Dale Earnhardt Jr. has gone to birthday parties and a concert in the past week, continuing to put himself in situations to help him rehabilitate from a concussion that will keep him out of a race car for at least the remainder of the 2016 season.
Earnhardt will attend the NASCAR races Saturday and Sunday at Dover International Speedway as part of the rehab process. Jeff Gordon will drive the Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 car this weekend and again at Martinsville next month while Alex Bowman will do the six other races this year as Earnhardt remains sidelined.
Not having raced since July 9, Earnhardt has battled vision and balance issues that doctors believe were caused by a concussion in a June 12 crash at Michigan International Speedway. Earnhardt, who has had a history of concussions, has said the crash wasn’t severe enough that it should have caused a concussion. His doctors are working with him to get to a point where impacts such as that one don’t trigger symptoms.
“My eyes are really, really good,” Earnhardt said Monday during his “The Dale Jr. Download” podcast that is produced by his JR Motorsports. “I had some issues with them for a while that were pretty frustrating and those have really gotten better. … Basically, when I get in these environments, the symptoms I have now are balance.”
The environments Earnhardt put himself in during the past week included birthday parties for a friend’s 1-year-old and his niece’s 16th birthday. He also stood — unnoticed — in the fourth row at a Lord Huron concert.
“The only thing that triggers the symptoms is going somewhere I’m unfamiliar with, going somewhere I’ve never been, where it is busy, a lot of people talking, a lot of movement, a lot of visual stimulation,” Earnhardt said.
The next step in the rehab, Earnhardt said, was to do exercises that would cause anyone to lose balance. He has to stand on a foam block, close his eyes and turn his head doing the exercises.
“We’re almost back to being where I’m a normal functioning person with no issues,” he said. “But to become that guy that I need to be inside the car, we’ve got to really train my senses to be really perfect.
“I’m going to be doing a lot of stuff that’s really hard for anybody to do to try to continue to improve the balance and my response time and how quick I’m reacting to things and so forth. [I’m] still working on it and I enjoy the work.”