Dale Earnhardt Jr. believes that his recovery from the concussion symptoms that cost him half a season of NASCAR competition last year are not an excuse for this season’s sag in performance.
Earnhardt made his remarks after first practice for the NASCAR XFINITY Series at Bristol Motor Speedway. The 42-year-old driver, in his final full season of NASCAR racing, was in the field for Friday night’s Food City 300 scheduled to make his first XFINITY start of the season.
Earnhardt missed the final 18 races of last season after crashes left him facing a lengthy recovery from neurological trauma. He reiterated on Friday that he nearly walked away from his racing career during his rehabilitation, saying he had reached a stage where “there was a big chunk of time where I wasn’t coming back.”
Since making his return to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, his results have not been impressive, with the Hendrick Motorsports driver not even in the Top 10 in the series standings, needing a victory in one of the final three regular-season events to clinch a playoff berth. Still, he hasn’t blamed his injury or a lack of determination for his recent downturn.
“There are a lot of things that play a role in being competitive,” Earnhardt said. “I think that I’m healthy and I’m happy and thrilled that I’m healthy. I still think I can drive a race car, but there is really no excuse for us not performing well or meeting expectations. There is no excuse for missing a lot of races. Kyle [Busch] missed a lot of races with his injuries [in 2015]and came back and was successful right out of the gate.”
“So, I mean I felt like I was ready. I felt like I could come in and compete. I still feel that way. We’ve just got to get our stuff together as a team,” he added.