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Dale Earnhardt Jr. to miss rest of 2016 season

RELATED: Drivers of No. 88 through the years

DARLINGTON, S.C. -- NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. will not return to competition during the remainder of the 2016 season as he continues to recover from concussion-like symptoms.


Hendrick Motorsports officials made the announcement Friday morning, saying that Alex Bowman and four-time series champ Jeff Gordon would split time in the No. 88 Chevrolet for the remaining 12 races of the season. Gordon is scheduled to drive the No. 88 as Earnhardt's replacement this weekend at Darlington Raceway.


"I wish I could return to the No. 88 team this season," Earnhardt said in a release provided by the team. "To say I'm disappointed doesn't begin to describe how I feel, but I know this is the right thing for my long-term health and career. I'm 100 percent focused on my recovery, and I will continue to follow everything the doctors tell me. They're seeing good progress in my test results, and I'm feeling that progress physically. I plan to be healthy and ready to compete at Daytona in February. I'm working toward that."


RELATED: Dale Jr. talks about recovery in visit to Watkins Glen:


Earnhardt has missed the last six Sprint Cup Series races with lingering concussion-like symptoms. According to his Hendrick team, Earnhardt has undergone regular evaluations at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program under the direction of Dr. Micky Collins and with Charlotte neurosurgeon Dr. Jerry Petty.


Earnhardt will address the media Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET at Darlington Raceway, site of Sunday's Bojangles' Southern 500 (6 p.m. ET, NBC/NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM). He will be joined by team owner Rick Hendrick and Dr. Collins from the Pittsburgh Medical Center. You can watch that press conference here.


A crash at Michigan International Speedway in June is believed to be the cause of Earnhardt's injury. While the impact of the Lap 62 incident was significant, Earnhardt said afterward that "it wasn't too bad, actually."


RELATED: Video of the crash at Michigan


Following an off weekend, he continued to compete in the next three Sprint Cup races, finishing 11th, 21st and 13th at Sonoma, Daytona and Kentucky, respectively.


But a visit to the doctor for what Earnhardt said he believed was nothing more than severe allergies or a sinus infection led to the diagnosis of concussion-like symptoms.


Bowman was tabbed to fill in for the team at New Hampshire, while former HMS driver Gordon took over for races at Indianapolis, Pocono, Watkins Glen and Bristol. Bowman returned to the seat last weekend at Michigan due to a scheduling conflict involving Gordon.


SCHEDULE: Who's driving the No. 88 in the season's final 12 races


Earnhardt has continued to take part in rehabilitation activities with the hope that he would be cleared by doctors to return to competition this season. He has met with medical personnel from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program every two weeks to determine his progress.


"I know how hard Dale has worked and how frustrating this is for him," Hendrick said in the team release. "He wants to be back, and we want him back, but we want it to be for the long haul. We've had incredible support from everyone involved with the team, including all of our sponsors. They've put Dale's health first every step of the way."


Greg Ives, crew chief for the No. 88 Chevy, appeared on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Friday afternoon, saying that he had attended one doctor's visit with Earnhardt during his recovery. While saying he did not possess the medical expertise to fully estimate Earnhardt's progress, Ives said that his driver's determination offers hope for a return in the 2017 Daytona 500.


"Those aren't words. Those are facts, those are goals," Ives told SiriusXM. "Whatever that takes. Dale's the one who has to go through the training, the exercises and that belief of optimism. From that standpoint, all I can do is be there to support him."


A top Chevrolet official also offered support for the sidelined driver.


"Dale Jr.'s health and well-being is the number one priority, said Jim Campbell, Chevrolet U.S. vice president of performance vehicles and motorsports. "He is a tremendous competitor and we look forward to seeing him back behind the wheel when he is ready.  Focusing on his long term health is absolutely the right thing to do.

 

"In the meantime, we are pleased that Jeff and Alex will drive Dale Jr's No. 88 Chevrolet SS for the balance of the season."


It is the second time during his Sprint Cup Series career that Earnhardt, the son of seven-time series champion Dale Earnhardt, has been sidelined by a concussion. He missed two races during the latter portion of the 2012 season after a crash during testing at Kansas Speedway.


Contributing: Staff reports.

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