Dale Earnhardt Jr. said Friday morning that he wouldn’t be getting back in a race car if he weren’t confident about his own safety and that he’s ready to start talking to team owner Rick Hendrick about a new contract to remain at Hendrick Motorsports beyond 2017.
Earnhardt, 42, missed the entire second half of the 2016 NASCAR season as he recovered from a concussion suffered during the summer.
In his time away from the cockpit, Earnhardt went through an extensive rehabilitation process, which he said has made him substantially stronger than he was before his injury.
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And that, he said, has made him feel that he’s not at risk for another concussion.
Earnhardt rehabbed with Dr. Micky Collins, medical director of the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program in Pittsburgh and Charlotte neurosurgeon Dr. Jerry Petty.
“We worked not only to get healthy and back to being a normal human being again, but we worked to get stronger than we were before,” said Earnhardt. “I wouldn’t be coming back to the seat and wanting to drive and excited about driving cars if there was any risk other than the typical risk that every driver faces on Sunday.”
Speaking on a teleconference Friday morning, Earnhardt said he’s pleased with his progress.
“I feel confident in what I’ve seen in myself, in my improvement,” said Earnhardt. “And I feel confident in what my doctors are telling me about my future and the risks that I’m taking and my ability to be able to withstand the normal wear and tear of not only driving in a race but getting in that unfortunate accident from time to time.
“We all feel pretty confident that not only am I as healthy as I was before the (concussion) symptoms came … but I’m actually stronger,” said Earnhardt.
Earnhardt said the long layoff has been very helpful to his recover, as he continues his to build strength. “We still have a couple more months for my brain to sturdy itself up,” he said.
As far as a new contract with Hendrick Motorsports goes, that’s not far off.
“We’re probably going to revisit that before the season starts,” Earnhardt said. “… That’s definite on our list as something to get done.”