After sitting out half of the 2016 NASCAR season with a concussion, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been cleared to compete beginning with the Daytona 500 in February of 2017.
According to Hendrick Motorsports officials, Earnhardt was given the green light by Dr, Micky Collins, director of the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program, following an almost five-hour, 185-lap test at Darlington Raceway on Wednesday.
The 42-year-old, 14-time most popular driver winner hasn’t raced since July 9 at Kentucky Speedway, but it was a crash at Michigan International Speedway in June that reportedly caused the concussion. Earnhardt will drive the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet at Daytona on Feb. 26.
“Dale is one of the hardest-working patients I’ve ever encountered,” Dr. Collins said in a news release Thursday. “He’s done everything we’ve asked and we believe he is ready to compete at a professional level again and can withstand the normal forces of a race car driver…”
For his part, Earnhardt said he was happy to get back on the race track and expects to take part in further driving tests next month.
“I feel great and I’m excited to officially be back,” Earnhardt said. “…Actually getting in a race car was an important first step and it gives me a ton of confidence going into 2017…I’ll do more testing in January to knock the rust off. When it’s time to go to Daytona, I’ll be ready.”
Here’s video of Earnhardt’s crash in Michigan: