The effects of a concussion that already has caused Dale Earnhardt Jr. to miss six NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races will keep him out of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet for the remainder of the 2016 season, the organization announced on Friday morning.
In his absence, Jeff Gordon and Alex Bowman will share driving duties in Earnhardt’s car. After Sunday’s race at Darlington, Gordon will compete in the No. 88 at Richmond, Dover and Martinsville, where he scored his most recent victory last year.
Bowman will drive the No. 88 in the remaining eight races, at Chicagoland, New Hampshire (where he debuted in the car in the first race Earnhardt missed), Charlotte, Kansas, Talladega, Texas, Phoenix and Homestead.
After experiencing gradually worsening concussion-like symptoms dating to a wreck at Michigan International Speedway in June, Earnhardt sought medical help and exited the car under doctors’ advice for the July 17 event at New Hampshire.
A Hendrick Motorsports release on Friday indicated Earnhardt has not been medically cleared to drive for the rest of the season.
NASCAR’s most popular driver has undergone regular evaluations at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program under the direction of Dr. Micky Collins and with Charlotte neurosurgeon Dr. Jerry Petty.
“I wish I could return to the No. 88 team this season,” Earnhardt said in the HMS release. “To say I’m disappointed doesn’t begin to describe how I feel, but I know this is the right thing for my long-term health and career. I’m 100 percent focused on my recovery, and I will continue to follow everything the doctors tell me.
“They’re seeing good progress in my test results, and I’m feeling that progress physically. I plan to be healthy and ready to compete at Daytona in February. I’m working toward that.”
Team owner Rick Hendrick is fully supportive of the long-term objective of Earnhardt’s and his doctors’ decision.
“I know how hard Dale has worked and how frustrating this is for him,” said Hendrick, who will appear with Earnhardt and Collins in a press conference at Darlington on Sunday prior to the Bojangles’ Southern 500 (6 p.m. ET on NBC). “He wants to be back, and we want him back, but we want it to be for the long haul. We’ve had incredible support from everyone involved with the team, including all of our sponsors. They’ve put Dale’s health first every step of the way.
“Jeff and Alex will give us a great opportunity over the rest of the season. Jeff is one of the best of all time and knows our system. He brings things to the table that no one else can. Alex is a young driver with a lot of talent, and he will give us a fresh perspective. We know they’re not only capable of running up front and giving us a chance to win, but they’ll help us get better.”