RED FLAGGED: lingering concussion puts brakes on racing season for Dale Earnhardt Jr.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- There's no more pushing the pedal to the metal for NASCAR great Dale Earnhardt Jr.,the rest of the 2016 racing season due to the lingering effects of a concussion.

“I wish I could return to the No. 88 team this season,” the 41-year-old Earnhardt said in a statement issued by Hendrick Motorsports this morning, having already missed the last six races. “To say I’m disappointed doesn’t begin to describe how I feel, but I know this is the right thing for my long-term health and career." 

Earnhardt continued, "I’m 100 percent focused on my recovery, and I will continue to follow everything the doctors tell me. They’re seeing good progress in my test results, and I’m feeling that progress physically. I plan to be healthy and ready to compete at Daytona in February. I’m working toward that. The support from both inside and outside the race team has been overwhelming. Everyone has been so encouraging and positive, from my teammates and sponsors to my family, friends and fans. It’s motivating and humbling at the same time.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. speaks on his concussion / Headline Surfer“I wish I could return to the No. 88 team this season,” the 41-year-old Earnhardt said in a statement issued by Hendrick Motorsports this morning, having already missed the last six races. “To say I’m disappointed doesn’t begin to describe how I feel, but I know this is the right thing for my long-term health and career."  

Earnhardt continued, "I’m 100 percent focused on my recovery, and I will continue to follow everything the doctors tell me. They’re seeing good progress in my test results, and I’m feeling that progress physically. I plan to be healthy and ready to compete at Daytona in February. I’m working toward that. The support from both inside and outside the race team has been overwhelming. Everyone has been so encouraging and positive, from my teammates and sponsors to my family, friends and fans. It’s motivating and humbling at the same time.”

"Junior" has been evaluated on a regular basis at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program by Dr. Micky Collins and with Charlotte neurosurgeon Dr. Jerry Petty, no relation to the famous Petty racing stable.

Earnhardt revealed last month that that doctors believe his his concussion-like symptoms stem from his June 12 crash at Michigan International Speedway.   

The remaining schedule fore the two drivers filling in for Dale Earnhardt Jr in the No. 88 Cheverolet / Headline SurferJeff Gordon will fill in for Dale Earnhardt Jr / Headline SurferAlex Bowman / Headline SurferPhotos and graphic for Headline Surfer / Jeff Gortdon and Alex Bowman will continie to fillin in for Dale Earnhardt Jr who will sit out the last 12 races as he has the previous six with concussion-like symptoms.
While Bowman is a relatively new driver at age 23, Gordon, 45, is a four-time cup champion, who retired after last season.

Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motor Sports, said two drivers -- one a future Hall of Famer in Jeff Gordon, 45, who retired after last season, and the other, a newer driver to the sport, 23-year-old Alex Bowman -- will continue to split the driving duties in the remaining 12 races on the schedule as they have since July with Earnhardt missing six straight races.

“I know how hard Dale has worked and how frustrating this is for him,” Hendrick said. “He wants to be back, and we want him back, but we want it to be for the long haul. We’ve had incredible support from everyone involved with the team, including all of our sponsors. They’ve put Dale’s health first every step of the way."Gordon will drive in four more races: Darlington, Richmond International Raceway next week, Dover International Speedway on Oct. 2 and at Martinsville Speedway on Oct. 30, the site of his last win.

“Jeff and Alex will give us a great opportunity over the rest of the season," Hendrick said. "Jeff is one of the best of all time and knows our system. He brings things to the table that no one else can. Alex is a young driver with a lot of talent, and he will give us a fresh perspective. We know they’re not only capable of running up front and giving us a chance to win, but they’ll help us get better.”

Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR's most popular driver as voted on by the fans 13 years running, has yet to win a Sprint Cup championship, though he has won two Daytona 500 championships 10 years apart - in 2004 and in 2014.

Regardless, Junior's legacy is cemented as one of NASCAR's elite drivers, the son of legendary driver Dale Earnhardt Sr, who was killed on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, trying to protect the lead for his two DEI (Dale Earnhardt Inc) drivers, Michael Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who were 1-2 at the time while he was third, when the elder Earnhardt was sent into the wall after being bumped from behind by Sterling Marlin who was trying to get around him to catch the front two drivers coming off turn 4 with the checkered flag in sight.

Earnhardt Sr., 49, was killed instantly in the nearly head-on crash with the concrete wall, collecting Ken Shrader's car in the process. Shrader was not seriously injured.

Dale Earhardt killed in the 2001 Daytona 500 / Headline SurferDale Earnhardt killed in 2001 Daytona 500 / Headline SurferWaltrip would win the 2001 Daytona 500, his first-ever win of any kind on the major cup schedule with Earnhardt Jr. finishing second. Waltrip would win a second Daytona 500 three years later.

Earnhardt Sr., considered NASCAR's greatest driver has seven Cup championships, but his only Daytona 500 win was in 1998. Junior's Daytona 500 victories were in 2004 and in 2014. Junior has yet to win a Cup Championship with age creeping up on him -- he'll be 42 on Oct. 10 -- the window is narrowing, especially with this season now lost for him as a driver, but still a long shot for the N0. 88 team car.

Gordon, a four -tine Cup champion, will drive for Earnhardt in four more races: Darlington, Richmond International Raceway next week, Dover International Speedway on Oct. 2 and at Martinsville Speedway on Oct. 30, where he last won.

 

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Short Bio

Henry Frederick is publisher of Headline Surfer®, the award-winning 24/7 internet news outlet covering the Daytona Beach-Sanford-Orlando metro area via HeadlineSurfer.com for a decade now. A longtime cops & courts reporter focused on breaking news & investigative reporting, Frederick is among the Sunshine State's most prolific daily news reporters, having amassed dozens of journalism-industry awards in print anddigital platforms. Frederick is enrolled at Full Sail University in Winter Garden, FL, where he's three-fourths through the online Master of Arts program in New Media Journalism. His graduation is in August.