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Earnhardt Jr. Cleared To Return To Driver’s Seat

| , RacinToday.com Thursday, December 8 2016

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will drive in the 2017 Daytona 500. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Alan Marler)

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Dale Earnhardt Jr., sidelined for 18 Sprint Cup races in 2016 because of injury, will be back in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports car in February at Daytona International Speedway it was announced Thursday.

“I feel great, and I’m excited to officially be back,” Earnhardt, 42, said. “I expected things to go really well yesterday, 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. Thanks to the staff at Darlington for hosting our team and to NASCAR for giving us the opportunity to put a car on the track. 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 was cleared to drive after completing a test session at Darlington Raceway observed by NASCAR while working with crew chief Greg Ives. He turned 185 laps during the session which followed more than 15 hours in a racing simulator as part of his recovery plan.

Earnhardt was cleared Wednesday evening by Dr. Micky Collins, medical director of the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program in Pittsburgh, in consultation with Charlotte neurosurgeon Dr. Jerry Petty. Petty was also in attendance at the Darlington test.

“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.”

Filling Earnhardt’s seat in the races he missed were Alex Bowman (10 races) and four-time NASCAR premier series champion Jeff Gordon (eight races).

Earnhardt and Hendrick Motorsports have elected to allow Bowman to drive the car in The Clash at Daytona International Speedway, the season-opening, non-points race on Feb. 18.

“Alex did such a great job in the car this year, and I felt like he deserved another opportunity,” Earnhardt explained. “When I spoke with Rick (Hendrick) and the team about him driving The Clash, everyone agreed that he more than earned it, and Nationwide was 100-percent on board. I’m really grateful to him and Jeff (Gordon) for what they did for our team, and I’m glad Alex is getting another run with us.”

| , RacinToday.com Thursday, December 8 2016
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