After missing the New Hampshire 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway due to concussion-like symptoms, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. made his first public comments after announcing he would miss the race last Wednesday.
Earnhardt, 41, spoke on Dirty Mo Radio, providing an update on his health within his podcast, “The Dale Jr. Download.” Providing comments for the first time since Hendrick Motorsports announced Alex Bowman would replace him at Loudon, Earnhardt said he is battling issues with his balance and has experienced nausea over the past four to five days.
“I’ve struggled with my balance over the last 4-5 days, and I definitely wouldn’t [have been] able to drive a race car this weekend,” Earnhardt said in a solemn tone. “Making the right decision really was out of the question; I made the decision I had to make.”
Saying he “is going to take this slow,” Earnhardt did not provide a timeline for when he will return to a racecar. Hendrick Motorsports officials expressed at New Hampshire they would like to know by Wednesday at the latest of whether or not NASCAR’s most popular driver will be able to step into the No. 88 car at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this coming weekend.
“My mind feels real sharp,” Earnhardt continued. “I took the ImPACT tests, which measures thought process and the speed of your thought process, and memory and retaining memory, and my results matched my baseline, which made me feel confident that my brain was pretty sharp. It feels good.”
While Earnhardt continues the recovery process, it is still not clear if he had a concussion or not. In the initial team release, accidents at Daytona International Speedway and Kentucky Speedway were sourced as possible triggers for the symptoms.
With concussions in 2002 and 2012, Earnhardt has made it clear that his health comes first.
In April, Earnhardt announced he will donate his brain to Concussion Legacy Foundation for testing when he passes away in an attempt to further research on athletes with brain injuries.
“I’m going to continue to work with my doctors to understand more about the injury and how to treat it,” Earnhardt said. “They can give me a lot of exercises that will retrain my brain to handle what I need to handle. It’s just going to take a lot of patience. I put my health and quality of life as a top priority. I’ll always do that. I’m going to take this slow and strictly follow the advice of my doctors and try to learn as much as I can to be smarter and wiser.”
If Earnhardt is not able to come back this weekend at Indianapolis, HMS General Manager Doug Duchardt announced on Friday Jeff Gordon will come out retirement to pilot the No. 88 Chevrolet. Later in the weekend, team owner Rick Hendrick indicated Gordon could be in the car again if Earnhardt misses more events.
Gordon finished third in the championship standings in his final full season driving for HMS. If he competes in the No. 88 car at Indianapolis, it would mark the first time in his Sprint Cup career he has driven a car with a number other than the No. 24 on its sides and roof.
According to Hendrick, the team has not requested a Chase waiver as of yet, waiting for word on when the North Carolina native will be able to hop back into the racecar before going to NASCAR for the waiver.
Bowman finished 26th at Loudon as Earnhardt’s replacement. Throughout the event, he ran inside the top 10, but fell back after blowing a left-rear tire on Lap 274.
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