NASCAR has confirmed that Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been passed medically fit to return to competition, and will be back behind the wheel of the #88 Hendrick Motorsports car for this weekend's race at Martinsville Speedway.
"Dale Jr. has done everything asked of him," said Dr Jerry Petty. "He hasn't had a headache since October 12, and we have not been able to provoke any symptoms since that time.
"I have informed NASCAR
and Hendrick Motorsports that he is medically cleared for all NASCAR-related activity."
NASCAR confirmed in a press release that their medical liaison office had received official notification of his clearance to resume racing late this morning, and that Earnhardt will therefore be racing at Martinsville this weekend.
Petty had been treating Earnhardt for the aftereffects of a double dose of concussion, the most recent being the one he sustained in a last-lap wreck that engulfed most of the field at Talladega two weeks ago.
Petty has been working in association with Dr Micky Collins, director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program, who evaluated Earnhardt a week ago.
Since then, Earnhardt has reported that the headaches that had been troubling him since Talladega had cleared up, paving the way for him to get back behind the wheel again for a test run at the half-mile Gresham Motorsports Park in Jefferson, Ga. on Monday.
Petty evaluated the session and then conducted a final neuro-psychological evaluation in Charlotte on Tuesday morning. Finding no further symptoms of concussion, Petty gave the driver the okay to return to competition after missing two cup races at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway.
His seat in the #88 in both races had been taken by Regan Smith, whose place in the #51 Phoenix Racing car was in turn taken over at short-notice by AJ Allmendinger.
Earlier on Tuesday, the team listed Allmendinger as their driver for the forthcoming event at Martinsville. The 30-year-old Californian was 24th for the team at Charlotte, and had been running strongly in the top six at Kansas before a tyre blow-out caused him to crash out of the race.
Phoenix Racing general manager Steve Barkdoll said that team had been pleased with the job Allmendinger had done for them so far. They're hoping that he can repeat the form he showed in his last outing at Martinsville, for Penske Racing in April, when he clinched second place for the team. That was before he failed the random drugs test that saw him suspended from competition over the summer and fired by Penske, before his completion of the Road to Recovery rehabilitation program made him eligible to race again in September.
The team's selection of Allmendinger for Martinsville means that Smith will be sidelined for the race. However, the team said they were making their decision on driver selection on a week-by-week basis, and Smith may still get the nod to return to competition in November for one or more of the remaining races of the season at Texas, Phoenix and Homestead, Miami.