Dale Earnhardt Jr. defended his return to racing despite missing the final 18 races of last season because of a concussion and his history of concussions.
Earnhardt was cleared Wednesday to return to competition after running 185 laps in a five-hour test at Darlington Raceway. He had not been in a car since the July 9 race at Kentucky Speedway. Doctors have pinpointed his concussion symptoms to a June 12 crash at Michigan.
The concussion is at least the fifth he’s had in his NASCAR career. He missed two races in 2012 because of concussion symptoms after a crash in a test at Kansas Speedway and a crash about six weeks later at Talladega Superspeedway.
“I wouldn’t be coming back to the seat and wanting to drive and excited about driving cars if there was any risk other than the typical risk that every driver faces on Sunday,’’ Earnhardt said Friday in a conference call with reporters.
“I feel very confident in what I’ve seen in myself, in my improvement. I feel confident in what my doctors are telling me about my future and the risks that I’m taking and my ability to be able to withstand the normal wear and tear of not only driving a race car but getting into that unfortunate accident from time to time.
“We all feel pretty confident that not only am I as healthy as I was before the symptoms came (this season), but I’m actually stronger. Having gone through this before also gives me additional confidence. This isn’t uncharted territory for me. I know what I need to feel personally to know that I’m as strong as I need to be and healthy and I’m certainly feeling that way.’’
Earnhardt also said he understands that it is his decision to return.
“I have a personal responsibility to myself to be smart, make great decisions for myself,’’ Earnhardt said. “My health is No. 1. Everybody in this room, (car owner Rick Hendrick and) everybody in the shop all put my health first. I’m not going to take any unnecessary risks with my own health.’’
Earnhardt noted that he recently had his head scanned to have a better fitting helmet. That was done, though, more for comfort he said. Earnhardt expressed confidence in the safety equipment he uses and is in his car.