In an encouraging sign as he continues to recover from a concussion, Dale Earnhardt Jr. will attend and watch this weekend's NASCAR Xfinity and Sprint Cup races at Dover International Speedway.
Earnhardt, NASCAR's most popular driver, has not competed since July 9 and is out for the remainder of the 2016 season with a concussion sustained in a June 12 crash at Michigan International Speedway. Alex Bowman and Jeff Gordon have filled in during Earnhardt's absence, and Gordon will drive Earnhardt's No. 88 car in Sunday's Sprint Cup race.
While sidelined, Earnhardt held Friday press conferences at Watkins Glen International and Darlington Raceway in August, though he did not stay to watch the races on Sunday.
"It's going to be different and tough and maybe not a ton of fun," Earnhardt said on the Dale Jr. Download podcast Monday. "It's a bit weird to not be in the car but at the track. When you're a driver, you don't know what to do with yourself. I'll try to support the guys and learn a thing or two. Excited to see how Jeff does, he usually runs great at Dover. It's going to be different. We'll see how it goes."
Earnhardt also provided a health update during his appearance on the weekly podcast. He said his symptoms relating to issues with balance and vision are continuing to improve, and now it's mostly problems related to balance that are hindering him.
"My eyes are really, really good," Earnhardt said. "I had some issues with them for a while that were pretty frustrating and those have really gotten better."
As part of his rehab program, Earnhardt continues to expose himself to situations that might trigger symptoms, particularly places with lots of noise, people, and movement. Over the past two weeks he's attended two birthday parties and a Lord Huron concert in Milwaukee, where he stood in the fourth row.
"That was interesting," Earnhardt said of the concert. "We were in a field, and I was four people back from the stage, and no one recognized me. We stood there for the whole concert, got lots of visual stimulation. It was a good experience. We're going to the track to get the same exposure.
"All that stuff is good for me. Those environments are good for me."
Earnhardt said his recovery program now focuses on helping him maintain his balance. One exercise has him stand on a foam block while closing his eyes and turning his head.
"We're almost back to being where I'm a normal functioning person with no issues," Earnhardt said. "But to become that guy that I need to be inside the car, we've got to really train my senses to be really perfect."