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Earnhardt Jr. Cleared To Return

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, October 23 2012

Sprint Cup driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be back in his car at Martinsville. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Brian Lawdermilk)

RacinToday.com

Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been cleared to return to racing, Hendrick Motorsports officials said Tuesday.

Since being diagnosed with a concussion following the Oct. 7 race at Talladega, Ala., Earnhardt has participated in a rehabilitation program directed by Charlotte neurosurgeon Dr. Jerry Petty. Throughout the process, Petty consulted with Dr. Micky Collins, director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program.

““Dale Jr. has done everything asked of him,”” Petty said. ““He hasn’’t had a headache since Oct. 12, and we have not been able to provoke any symptoms since that time. I have informed NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports that he is medically cleared for all NASCAR-related activity.””

Earnhardt was evaluated by Collins on Oct. 16 in Pittsburgh. On Monday, Earnhardt ran 123 laps in a Sprint Cup car during a test session monitored by Petty at the half-mile Gresham Motorsports Park in Jefferson, Ga. Petty cleared the driver Tuesday morning following a final neuropsychological evaluation in Charlotte.

Earnhardt, driver of the No. 88 Chevrolets for Hendrick Motorsports, missed the Oct. 13 Charlotte Motor Speedway and Oct. 21 Kansas Speedway events.

On Sunday at Kansas, team owner Rick Hendrick said, “He’s burning up to get back in a car. There is no way to keep him out” once he is cleared.

With Earnhardt Jr. cleared, his teammates said it would be great to have him back.

“Saw him this afternoon at our team lunch, debrief meeting,” Jimmie Johnson said. “The guy is smiling ear to ear. He’s excited and we’re very happy to have him back.”

“Yeah,” Jeff Gordon said, “it’s great to have him back. Just continue to applaud him in the decision that he made, and I think he can come back now feeling very positive about how he handled the situation as well as be a positive impact on the rest of us, and how we’d hopefully handle that same situation. Great to have him back.

“We had him right at the end of our debrief today. Obviously, he couldn’t add much to Kansas, but that was an exciting race to watch, and we all ran really strong at Martinsville the last time we were there. So it should certainly make for a very positive and interesting debrief session this weekend. I feel like it’s something where all four drivers will get to contribute to get one of us to victory lane.”

Filling Earnhardt’s seat has been Regan Smith. After struggling with the car at Charlotte, Smith drove well at Kansas, finished seventh.

“These past two weeks we had arguably a better car last week had we had a chance to run the whole race,” Smith said. “It’s been nice to be able to step in and have them treat me like their normal driver. I know Dale (Earnhardt Jr.) is excited to get back so that is going to be good for him. Looking forward to whatever comes next for me.”

Hendrick was asked if there was a chance that Smith, who was replaced as driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing car a couple of weeks ago, had a shot at running HMS or JR Motorsports in the Nationwide Series full time in the future.

“Absolutely,” Hendrick said.

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, October 23 2012
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