Earnhardt’s doctor: ‘My goal was to see Dale become a human being again’

For anyone waiting for some sudden revelation or precise resolution to Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s concussion recovery situation, Sunday’s press conference at Darlington Raceway didn’t necessarily shed a whole lot of new light on the situation.

Yes, Earnhardt said he still wants to come back to racing, thinks he has a couple of good years left and thinks he’s still an asset to Hendrick Motorsports. 

Team owner Rick Hendrick said he’s excited about Earnhardt being back in the No. 88 at Daytona during Speedweeks in February 2017. 

Dale Earnhardt Jr. provides recovery update at Darlington

But two things were abundantly clear: First, the concussion Earnhardt suffered at Michigan in June was much different and much more serious than the two he had in 2012. Second, he still a ways away from being ready to race.

How far is that? 

No one knows, but it won’t be this year, as Earnhardt has already been ruled out for the rest of 2016.

And what his doctor saw at first with Earnhardt was frankly frightening.

"When I first saw Dale, my goal was to see Dale become a human being again," said Dr. Micky Collins, the director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program.

That’s how sick NASCAR’s most popular driver was at first.

"When I first saw Dale a month and a half ago I can tell you he was pretty sick," said Collins. "He was having problems with the vestibular system, with the ocular system and with some anxiety and mood issues that is very much associated with these problems."

The good news, Collins said, is that Earnhardt is getting better and working hard at getting better. 

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"I can tell you with confidence that is occurring in front of our eyes," Collins said. "He is feeling better. He can tolerate a lot more. He is having fewer and fewer symptoms and is doing very well. To me that is the No. 1 goal is to get Dale feeling as normal as a human being.  

"The second goal is Dale becoming a race-car driver again. Yes, we will be working on that as well. I’m very confident that we are moving in the right direction in that respect. … I am positive that we’re going to get Dale back to being a race-car driver and I’m excited about that prospect."

Team owner Rick Hendrick sounded confident, too.

"I saw him (Earnhardt) like two or three weeks ago and then I saw him last Monday and I saw him today, the improvements have been phenomenal," said Hendrick. "And listening to the doctor we are excited about Dale Earnhardt Jr. being in the car at Daytona and we’ve got right much time. Excited about him racing beyond 2017."

As for Earnhardt, he had this to say when queried about the possibility of retirement.

"My heart is there to continue," he said. "And if my doctor says that I’m physically able to continue, then that’s an easier decision for me to make. It’s not something that I think about. We’re trying to focus on just getting well and getting normal."

And until Earnhardt is well and normal, he will not be racing. At least not for the rest of this season.