DOVER, Del. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. will return to the track Saturday, and his Hendrick Motorsports teammates will be happy to see him – even if they aren’t sure how happy he’ll be.
“I can only imagine how hard it is to go to the track and watch your car race and then also how boring it would be because we do have the coolest job to sit in that race car,” Jimmie Johnson said. “And then just to come to a track and watch, I don’t know if I could do it. (It’s) great from a public perception that he’s coming, and that people can really see how hard he’s working and then kind of tie that together with his recovery process.”
Earnhardt, who was ruled out of the second half of the season while recovering from a concussion, disclosed Monday on his podcast that he would be at Dover International Speedway this weekend to watch the Xfinity and Sprint Cup races. The 13-time most popular driver said he would be playing cheerleader while also testing the limits of his rehabilitation that primarily has been aimed at managing his reaction to symptoms.
“It’s going to be different and tough and maybe not a ton of fun,” Earnhardt said. “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.”
While he hasn’t been in the No. 88 Chevrolet since July, Earnhardt has been quite visible in making various sponsor appearances.
“I know he has been making sure he has stayed true to his commitments, which I think is pretty cool and tough to do I’m sure in his situation to just be doing that stuff and not be racing,” Chase Elliott said. “I have a lot of respect for him on that front. For (the No. 88 team) to see him at the race track and there supporting them, I’m sure it has to mean a lot to those guys.”
Earnhardt has appeared at the track only twice (Watkins Glen, Darlington) since his diagnosis. Johnson said Earnhardt still has remained “deeply involved” in meetings at the team’s shop in Concord, N.C.
“I’ve seen a lot of him and I know he’s dying to get back in the race car and eager to feel amazing again,” Johnson said. “And I think he’s on a great road of progress right now.”