Dale Earnhardt Jr. says he has practiced on a simulator but is not ready for a race car

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DOVER, Del. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he’s used a simulator as part of his rehabilitation from a concussion suffered earlier this season, but admits he’s not ready to get back into a race car yet.

Still, Earnhardt, who is out the rest of the season, is encouraged by his progress.

“I feel so much better than I did five weeks ago,” Earnhardt said Saturday at Dover International Speedway. “I would have never thought about coming to the track five weeks ago. I’m excited.”

He’s unsure when he’ll get into a car, but has been working toward that.

“We’ve got so much time to figure it out,” Earnhardt said of getting back on the track. “I’m not really worried about. I’m not ready. I know that. I’ll know when I’m ready. It’s not one of them things that has a schedule.

“I have been driving a simulator a little bit. That is not the same thing as driving a real race car, but it does challenge me mentally and challenges the issues and the symptoms. My doctor said it would be a good practice to use that simulator. I’ve been doing that a little bit. I’m feeling so much better. I’m glad to be at the track, I wish I was driving. I would feel more useful if I was in the seat of the car with our guys. I wanted to come back and I’m glad to be here to be able to do something.”

He’s at the track to test his recovery and support his Sprint Cup team and his JR Motorsports teams.

“Walking through the garage and signing autographs is tough,” Earnhardt said. “Your balance gets bad. If you’ve got a lot things happening in your peripheral and stuff, that’s something that is going to challenge it. That’s pretty much it. My eyes got a lot better. I don’t really notice issues with my eyes quite as much anymore, but the balance stuff is still needing some work.

“I got a lot of new exercises. I went for an evaluation about a week ago and got some new stuff to keep continue to challenge that. The whole process is basically you work really hard with what they give you until that doesn’t bring the symptoms up and they give you more stuff that is even more challenging. Eventually, you’re going to get to a point to where physical exercise isn’t going to bring out the symptoms and you’ve got to do stuff like this.

“This is really some of the final phases, I suppose, of therapy. If I come to an environment like this and go walk through the garage and get into those busy moments and I don’t have any reaction to it, I would consider that being 100 percent normal.

“There’s still some stuff that you’ve got to be able to do as a race car driver that I’ll still have to work on to get to where I can really have that quick, fast reaction time and all that good stuff.”

Might a go-kart be next for him to try?

“I’ll just probably just go ahead and get into a Late Model or a current race car and get out on to the racetrack and get after it.”

Earnhardt’s doctor, Dr. Micky Collins, director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program, has worked with Earnhardt before. He’s also worked with other athletes, including NHL player Sidney Crosby, who has come back from missing much of two seasons because of concussions to remain as one of that sport’s top players. Crosby helped the Pittsburgh Penguins win the Stanley Cup last season and was selected as the MVP after leading Canada to the championship in the World Cup this week.

“I know his story pretty well with his connection to (Collins),” Earnhardt said. “I feel pretty good about what (Collins) has done with me in the past. That gives me a lot of confidence about this situation. You’ve got to believe in the therapy 100 percent. I feel I’m in great, great hands.”

Earnhardt reiterated he plans to keep racing.

“I’m not ready to hang it up just yet,” Earnhardt said.