Dale Earnhardt Jr. will miss the remainder of the 2016 NASCAR season as he continues to recover from a concussion, Hendrick Motorsports announced Friday.
Earnhardt last competed July 9 at Kentucky Speedway, but removed himself from the car for the following race after doctors determined he was suffering from concussion-like symptoms. Additional tests revealed Earnhardt, NASCAR's most popular driver, sustained a concussion in a crash June 12 at Michigan International Speedway, though the symptoms didn't develop until weeks afterward.
"I wish I could return to the No. 88 team this season," Earnhardt said in a statement. "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."
During his recovery, Earnhardt has undergone regular evaluations at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program. In updates on his podcast and social media feeds, the 41-year-old has been forthright about his situation, even posting Instagram videos of exercises he performs daily to help treat issues related to balance and focusing on objects while moving his head.
Earnhardt is familiar with concussions, having suffered two within a six-week span in 2012, and another one in 2002. In 2012, he missed two races after the second concussion.
"The support from both inside and outside the race team has been overwhelming," Earnhardt said. "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."
Alex Bowman, 23, and Jeff Gordon, 45, who've each filled in during Earnhardt's absence, will continue to substitute for the duration of the season. Bowman has made two starts driving Earnhardt's No. 88 Chevrolet, while Gordon has raced four times and will be in the car this weekend at Darlington Raceway.
Gordon, who had retired at the end of last season, will race three additional times beyond Darlington: Richmond (Sept. 10), Dover (Oct. 2) and Martinsville (Oct. 30). Bowman will drive at Chicagoland (Sept. 18), New Hampshire (Sept. 25), Charlotte (Oct. 8), Kansas (Oct. 16), Talladega (Oct. 23), Texas (Nov. 6), Phoenix (Nov. 13) and the season finale at Homestead (Nov. 20).
"I know how hard Dale has worked and how frustrating this is for him," team owner Rick Hendrick said. "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."