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Will insurance force NASCAR to abandon suicide racing?
NASCAR has lost its biggest star, right in the middle of its playoffs.

Although everybody walked away from last Sunday’s Big One at Talladega Superspeedway, it was revealed Thursday that Dale Earnhardt Jr. had been diagnosed with a concussion that’s serious enough to keep him out of the next two Chase for the Championship races.

It’s not the first time that Junior has had his “bell rung.” He raced in 2002 with a concussion (his admission after the fact prompted NASCAR to take a closer look at drivers with possible head injuries) and during the press conference at which he announced he had to step away from the car, he admitted to being concussed as the result of a crash during tire testing at Kansas Speedway in August.

Regan Smith, who was unceremoniously dumped from his ride with Furniture Row Racing to make way for Kurt Busch, will drive for Hendrick Motorsports in Earnhardt’s absence. And A.J. Allmendinger — that’s correct, the A.J. Allmendinger, who was fired by Roger Penske after flunking a drug test earlier in the year, will take Smith’s place at Phoenix Racing.

Now, whether Earnhardt will make an insurance claim over this, or whether it will be Rick Hendrick, no one knows. But you can bet that employment insurance will come into play over this because Hendrick is going to have to pay Smith to race for him, as well as continuing to pay Junior, and it’s for times like these that you buy the stuff.

In a strange way, perhaps this will prove to be the catalyst needed for NASCAR to do something about pack racing at restrictor-plate tracks. The fans might like God-almighty wrecks but I know the drivers don’t. NASCAR, ever aware of the value of crashes as entertainment, has been hesitant to act.

But money, as it always does, talks. If, all of a sudden, all the drivers — and NASCAR itself — were told by their insurance companies that their premiums were going to double, and to double again every time there was a Big One and somebody like Earnhardt was hurt, you can bet there would be some pretty quick and decisive action. For the sake of the drivers, who must worry that one of these times their luck will run out, we can only hope. Toronto Star

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