DARLINGTON, S.C. — Dale Earnhardt Jr. says he feels better as he continues to rehabilitate the vision and balance issues he suffers from, but he does not belong in a race car as he recovers from a concussion suffered in June.
Earnhardt, who has missed the last six Sprint Cup races, announced Friday he would not return to his Hendrick Motorsports car for the final 12 races this year.
Now Dale Earnhardt Jr. can concentrate on healing
Now that Dale Earnhardt Jr. has announced he won’t be back until next year at the earliest, he can finally take the time to really concentrate on getting better, writes Ricky Craven.
Pockrass: Dale Jr.’s decision affects all of NASCAR
When the guy who has been named most popular driver for 13 straight years calls it a season — and for concussion symptoms, no less — it’s safe to assume there will be some ripples.
The 41-year-old driver is preparing to return to the seat in 2017, and his doctor Sunday said the treatment focuses on Earnhardt — whom he said was “very sick” — being able to handle everyday life and then a race car.
Earnhardt has battled balance and vision issues associated with gaze stability — the ability to focus on an object in the distance while moving his head. He is going through vision therapy, stability therapy and exercise therapy.
“We’re doing what we’re doing right now to make sure we get Dale’s systems rehabbed to the point where not only does he feel normal but hopefully to the point where we don’t see less force causes [them] to come back,” said Dr. Micky Collins of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program.
“We’ve advanced things to a point where we know how to rehab these symptoms well. … Hopefully we can get to a point where we see that he can withstand the normal forces of a race-car driver. If he had a significant force, that would cause an injury as it would anyone.”
Collins treated Earnhardt in 2012 when he missed two races because of two concussions in six weeks.
“We went through this process in 2012,” Earnhardt said Sunday at Darlington Raceway. “It was very scary and difficult. Micky told me that I would one day be well and I would win races again and he was right. … He’s telling me this is possible again, and I believe it.”