared to return to racing after concussion. He missed last season’s final 18 Cup races.
Driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been cleared to return to racing after concussion. He missed last season’s final 18 Cup races. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Dale Earnhardt Jr., whose NASCAR season was cut short by a concussion, has been cleared to return to racing, starting with the Daytona 500 in February, Hendrick Motorsports announced Thursday.

Earnhardt was cleared by Dr. Micky Collins in consultation with Charlotte neurosurgeon Dr. Jerry Petty after a test session Wednesday at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway.

“I feel great, and I’m excited to officially be back,” Earnhardt said in a statement. “I expected things to go really well (Wednesday), 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.

“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.”

Earnhardt, 42, also had two concussions in 2012.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. completed 185 laps over a nearly five-hour session Wednesday at Darlington.

He missed the final 18 races of last season after sustaining a concussion at Michigan International Speedway. Alex Bowman replaced Earnhardt for 10 races and retired Jeff Gordon filled in for eight. Bowman, who won the pole at Phoenix in November, will race Earnhardt’s No. 88 Chevy in the non-points Clash at Daytona in February.

“Alex did such a great job in the car this year, and I felt like he deserved another opportunity,” Earnhardt said. “When I spoke with Rick and the team about him driving The Clash, everyone agreed that he more than earned it. 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.”

With crew chief Greg Ives in attendance, Earnhardt completed 185 laps over a nearly five-hour session Wednesday at Darlington. Earnhardt has also spent more than 15 hours in a racing simulator while he has recovered, according to a Hendrick news release.

When it’s time to go to Daytona, I’ll be ready.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

“Dale is one of the hardest-working patients I’ve ever encountered,” Collins said. “He’s done everything we’ve asked, and we believe he is ready to compete at a professional level again and can withstand the normal forces of a race car driver.

“Dale has been very open with us, and we’ve had plenty of time for his treatment, so we feel very good about his long-term prospects and how this has been managed by everyone involved.”

Said team owner Rick Hendrick in a statement: “Dale deserves so much credit. I’m proud of him for listening to his body and standing up to take responsibility for his health. He’s worked extremely hard and set a terrific example for others. It’s great news as we go into the offseason, and we can’t wait to see him back on the racetrack at Daytona.”

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