Rick Hendrick had lunch with Dale Earnhardt Jr. on Wednesday and believes the driver looked healthy but still isn’t sure when he will receive medical clearance to make a return to NASCAR.
The team owner said Earnhardt wants to return as soon as possible and that there’s a place waiting for him when that happens. Earnhardt has been out of his Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet since July 9 at Kentucky Speedway. He was diagnosed with gaze stability issues related to a concussion and has been receiving treatment ever since.
Earnhardt has another doctor appointment early next week.
“Dale looks great,” Hendrick said. “He and the road crew went to lunch on Wednesday – and I think you’ve seen the (video) of him playing basketball. We are taking extra effort with the doctors, making sure he’s going to be 100 percent.
“He’s got a doctor’s appointment next week. He’s doing great, and he wants to get back in the car. Beyond that, I don’t know anything to tell you about him.”
Jeff Gordon has been his substitute since the Brickyard 400 last month but a prior commitment will prevent him from driving the No. 88 next weekend at Michigan. Hendrick confirmed that Alex Bowman would fill the seat for a second time if Earnhardt isn’t cleared, having served as the first backup in July at New Hampshire.
Hendrick isn’t sure if Saturday night at Bristol would be Gordon’s final race and said the four-time Sprint Cup champion has been a value to the team ever since his unexpected return.
“I have disrupted Jeff’s life this summer,” Hendrick said. “He was on vacation in France when I asked him to come home and said this was serious. He has been willing to do whatever it takes to come in and help the company. He had a prior commitment that he couldn’t change at Michigan. He could come in on Sunday, but that wasn’t fair to the company with this new package and all the practice we need – to stick someone in the car who hasn’t driven it doesn’t make sense.
“We hope Dale will be back pretty quick and I don’t want to commit Jeff to far out, so we’re on a week-to-week deal. I can’t say enough about Jeff Gordon. He’s a great team player.”