Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been medically cleared to race again after making a full recovery from a concussion. Dale will return for the beginning of the 2017 season at the Feb. 26 Daytona 500.
The 42-year-old Earnhardt was cleared by Dr. Mickey Collins, medical director of the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program in Pittsburgh, in consultation with Charlotte neurosurgeon Dr. Jerry Petty. Petty attended Dale’s 185-lap test at the 1.366-mile South Carolina racetrack.
“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.”
In addition to the 185-lap test at Darlington, Dale has logged more than 15 hours in a racing simulator during his recovery.
Earnhardt Jr. has a contract with Hendrick Motorsports through the 2017 season and since he has been cleared to race again, he plans to resume contract negotiations with Hendrick Motorsports before he returns to racing in late February when the 2017 season opens at Daytona. Contract negotiations were put on hold in July. Prior to Daytona, Jr. plans another test at Phoenix National Raceway.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was named Most Popular Driver for the 14th consecutive year, even though he missed over half the year with his concussion. Bill Elliott holds the record Most Popular Driver honors with 16. The award is determined solely by fan voting and Earnhardt said it was especially touching to know his fans supported him even during a year in which he missed the second half of the season due to a concussion.
“This year was a difficult year for us and our team,” Earnhardt said. “You think you know just how incredible the NASCAR fans are and how supportive they are. You see them support the drivers through victories and through defeat. But when you go through recovery from an injury or maybe the loss of a loved one or something like that, you really get to the core of what’s great about our fan base.”
Dale also set the date for his wedding. He and Amy Reimann will wed on New Year’s Eve at an undisclosed location.