Dale Earnhardt Jr. will not be behind the wheel of the No. 88 car for the remainder of the 2016 season. That’s the announcement Hendrick Motorsports made on Friday morning prior to the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
Earnhardt, 41, has not competed since the July 9 race at Kentucky Speedway due to concussion symptoms lingering from a wreck at Michigan International Speedway.
“I wish I could return to the No. 88 team this season,” Earnhardt said. “To say I’m disappointed doesn’t begin to describe how I feel, but I know this is the right thing for my long-term health and career. I’m 100 percent focused on my recovery, and I will continue to follow everything the doctors tell me. They’re seeing good progress in my test results, and I’m feeling that progress physically. I plan to be healthy and ready to compete at Daytona in February. I’m working toward that.
“The support from both inside and outside the race team has been overwhelming. Everyone has been so encouraging and positive, from my teammates and sponsors to my family, friends and fans. It’s motivating and humbling at the same time.”
Jeff Gordon, who has filled in for Earnhardt for the majority of the races he’s missed thus far, will drive at Darlington this weekend along with starts at Richmond (Sept. 10), Dover (Oct. 2) and Martinsville (Oct. 30). Alex Bowman, who drove for Earnhardt at New Hampshire and Michigan, will pilot the car for the remainder of the schedule.
It’s a tough set of circumstances for Junior, but a wise decision if he’s still not fully healthy. Given his current standing, there’s little-to-no chance that he can make the Chase if he didn’t return this weekend. But without the most popular driver in the sport on the track, Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick noted the team looked more toward the future than the present.
“I know how hard Dale has worked and how frustrating this is for him,” team owner Rick Hendrick said in a statement. “He wants to be back, and we want him back, but we want it to be for the long haul. We’ve had incredible support from everyone involved with the team, including all of our sponsors. They’ve put Dale‘s health first every step of the way.”