Rick Hendrick: Dale Jr. ‘on track’ for Daytona 500 – Nascar
HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Team owner Rick Hendrick shed light Friday on Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s timetable to return to NASCAR competition, saying he anticipated his driver to be on pace to compete in time for the 2017 Daytona 500.
Earnhardt Jr., 42, has been sidelined from the Hendrick Motorsports No. 88 Chevrolet since July after two severe crashes left him with concussion-like symptoms. He was ruled out for the remainder of the Sprint Cup season in September.
“I think sometime in December the doctor’s going to give him the final clearance and then we’ll get him in a car,” Hendrick said Friday after a news conference with the Sprint Cup Championship 4 car owners at Homestead-Miami Speedway. “He feels great. Everything’s on track. I mean, every step that we supposedly need to go through, we’ve gone through, and I don’t see anything holding us back.”
Earnhardt, who has been working on rehabilitation of his neurological conditions since this summer, reiterated that intention last month at Martinsville Speedway, saying in a pre-race interview that “we’re booking things as normal” ahead of the 2017 season. That included sponsorship plans, photo shoots and other logistical agreements in preparation for next year.
But Earnhardt Jr. also indicated he was eager to return to NASCAR’s premier series, something Hendrick reaffirmed Friday.
“He sent me a text the other day that he was excited and waiting for Daytona,” Hendrick said. “I think we’ve just got a couple more hurdles to clear.”
Jeff Gordon and Alex Bowman have split time in Earnhardt’s No. 88 this season, with Gordon filling in for eight races and Bowman set to make his 10th start of the year in Sunday’s season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400 (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM) at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Gordon has indicated that he’s likely to resume his retirement from racing next season unless called upon by Hendrick. As for Bowman, the 23-year-old racer who competes part-time in the XFINITY Series has said he’s still uncertain what his driving responsibilities — beyond simulator work for Hendrick’s team — will be in 2017. Friday, Hendrick was uncertain as well.
“Alex is a good guy. He’s helped us in a lot of ways,” Hendrick said. “We’re just kind of taking that one a day at a time. He’s done testing for us, he’s done simulation for us and he’s really done a good job. We’re just kind of taking it a day at a time. We don’t really have any certain plan.”