Do you have weekly appointments or physical therapists? Where do you stand with the doctors at this point in your recovery process?
“At this point, I've had a follow-up with Dr. Coric. They've taken X-rays. They are very happy with the alignment and the way everything looks. Right now, I think I have one hurdle left that I have to get over. They want to do another X-ray in December and, at that time, at the rate I've been going, they see no problems to clear me to go back to racing.
“Obviously, that gives me plenty of time to get ready for the 2010 racing season. For the most part, I've got 80 to 85 percent of my original range of motion in my head and neck. I'm able to turn my head fine. I'm just a little slow from looking up. I think that's probably my most challenging maneuver, is to try to look up at the sky. I just don't have quite the movement I did before. I also understand that by fusing two vertebrae, I'm going to lose a little bit of motion anyway. From the people and specialists I've seen, they are already very surprised at how far advanced I am in getting back to normal.”
When do you think you will be cleared to get back into a racecar?
“I think a lot of that is up to me and how hard I really want to push the envelope. I know that I've had a couple of calls and a couple of opportunities to maybe fill-in some rides at the end of the season. I also know that this injury I have – it is very, very serious and pushing it too soon, too fast could either slow down my healing process or obviously put me back in danger. For me, I've definitely written off the 2009 season. They want to do another X-ray in December. If they see no problems with it, then I'll be clear. The doctors tell me that by doing the fusion with the screws and the plates that those vertebrae are actually stronger in that portion of the neck than they would've been naturally. Obviously, it's going to make it a little bit weaker above and below in the natural area, and that's why I have to focus on getting the strength back in my neck and my shoulders to help support everything. For the most part, the area is stronger now than it was before the accident.”
Has this accident affected your desire to get back into NASCAR?
“It makes the passion for me even stronger. I had some opportunities coming up that I basically had to abort because of the injury. It's different when you're forced not to be able to do something versus not having the opportunity or the chances or passing up on different rides. Being told that you have to sit idle, that you can't do something, I guess makes you want it even more. It's easy to take for granted just the simple things in life when you're not allowed to do them. For so long I was told not to lift anything over five pounds. I couldn't do certain things and different activities. It really makes you think about the things you love and the things you want to do. The beauty of it is, I've obviously gotten to spend a lot of time with my family and my daughter. In between Kristen (wife) and Faith (daughter), they've made this whole process a lot easier on me. But it's time for me to get back into a racecar and prove myself and get back to doing what I have always loved, and that's trying to win races and go out and do a good job.
“I was out at the racetrack at Charlotte on Friday for a good portion of the day. For the first month before I had the surgery, I was in a collar. Even though I felt fine and there was no real serious injury, just the visual aspect of walking around in a collar, people just form an opinion immediately. I wanted to make sure that I got out to the racetrack, especially at Charlotte, and walk around and talk to some old friends and some prospective teams and let people know that rumor mills run wild in racing and we all know that. I know a lot of people thought I was in a halo, that my neck was broken that it was a lot more serious injury than it actually was.
“I think it's something that's important for everyone to know. As serious as the injury was, it wasn't a broken neck it and it wasn't as severe as it could have been. Whenever I am cleared, I will be 100 percent ready to go racing. I've been doing this for so long, I'm lucky I've made it this long before I've had any kind of real injury. I just want to educate the people and the fans, let them know that I'm fine and ready to get back to it. I'm just trying to put some of those rumors to rest. Let people know that I'm healthy and hopefully will be ready to go here pretty soon.”