By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
BRISTOL, Tenn. – Team owner Rick Hendrick made two things abundantly clear during a press conference at Bristol Motor Speedway on Saturday afternoon to discuss the signing of NASCAR Camping World Truck Series leader William Byron.
First, Hendrick had no specific update as to the status of Dale Earnhardt Jr., other than to say that Earnhardt is progressing in his recovery from concussion-like symptoms and wants to return to the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet as soon as possible.
“Dale looks great,” Hendrick said. “I had lunch…he and the road crew went to lunch on Wednesday – and I think you’ve seen the (video) of him playing basketball. We are taking extra effort with the doctors, making sure he’s going to be 100 percent.
“He’s got a doctor’s appointment next week. He’s doing great, and he wants to get back in the car. Beyond that, I don’t know anything to tell you about him.”
Second, Hendrick stressed that the signing of Byron to drive for JR Motorsports in the NASCAR XFINITY Series next year was not a reaction to the uncertainty of Earnhardt’s timetable for a return to racing.
“William has nothing to do with Dale at all,” Hendrick said. “William has all to do with our future, down the road. What’s going to happen three to five years from now, nobody knows.”
Hendrick confirmed that, if Earnhardt is unable to compete next weekend at Michingan, Jeff Gordon will not be in the No. 88 Chevy because of a prior commitment. If Earnhardt is not cleared to drive, Alex Bowman will fill seat for a second time, having driven in Earnhardt’s stead at New Hampshire in July.