Hendrick Motorsports announced on Friday morning that Dale Earnhardt Jr., who missed the last six races because of concussion-like symptoms, will not return to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series this season.
Earnhardt will be replaced in the No. 88 Chevrolet by Jeff Gordon and Alex Bowman in the 12 remaining 2016 races.
In a news release, Hendrick Motorsports said that Earnhardt has not been medically cleared to compete for the remainder of the Sprint Cup season as he continues to recover from a concussion believed to have been incurred in a wreck at Michigan International Speedway in June, then reaggravated by another accident Earnhardt was involved in at Daytona on July 1.
Earnhardt has missed the last six Sprint Cup races while undergoing treatment. He has been regularly evaluated at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program under the direction of Dr. Micky Collins and with Charlotte neurosurgeon Dr. Jerry Petty.
Earnhardt, however, made it clear that he is not calling it a career. He still hopes to resume driving if doctors eventually say that he can, vowing that he believes he is showing “good progress” that will allow him to return to the No. 88 car by the 2017 season-opening Daytona 500 next February.
“I wish I could return to the No. 88 team this season,” Earnhardt said. “To say I’m disappointed doesn’t begin to describe how I feel, but I know this is the right thing for my long-term health and career.
“I’m 100-percent focused on my recovery, and I will continue to follow everything the doctors tell me. They’re seeing good progress in my test results, and I’m feeling that progress physically. I plan to be healthy and ready to compete at Daytona in February. I’m working toward that.”
Earnhardt added that he appreciates all the support he has received from the NASCAR community during what obviously has been a difficult time.
“The support from both inside and outside the race team has been overwhelming,” he said. “Everyone has been so encouraging and positive, from my teammates and sponsors to my family, friends and fans. It’s motivating and humbling at the same time.”
Gordon and Bowman will drive for the No. 88 team in the season’s 12 remaining races. In Earnhardt’s absence, four-time Cup Series champion Gordon, 45, filled in at Indianapolis, Pocono, Watkins Glen and Bristol. Bowman, 23, drove at New Hampshire and Michigan.
Team owner Rick Hendrick said that he knows Earnhardt wants to be back in the car as soon as possible, but stressed that this is the right move for the long haul. Hendrick added that he believes the No. 88 team will be in good hands with Gordon and Bowman driving the remaining races this season.
“I know how hard Dale has worked and how frustrating this is for him,” Hendrick said. “He wants to be back, and we want him back, but we want it to be for the long haul. We’ve had incredible support from everyone involved with the team, including all of our sponsors. They’ve put Dale’s health first every step of the way.”
Hendrick added that he believes the No. 88 team will be in good hands with Gordon and Bowman driving the remaining races this season.
“Jeff and Alex will give us a great opportunity over the rest of the season,” Hendrick said. “Jeff is one of the best of all time and knows our system. He brings things to the table that no one else can. Alex is a young driver with a lot of talent, and he will give us a fresh perspective. We know they’re not only capable of running up front and giving us a chance to win, but they’ll help us get better.”
This is believed to be at least the fourth concussion of the 41-year-old Earnhardt’s driving career.
After suffering his latest injury at Michigan in June, Earnhardt ran subsequent races at Sonoma, Daytona and Kentucky. But he said his consussion-like symptoms worsened after reaggravating the injury in the wreck at Daytona on July 1. Complaining of nausea and balance issues, he got out of the car for the July 17 race at New Hampshire on the advice of his doctors and has not returned.
Here is how the remaining races will be split between Gordon, who retired from full-time driving last season and now works as a FOX Sports television analyst, and Bowman