Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be vacating the Rick Hendrick 88 car for unforeseeable future. Earnhardt, who on Friday made his first public appearance to discuss his diagnosis, revealed that he will not be returning to racing just yet, but was eager to do so.
“I just want to get better. Nothing else is a priority. Our intentions are to get cleared and get back to racing. I’m not ready to quit.” Earnhardt promised as he discussed his desire to heal completely and return to his car, his team, and to winning.
Earnhardt has missed the last three races, including the Brickyard 400. Former champion and teammate, Jeff Gordan, has been piloting the 88 car while Junior has been recovering from the symptoms that have plagued him on and off since his wreck in Michigan on June 21 where he hit the wall after tangling with A.J. Allmedinger.
During the press conference Junior expressed how much his missed his team and that he was willing to do whatever was needed to get back in the car and be competitive. According to the most popular driver in NASCAR, his doctors are diligently working to further understand his condition and help him to not only recover, but be stronger as a result of the injury.
Junior has been very communicative with his fans via podcast and social media, keeping them updated on any information he is given, as well as helping them to understand the choices that he is making. While at first Junior experienced push back on his decision to step from the car, the importance and ramifications had he chosen not to do so, are now widely accepted and respected. In addition, Junior choosing to address the issue of his concussion and take responsibility for his well-being has had a ripple effect throughout a sport known for their racers pushing through injury to race. In fact, Junior’s father, Dale Earnhardt Sr., was considered to be the strongest, toughest driver around, being called “one tough customer” after he broke his ankle on a Sunday, had an operation on Tuesday, and was back racing the next weekend. His reputation for being tough enough to take anything and race created the slogan for Wrangler jeans, who happened to be Earnhardt Sr.’s sponsor at the time. Earnhardt Sr ignited a revolution, separating mere drivers from real racers and making an era in racing all his own.
Now, however, the sport is looked at differently and Junior’s concussion, and response to it, is a prime example. As Junior takes time to heal, racing experiences a shift in focus and priorities, a revolution of the sport that once again is brought on by an Earnhardt.