Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been given medical clearance to return to the cockpit, six months after the Hendrick Motorsports driver was sidelined with concussion.
Earnhardt, who missed the final 18 races of the 2016 Cup season, received the green light after participating in an on-track test at Darlington on Wednesday under the supervision of Charlotte neurosurgeon Dr Jerry Petty.
He was clearned by Dr. Micky Collins, medical director of the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program in Pittsburgh. Collins, who consulted with Dr. Petty following Wednesday’s test, oversaw Earnhardt’s rehabilitation program and also treated him for a similar injury in 2012.
“I expected things to go really well yesterday, and that’s exactly what happened,” Earnhardt told NASCAR.com. “Actually getting in a racecar was an important final step, and it gives me a ton of confidence going into 2017. When it’s time to go to Daytona, I’ll be ready.”
Earnhardt completed 185 laps during the course of the nearly five-hour session.
The 42-year-old will not participate in the non-points season opener, The Clash at Daytona, in February. Alex Bowman, who filled in for Earnhardt 10 times in 2016, is set to reprise his understudy role in the No. 88 for that race. However, Earnhardt could appear in one or both of two upcoming tests; the first at Las Vegas scheduled for Jan. 10-11, and the second at Phoenix on Jan 31-Feb 1.
“He’s worked extremely hard and set a terrific example for others,” said team owner Rick Hendrick. “It’s great news as we go into the offseason, and we can’t wait to see him back on the racetrack at Daytona.”