Hendrick looking to extend relationship with Dale Jr.

Seems to us that Rick Hendrick and Dale Jr. are going to be business partners for years to come
Seems to us that Rick Hendrick and Dale Jr. are going to be business partners for years to come

LOUDON, N.H. – NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team owner Rick Hendrick said driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. will undergo additional tests early next week as the popular driver works through concussion-like symptoms that sidelined him for Sunday’s New Hampshire 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

"I'm not a doctor but he's running through a bunch of tests, going to have some more tests the first of the week and he's doing good," Hendrick told members of the media Sunday morning at NHMS. "He wants to be in the car. The doctor's going to tell him when it's OK for him to be back. I know he's anxious, and we want him back as soon as the doctor gives him clearance."

Team officials announced July 14 that Earnhardt, winner of 26 Sprint Cup races, had not been cleared to race this weekend after visiting doctors for what he thought was a possible sinus infection.

JR Motorsports driver Alex Bowman was tabbed to drive the team's No. 88 Chevrolet in Sunday’s race.

"Dale is special to me, taking the driving part away," says Hendrick, who has fielded a car for Earnhardt since 2008. "I just want him to feel good when he gets back in the car. I don't want him to push himself. He's kind of an ironman, he doesn't want to let the team down, he doesn't want to let his fans down. But we need him for the long pull, and he wants to be in the car.

"The best thing the doctors can do is go through all the protocol and do all the tests, and there's a bunch … to do. When they say 'You’re good to go,' he'll be back."

Should Earnhardt not be cleared to return in time for next week's Sprint Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, four-time series champion Jeff Gordon will handle the driving duties.

Gordon stepped away from full-time competition at the end of 2015 to join the NASCAR on FOX broadcast team as an analyst. He was on vacation with his family when Earnhardt’s condition was announced.

"He thought I was kidding at first," Hendrick said of his conversation with his former driver. "He was on vacation and I asked him what he was doing next week. He said 'I'll be in Indy, that's one of my appearances I have to make.' And I said, 'Well, bring your driver's uniform. Just in case.'

"He said, 'Are you kidding?' and I said 'No, I'm serious.'"

"If Dale can't go, then Jeff is ready to step in."

Hendrick said Gordon could fill in beyond next week's race if necessary, but added that "we're just taking it a week at a time."

"Hopefully Dale is going to be back next week and it's not even something that we think is going to happen," he said. "But if it does … Jeff is a team player, he wants to support the organization and I'm sure he'll do whatever he has to do."

The latest incident marks the second time Earnhardt Jr. has missed races for a concussion or concussion-like symptoms. In 2012 he missed two races late in the season after suffering two concussions in a six-week stretch.

Hendrick said he didn't believe the latest incident raised a red flag and would possibly be something that could curtail his driver's racing career.

"He and I talked about years beyond next year, around I guess Daytona," Hendrick said. "If there was something major, major wrong I think (the doctors) would have seen it already.

"I'm very hopeful and he's very hopeful and I think the doctors want to err on the side of being sure. We want him for a long time. He loves the fans, he loves the sport, he loves to race and we love him in the organization. I'm proud of him."

Earnhardt was 13th in points prior to missing Sunday's race. He is winless this season, meaning he would need a victory to possibly secure a spot in this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. The field of 16 will consist of this year's race winners and, if there aren't at least 16, additional positions to fill the field would be determined based on championship driver point standings.

Hendrick said his organization has not requested a medical waiver from NASCAR.

"I haven't even thought about a waiver or any of that right now," he said.

Chase eligibility includes the requirement that drivers attempt to qualify for all points races prior to the start of the Chase. Such waivers have been provided by NASCAR in the past. NASCAR.com

Leave a Reply