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Concussion Sidelines Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

by Pete McCole
Thursday, October 11, 2012

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Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. will miss the next two races due to lingering concussion symptoms stemming from a vicious last-lap crash in last Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway.

Earnhardt, Jr., currently 11th in the Chase for the Sprint Cup standings, will sit out this weekend’s race at Charlotte as well as next Sunday’s race at Kansas at the advice of his doctors in order to recover from his second concussion of the year. Regan Smith, recently released from his ride with Furniture Row Racing, will drive the no. 88 Chevrolet in Earnhardt’s place.

Earnhardt had previously suffered an undisclosed concussion after crashing during a testing session at Kansas in August, but didn’t seek any medical advice at the time. By the time the Chase began Chicago last month, Earnhardt said he felt well enough to compete, but after the hard hit at Talladega, he sought the advice of neurosurgeon Dr. Jerry Petty, who told Junior he should step out of the car.

“After that accident at Talladega, I started having headaches and stuff immediately after the wreck, and then into the next day and into Tuesday, and I thought, man, this is pretty soon after the other accident in Kansas,” said Earnhardt. “That accident was -- I've been through tons of last lap wrecks at Daytona and Talladega, and that one shook me up, and I just thought maybe I should take this seriously.”

After still feeling the effects by Wednesday, Earnhardt, Jr. spoke to his sister and business manager, Kelley Earnhardt-Miller, before being referred to Dr. Petty.

Dr. Petty scheduled Earnhardt, Jr. for an MRI the following day. Although the MRI turned up nothing abnormal, Dr. Petty couldn’t clear Earnhardt, Jr. to race.

“What we'll do now is we want him to have four or five days after he has no headache, and then we'll give him some sort of test like to get his pulse rate up, see if we can provoke a headache,” said Petty. “And then if we can't, we'll let him go out and drive a lap or two and see how that goes, and if that goes well, we'll probably clear him to race.”

The decision to remove Junior from the car effectively ends any championship hopes for the nine-time NASCAR Most Popular driver, which were hanging by a thread anyway after Earnhardt, Jr. dropped from seventh to 11th in the points standings. It will also end his consecutive start streak at 461.

“I would love to race this weekend, and I feel perfectly normal and feel like I could compete if I were allowed to compete this weekend,” said Earnhardt, Jr. “But I think that the basis of this whole deal is that I've had two concussions in the last four to five weeks, and you can't layer concussions.  It gets extremely dangerous.

“So I really don't want to - I think that we could easily have chosen to do that, but I'd like to get back in the car and compete as soon as I can, as soon as the doctors feel like I'm able to do that.”

The concussion Earnhardt suffered is actually the third of his career, after sustaining his first one in a crash at California Speedway in 2002. At the time, admitted feeling the effects of the concussion, but hid it from NASCAR and his team, much like he did after the hit he took at Kansas, a move he admitted was a mistake.

“I didn't see anybody at Kansas,” said Earnhardt. “I regret not seeing somebody after that happened.  I was stubborn, and I'd had concussions before and knew what I was -- thought I knew what I was dealing with and felt like that I was capable of doing my job.

“I remember everything about that accident and everything after that accident, but I knew that I didn't feel -- you know your body, and you know how your mind works, and I knew something was just not quite right. But I decided to just try to push through and work through it.  I'd had concussions before and knew exactly kind of what I was dealing with.”

Diagnosing concussions has become more prevalent in major sports after the NFL adopted a new policy last season requiring players suspected of suffering concussion symptoms to be examined by a neurologist before being allowed back onto the field. The NHL, NBA and Major League Baseball have also adopted concussion policies.

NASCAR currently requires all drivers involved in accidents on the track who cannot drive their cars back to pit road to make a mandatory trip to the infield are center, however Earnhardt, Jr. was able to drive away from the crash on Sunday – and give a ride to teammate Jimmie Johnson – and was not examined by doctors at the track.

“I think the challenge for us is every (crash) is subjective,” said NASCAR Senior VP of Racing Operations Steve O'Donnell. “If we required every driver to go to the Care Center…(the driver) seemed fine, drove the car in, and had a quick adjustment in five laps and could get him back out there and he felt fine, have we then cost a driver a championship? So it's very tough.  It's still a subjective call.

“I think looking back there are always things you can second guess and look at.  I think that's one of the things we'll evaluate as we go forward.  But I think, again, I'd put it back on everybody's got a responsibility as part of this.  That's something we can learn from as well. I'm sure in talking to Dale Jr. as we have, knowing where we stand now, that will absolutely be part of the procedures that we look at moving forward.”

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