DARLINGTON, South Carolina – Rick Hendrick is looking forward to having Dale Earnhardt Jr. race for him for years to come.
Sunday at Darlington Raceway, Hendrick, Earnhardt Jr. and his doctor, Micky Collins, said the plan is for Earnhardt not only to recover from the concussion that has sidelined him for the remainder of the season but return to racing.
When he does, Hendrick says the seat in the No. 88 Chevrolet “is his” and he is not concerned about a timetable when it comes to Earnhardt’s availability for the 2017 season.
“We were talking before he had to get out of the car about an extension,” Hendrick said. “I want him to race for me as long as he can, and he wants to be there. So the seat is his and I expect – we got a lot of time between now and Daytona.”
The announcement came Friday that Earnhardt would miss the final 12 races of the season. He has not raced since July 9 at Kentucky Speedway, but Hendrick called Earnhardt’s progress “phenomenal” when it comes to what he’s seen in him over the last few weeks.
It has given both the driver and the owner confidence that Earnhardt will race again.
“We’re excited about Dale Earnhardt being in the car in Daytona,” Hendrick said. “And excited about him racing beyond 2017.”
Before addressing the media, Earnhardt visited with his team. The group cheers up when they see their driver Hendrick said while expressing everyone at Hendrick Motorsports is a family. When one person is going through something, everyone rallies around them with support.
Earnhardt’s sponsors, Nationwide and Axalta, have been no different. The two partners have remained on the No. 88 car with substitute drivers Alex Bowman and Jeff Gordon, who will split the ride the rest of the year.
“The sponsors have been super, they all care about (Earnhardt),” Hendrick said. “They care about him so much that they want him to be on the cautious side.”
Which is why the focus is on a future that consists of Earnhardt back in a car.
“(Dr. Collins) has been unbelievable to share and keep us up to speed and explain what he’s going through,” Hendrick said. “We didn’t know. The educating us has been great.
“I can see the light now, and I see how taking the pressure off of him, the pressure of the team, the pressure off the sponsors, and let’s just have a plan and let’s go with the plan. Get him well. Have a chance to test him. Come back next year and have him for the long haul.”