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updated: 10/21/2012 4:35 PM

Earnhardt cleared, will race next week

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Associated Press

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Dale Earnhardt Jr. is expected back on the track next weekend at Martinsville Speedway.

Team owner Rick Hendrick said Sunday that NASCAR's most popular driver has been headache-free for more than a week, and that tests by a specialist in Pittsburgh showed no lingering issues from two concussions that Earnhardt sustained in a six-week span.

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Earnhardt will get back into a car on Monday and, if everything goes well, could be cleared to drive by neurosurgeon Dr. Jerry Petty during a follow-up visit on Tuesday.

"Everything's great," Hendrick said before Sunday's race at Kansas Speedway. "He feels good. He's done everything they told him to do. He didn't have any more headaches after, I guess it was Thursday or Friday of Charlotte week, so everything's good."

Earnhardt was first injured in a crash during a tire test Aug. 29 at Kansas, but didn't seek treatment for the mild concussion. He was part of a 25-car pileup on Oct. 7 at Talladega and sought treatment from a doctor who ultimately benched him for two races.

Earnhardt's doctor had said he would not be cleared to race until he'd gone at least four days headache-free, then went through various tests and spent some time behind the wheel.

That wheel time will occur Monday during a closed test that Hendrick said will probably take place at Gresham Motorsports Park in Georgia.

"He's burning up to get in the car. I mean, he wanted to run this weekend," Hendrick said. "He's very anxious. He wants to get back. No way you're going to hold him out unless the doctor wouldn't clear him, but he's good to go."

Earnhardt, who has one win and 10 top-5s this season, was seventh in the Chase for the Sprint Cup standings before the crash at Talladega dropped him to 11th in the standings.

Regan Smith has been replacing him in the Hendrick Motorsports ride, but Hendrick said he doesn't plan to have Smith in the bullpen if an issue arises with Earnhardt at Martinsville.

"We don't think there's any reason to," Hendrick said. "I'd be really surprised if we have to, but we could always go to he or A.J. (Allmendinger), one of the two."

Hendrick said he was concerned there might be a long-term problem when Earnhardt's headaches persisted, which is why he consulted with several specialists. The injury snapped his streak of 461 consecutive starts, the fifth-longest active streak in the Sprint Cup series.

"It was good news when we went down there and the specialist looked at the MRI and there was no damage, no bleeding, no bruising, so that was great news," Hendrick said. "Junior, his head was hurting him bad enough I thought we might have a problem, but we're just really fortunate."

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