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Dale Earnhardt Jr. still experiencing concussion symptoms, doesn’t know when he’ll return

Doctors determined Earnhardt’s symptoms are a result of a crash during the June race at Michigan.

Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

Dale Earnhardt Jr. shared candid details about his continued recovery from concussion-like symptoms during his weekly appearance on The Dale Jr. Download podcast Monday.

Earnhardt disclosed doctors believe his symptoms stem from an accident June 12 at Michigan International Speedway. Initially he felt fine and it wasn't until weeks later -- following a vacation to Germany and a June 26 race at Sonoma Raceway -- that NASCAR's most popular driver began experiencing issues with balance, vision and nausea. Those symptoms progressively got worse.

"It started very slowly, gradually and continued to progress until it stopped and stayed where it is," Earnhardt said. "I don't know what tells me about how long this process is going to be. I felt I had a good understanding of concussions in the past, but this is certainly a new one. They all have different symptoms and own time and length of recovery is different.

"There hasn't been a lot of change over the last couple of weeks. There are days when you're feeling positive and days when you're frustrated. There are day when I feel like the balance is better and then there's certainly moments when it's not."

While Earnhardt is familiar with head injuries, having suffered a concussion in 2002 and two within a six-week span in 2012, these latest symptoms are unlike anything he's experienced previously, he told Dirty Mo Radio podcast network host Mike Davis. Specifically, Earnhardt said it is difficult for him to focus on distant objects for an extended time period.

"This is scary for me because of the way it's been different," Earnhardt said. "I'm having balance issues. I've never had balance issues before. The eye issues with the stability, I've never had that before."

Earnhardt admitted the prolonged recovery process has left him frustrated. Each night he goes to bed hoping he'll feel better in the morning, but when he wakes up the symptoms are still present.

"That drives you absolutely crazy," he said. "You wake up, you open your eyes, you sit up, you walk to bathroom and you know immediately that nothing is different, nothing is better, nothing is worse."

As part of his treatment, doctors from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program have instructed Earnhardt to place himself in situations where his mind is stimulated.

So Earnhardt routinely visits Hendrick Motorsports and JR Motorsports, the Xfinity Series team he co-owns, the grocery store or restaurants, which can then trigger symptoms. If after a few minutes he begins feeling sick to his stomach, he removes himself.

"Anywhere you go with a lobby and a lot of movement and chatter and things happening -- you're in motion, you're observing a lot of different things," Earnhardt said. "That really drives the symptoms up. So my doctor wants me to expose myself to that.

"Don't shy away from doing these things because you think it's going to make you feel bad. ... Go there and if it makes you feel bad, that's fine. Just don't make yourself sick. Once you've had your fill of exposing yourself to heavy symptoms, get in a calm place you're comfortable and get back to feeling great. Keep doing that. Expose yourself and recover, throughout the day. You're basically re-acclimating yourself to things that are driving your brain crazy."

Earnhardt did not state whether he'll race this weekend at Watkins Glen International. He said he has a doctor's appointment with five specialists scheduled for Tuesday. No timetable was given regarding his status.

If Earnhardt cannot compete, Hendrick Motorsports is likely to have Jeff Gordon continue substituting. Gordon filled in for Earnhardt last week at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and in Monday's rain-delayed race at Pocono Raceway. Alex Bowman drove the July 17 race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

The 41-year-old Earnhardt indicated he has no plans to retire soon and will return once given a clean bill of health.

"I'd love to race more," Earnhardt said. "In my mind, my plan is to race more. I have plans to keep going. I'll worry about that when I'm well. My doctors are confident they can make me stronger than I was before this event."