NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. will not return to competition during the remainder of the 2016 season as he continues to recover from a concussion suffered earlier this year.
Hendrick Motorsports officials made the announcement Friday morning, saying that Alex Bowman and four-time series champ Jeff Gordon would split time in the No. 88 Chevrolet for the remaining 12 races of the season. Gordon is scheduled to drive the No. 88 as Earnhardt’s replacement this weekend at Darlington Raceway.
“I wish I could return to the No. 88 team this season,” Earnhardt said in a release provided by the team. “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.”
A crash at Michigan International Speedway in June is believed to be the cause of Earnhardt’s injury. While the impact of the Lap 62 incident was significant, Earnhardt said afterward that “it wasn’t too bad, actually.”
Following an off weekend, he continued to compete in the next three Sprint Cup races, finishing 11th, 21st and 13th at Sonoma, Daytona and Kentucky, respectively.
But a visit to the doctor for what Earnhardt said he believed was nothing more than severe allergies or a sinus infection led to the diagnosis of concussion-like symptoms.
Bowman was tabbed to fill in for the team at New Hampshire, while former HMS driver Gordon took over for races at Indianapolis, Pocono, Watkins Glen and Bristol. Bowman returned to the seat last weekend at Michigan due to a scheduling conflict involving Gordon.
Earnhardt has continued to take part in rehabilitation activities with the hope that he would be cleared by doctors to return to competition this season. He has met with medical personnel from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program every two weeks to determine his progesss.
It is the second time during his Sprint Cup Series career that Earnhardt, the son of seven-time series champion Dale Earnhardt, has been sidelined by a concussion. He missed two races during the latter portion of the 2012 season after a crash during testing at Kansas Speedway.
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