Christmas has come early for JR Nation.
Hendrick Motorsports announced Thursday that Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been medically cleared to return to NASCAR Competition beginning in February at the Daytona 500.
Earnhardt participated in a five hour test at Darlington Speedway as the final step by his medical team to see how he. would handle being back inside the race car. Earnhardt’s medical team includes Dr. Micky Collins, the medical director of the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program in Pittsburgh, along with Charlotte neurosurgeon Dr. Jerry Petty. Petty attended the test with Jr Wednesday.
“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.”
Earnhardt’s test at Darlington consisted of five hours, 185 laps turned under the watchful eye of third year crew chief Greg Ives.
“I feel great, and I’m excited to officially be back,” Earnhardt 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.”
After Earnhardt was battling concussion-like symptoms back in July, he would miss the final 18 races of the season, with Alex Bowman and 4-time series champion Jeff Gordon filling in while Earnhardt recovered.
In addition to his medical clearance, Hendrick Motorsports also confirmed that Alex Bowman, who earned a pole for the No. 88 team in November at Phoenix, will drive the car for the Clash at Daytona, which will feature pole position winners from 2016.
“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, and Nationwide was 100-percent on board. 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.”