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Earnhardt Jr. driving in simulator but "not ready" to pilot stock car

DOVER, Del. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. has driven a racing simulator as part of his rehabilitation for a concussion, and he said Saturday that the next eventual step would be to get into one of his late model stock cars.

When that would be has not been determined as the Hendrick Motorsports driver continues to recover from a concussion suffered June 12 at Michigan that has kept him out of the car since July 9 at Kentucky. He has missed 10 races and will miss the final eight this season while he recovers, hoping to return for the 2017 season.

"I'm not ready [to get in a car]," Earnhardt said Saturday. "I know that. I'll know when I'm ready and it's not one of them things that has a schedule. You don't know when you're going to be, 'All right, I'm good, let's go do this.'

"I have been driving a simulator a little bit. That is not the same thing as driving a real race car, but it does challenge me mentally and does challenge the issues and symptoms."

Earnhardt is attending the Sprint Cup practices and Xfinity race Saturday as well as the Cup race Sunday at Dover. The noises and the commotion of a race weekend is part of his rehab to see whether it will trigger the balance issues he continues to battle.

"Walking through the garage and signing autographs is tough," Earnhardt said as he walked through the Sprint Cup garage Saturday and down pit road to check on his Xfinity Series team. "My balance gets bad. You've got a lot of things happening in your peripheral [vision] and stuff -- that is something that is going to challenge it.

"That's pretty much it. My eyes have gotten a lot better. I don't really notice issues with my eyes quite as much anymore. But the balance stuff is still needing some work."

At the point where he can walk through the garage and not have a reaction, Earnhardt said he would feel 100 percent normal. And then he would work on having the reaction time needed to race.

Earnhardt is being treated by Dr. Micky Collins of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program.

"I feel so much better than I did five weeks ago," Earnhardt said. "I would have never thought about coming to the race track five weeks ago."

Jeff Gordon is substituting for Earnhardt this weekend and later this month at Martinsville. Alex Bowman will drive the car the other six races. Earnhardt admitted "it's hard not to climb in the car before Jeff does."

"It's nice being in the garage and being around race cars and watching everybody kind of get through the day and watching the team work and all that," Earnhardt said. "It's pretty fun. ... I try to stay out of the way.

"I want to be here, I guess, just to kind of see what they're doing and what they're dealing with so when I get back in the car, it's not so far and I don't have a lot of catching up to do."

As he has contended throughout his rehab, Earnhardt said he is not considering retirement and if there is an exit plan for him, he doesn't know it.

"I'm not ready to hang it up," he said.

Earnhardt continues to remain busy. He spent Thursday at Talladega Superspeedway promoting the Oct. 23 race and then spent Friday night at the Mooresville (N.C.) High School homecoming game.

"I've always wanted to go but we never had the chance because of the schedules," said Earnhardt, who attended Mooresville schools before going to military school. "I told [my fiancée] Amy, I said, 'Man, let's just go so we can say we went.' I didn't even know it was homecoming, so that was pretty neat.

"Mooresville has usually got a really good team. It was just a great experience. I just like to support the community and enjoy the same old stuff, just be normal for a minute. That was fun."