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Earnhardt Jr healthy and ready for NASCAR Sprint Cup return

October 23, 2012

Intelligence outside of a race car isn’t what we normally expect from drivers, particularly those lacking extended education, but common sense? That’s what any driver needs and what Dale Earnhardt Jr has in abundance.

The championship contender in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series elected to remove himself from competition October 11th after suffering two concussions within the space of six weeks. He knew he wasn’t right and he took the brave step to see a neurosurgeon for medical confirmation of his feelings.

For the past two Chase for the Sprint Cup competitions, Earnhardt has been out of his No. 88 Chevrolet, ceding the seat to Regan Smith, who did an admirable job last weekend at the recently repaved (and site of Earnhardt’s first concussion during a Goodyear tire test) Kansas Speedway. He finished seventh in the National Guard/Mountain Dew Chevy, on the lead lap. Here’s hoping Smith finds himself with a good ride after this year is done, based on that accomplishment and his work with Furniture Row Racing until the Charlotte race.

Shortly before 1PM on Tuesday, both NASCAR and Earnhardt’s team Hendrick Motorsports announced his return to competition this weekend at Martinsville Speedway in Virginia. The driver was medically cleared to drive after completing a rehabilitation program directed by Dr Jerry Petty, a neurosurgeon based in Charlotte, NC.

As part of his program, Petty consulted with Dr Micky Collins, who directs the University of Pittsburg Medical Center’s Sports Medicine Concussion program. “Dale Jr has done everything asked of him,” Petty confirmed. “He hasn’t had a headache since October 12th and we have not been able to provoke any symptoms since that time. I have informed NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports that he is medically cleared for all NASCAR-related activity.”

Earnhardt went to Pittsburgh to meet with Dr Collins on October 16th. On Monday, he ran 123 laps in a Sprint Cup car during a test session – monitored by Petty – at the half-mile Gresham Motorsports Park in Jefferson, GA. Petty cleared the driver Tuesday morning following a final neuropsychological evaluation in Charlotte.

The only setback this writer can see to Earnhardt’s return would be the planned meeting at Martinsville Speedway on Friday, October 26th with members of the media. That’s usually enough to give anyone a headache.

By Anne Proffit

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