NASCAR fans everywhere likely cheered when the series' most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., announced Tuesday he was returning to the track this weekend after sitting out the last two races with a concussion.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Dale Earnhardt Jr. was cleared Tuesday for this weekend’s race at Martinsville Speedway after missing the last two weeks to recover from a pair of concussions.
NASCAR’s most popular driver was examined by neurosurgeon Dr. Jerry Petty one a day after he ran 123 laps at half-mile Gresham Motorsports Park in Jefferson, Ga. Petty monitored Earnhardt during Monday’s test at Gresham.
“Dale Jr. has done everything asked of him,” said Petty, who consults with NASCAR and is Earnhardt’s personal physician. “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.”
Petty sidelined Earnhardt after the driver went to see him complaining of a lingering headache following a 25-car accident on the last lap of the Oct. 7 race at Talladega. Petty diagnosed Earnhardt with a concussion, and said Earnhardt also suffered one in an Aug. 29 crash during a tire test at Kansas that went untreated.
The injury snapped Earnhardt’s streak of 461 consecutive starts, the fifth-longest active streak in the Sprint Cup Series, and ended his shot to win the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
Earnhardt missed races at Charlotte and Kansas, marking the first time a Cup event did not include an Earnhardt in the field since Sept. 3, 1979.
Regan Smith drove the No. 88 Chevrolet in Earnhardt’s absence.
Earnhardt was not at the track the last two weeks. He instead was going through a rehabilitation program directed by Petty, who consulted with Dr. Micky Collins, director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program. Earnhardt was evaluated by Collins last week in Pittsburgh.
His official clearance on Tuesday was a relief to team owner Rick Hendrick, who prematurely told reporters Earnhardt would be in the car at Martinsville before Sunday’s race at Kansas. Hendrick later said he had misspoke and that Earnhardt still had the scheduled test at Gresham and Tuesday visit with Petty.
“Maybe I just heard what I wanted to hear when I talked to Petty because everything in Pittsburg was good,” Hendrick said. “I will be shocked if he’s not in the car. Everything looks good.”