Published October 16, 2012
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Dale Earnhardt Jr. visited a noted concussion specialist in Pittsburgh on Tuesday as part of the planned rehabilitation program to get NASCAR's most popular driver back in a car.
Hendrick Motorsports confirmed that Earnhardt met with Dr. Micky Collins, the clinical and executive director of the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program.
Collins is one of the leading experts in the diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of athletes who have suffered concussions. He and Dr. Mark Lovell developed the ImPACT test now used by many professional sports leagues, including the NFL, to assess concussions and determine when an injured athlete can safely return to play.
Earnhardt was accompanied by neurosurgeon Dr. Jerry Petty, the doctor who would not clear Earnhardt to race last week because of two concussions suffered over the past six weeks. Earnhardt did not seek treatment for the first one, suffered in an Aug. 29 crash at a tire test at Kansas. He went to see Petty last week because of a lingering headache following a 25-car crash in the Oct. 7 race at Talladega.
Earnhardt missed Saturday night's race at Charlotte, and will miss this weekend's race at Kansas, too. The injury snapped his streak of 461 consecutive starts, which was the fifth longest active streak in the Sprint Cup Series.
Petty said last week that Earnhardt could not be cleared to race again until he's gone at least four days headache-free, then goes through testing. After that, Earnhardt would get back in a car and "drive a lap or two and see how that goes, and if that goes well, we'll probably clear him to race," Petty said then.
After visiting UPMC on Tuesday, Earnhardt, a rabid Washington Redskins fan, had lunch at the Pittsburgh Steelers facility. The Steelers tweeted a picture of Earnhardt meeting coach Mike Tomlin in the lunch room, calling him "a surprise lunch time guest."
AP Sports Writer Will Graves contributed to this report from Pittsburgh.