NASCAR Notebook: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Out For Remainder Of 2016 Season

(NASCAR Wire Service)

Reid Spencer ~ NASCAR Wire Service

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Photo: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Photo: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images for NASCAR)

The effects of a concussion that already has caused Dale Earnhardt Jr. to miss six NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races will keep him out of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet for the remainder of the 2016 season, the organization announced on Friday morning.

In his absence, Jeff Gordon and Alex Bowman will share driving duties in Earnhardt’s car. After Sunday’s race at Darlington, Gordon will compete in the No. 88 at Richmond, Dover and Martinsville, where he scored his most recent victory last year.

Bowman will drive the No. 88 in the remaining eight races, at Chicagoland, New Hampshire (where he debuted in the car in the first race Earnhardt missed), Charlotte, Kansas, Talladega, Texas, Phoenix and Homestead.

After experiencing gradually worsening concussion-like symptoms dating to a wreck at Michigan International Speedway in June, Earnhardt sought medical help and exited the car under doctors’ advice for the July 17 event at New Hampshire.

A Hendrick Motorsports release on Friday indicated Earnhardt has not been medically cleared to drive for the rest of the season.

NASCAR’s most popular driver has undergone regular evaluations at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program under the direction of Dr. Micky Collins and with Charlotte neurosurgeon Dr. Jerry Petty.

“I wish I could return to the No. 88 team this season,” Earnhardt said in the HMS release. “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.”

Team owner Rick Hendrick is fully supportive of the long-term objective of Earnhardt’s and his doctors’ decision.

“I know how hard Dale has worked and how frustrating this is for him,” said Hendrick, who will appear with Earnhardt and Collins in a press conference at Darlington on Sunday prior to the Bojangles’ Southern 500 (6 p.m. ET on NBC). “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.

“Jeff and Alex will give us a great opportunity over the rest of the season. Jeff is one of the best of all time and knows our system. He brings things to the table that no one else can. Alex is a young driver with a lot of talent, and he will give us a fresh perspective. We know they’re not only capable of running up front and giving us a chance to win, but they’ll help us get better.”

NASCAR XFINITY Series points leader Elliott Sadler is using the absence of his JR Motorsports team owner, Dale Earnhardt Jr., as a source of inspiration and motivation in his quest for a first championship.

“We’ve kind of been racing for him these last couple weeks … a month or so,” said Sadler, who leads the XFINITY standings by 47 points over second-place Daniel Suarez. “We kind of know what our boss is going through. We talk about it on our race team at the race track some. When you watch practice on TV, or the watch the (Sprint Cup) race on Sunday, and he’s not in the race car, it affects us.

“We want the best for him. He’s given all of us a great opportunity. We want him to enjoy the same fun, the same competitive spirit that we’re having week-in and week-out. So we definitely talk about it as a team and wish him nothing but the best coming back. And it definitely gives us some incentive to finish on a high note, now that he’s out of the car.”

Sadler is locked into the inaugural XFINITY Chase, and the veteran driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet got more recent good news—his primary sponsor, OneMain Financial, will return for another season on the car in 2017. Sadler will next race in Saturday’s VFW Sport Clips Help a Hero 200 at Darlington Raceway (3:30 p.m. ET on NBC).

From a numbers standpoint, Kyle Larson’s victory at Michigan last Sunday made life more difficult for his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, Jamie McMurray.

With the win, Larson eliminated a playoff spot that otherwise would be available on points, leaving McMurray concurrently in the last Chase-eligible position with two races left in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular season.

McMurray holds a 15-point lead over Ryan Newman, who was shuffled out of Chase eligibility by Larson’s victory. But the driver of the No. 1 Chevrolet finds solace in his consistent performances this season—and in the recent speed his organization has found.

“As an organization, our cars are better right now than they’ve been all year long,” McMurray said. “At the beginning of the year, we did a really good job of making sure (we) finished and finishing better than we ran most of the race.

“That kept us in a position to be in the Chase. Obviously, with (Tony) Stewart being able to pull off the win at Sonoma, and Chris Buescher in the rain delay and then Kyle winning last week … that has put a little more pressure on the three or four guys that are fighting for one of the last spots to get in.

“But we’ve run so well the last few weeks. I’m going to two tracks (Darlington and Richmond) that, historically, I’ve run pretty well at. So if we don’t have anything crazy happen, we’re going to be in really good shape.”

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