Walk us through this process and what it’s been like for you with recovery.
“It’s been a long process, for sure.
I think Sunday, obviously I didn't feel good. Monday, I didn't feel great, but it was hard for me to identify what was really going on. Typically Monday’s after a race when it's that hot, you kind of feel bad anyway; dehydrated or whatever. Tuesday, I felt great. I made like three laps in a sprint car on Tuesday, just for an Ally deal. I felt great through all that; felt totally normal. Wednesday, I had a crazy busy day and by the end of the day, I was feeling pretty bad. I felt really bad in front of screens and stuff like that. So that's when I kind of identified what was going on; went to see the doctors and went from there.
The recovery was definitely different from I guess what I would have assumed for concussions. I got back into my regular routine of training pretty quickly. Just added things for my ocular and vestibular systems to try to catch them back up. It’s a long process and a couple of flights back and forth to Pittsburgh to see the guys up there. But everybody was super helpful. I got more text messages and advice than I knew what to do with honestly.
But I feel 100%. I've been training harder than ever for the last couple weeks, honestly, so probably in a better spot than I was before I crashed. I'm really excited to get back.”
Was it just the Texas wreck that caused this or were there any previous wrecks? Some of the in-car cameras show you rubbing your eyes a lot after that. Is there any part of you that looks back now and says, ‘man, I should have stopped racing on that day?
“I don't really feel like I've had any big hits this year, so I would say just the Texas crash.
Yeah, looking back, it was a tough situation. I'm in the middle of the playoffs. I'm not a doctor.. did I just get my bell rung? Do I have a concussion? Like I don't know what's going on or what that feels like. So I don't think it hurt me more. I'm glad that nothing else happened throughout the rest of the day, and it all ended up being okay.
But yeah, it's a bummer. I think that's just part of the Next Gen car. It’s so tough. The car wasn't very damaged at all, so we were able to keep going and honestly keep going at the speed that we could have been okay if we weren’t a bunch of laps down.”
Was the biggest issue you were seeing was the lag and where you might see something and then when your brain might react to it? For somebody who hasn't really experienced concussions, what was the one symptom that really took the longest to heal from?
“Yeah, it wasn't that at all. I feel like all of the concussion symptoms that I have heard of throughout my career - heard people talking about like the nausea and stuff like that - I didn't have any of. I just had a lot of pressure in my eyes. It was almost like when your sinuses are plugged up or whatever, and you kind of get that that sinus headache and that pressure behind your eyes. I would get that from workouts or from any activities that I was busy doing.
That was the biggest thing that took a while. I think from what the doctors said, obviously the concussion kind of hurts the weakest points of your body. I had some vision stuff going on that I don't think I really knew what it was. Like my vision is not weak, but Dr. Micky Collins says concussions fight dirty, so it went for a weak point with me and messed with my ocular system. I think that was the thing that took the longest to recover from.”
Did you have headaches?
“I mean, it created headaches, but it was because of my eyes.”
What was the toughest part to deal with to the recovery part? The most frustrating part of the process for you?
“Watching somebody else drive the No. 48 car on Sunday’s. That's not fun by any means. It was really interesting, honestly. I think at first, you kind of feel - not forgotten about - but it's just weird not going to the race track. All I've ever known is racing, so when you're not going and having to do different things on a weekend is just weird. Driving around and realizing that there are people in the world that don't know there's a NASCAR race going on. I think that was a weird thing for me (laughs). I'm at the grocery store and I'm like ‘Man, none of these people know that there's a race going on right now’. So that part of it was weird.. weekends were weird. It's really weird being here today.
But yeah, I think seeing somebody else drive was definitely the least fun part.”
You kind of talked about how you kind of had some feelings of things after workouts. Were you almost going just to see if it was just a normal issue or were you more concerned like ‘hey, there's something else a little bit more?’ Were you shocked when he came back and said that you have a concussion and you can't be in the car?
“I think I knew that there was a possibility of that. I knew what I felt when I crashed at Texas. But the weird thing was and like the weird thing about concussion timelines, is they're never really the same. By Tuesday, I felt 100% and I felt totally fine. Wednesday, when it kind of hit me by the end of the day that I was hurting and having that that pain in my eyes that that turned into a headache; in my head I'm like ‘that's not normal’. I talked to some others that have had been through similar things and kind of gathered the similarities were there. So I knew when I went to the doctor that was a possibility. They definitely identified it very quickly.”
Where will you be for the race today? Are you staying or why are you even here?
“I’m here to talk to you guys (laughs).
It's going to be super weird for me. It's not an easy thing to be here and not be in the race car. But I'll probably watch from the pit box and hang out with the guys. It's cool to be back around the team. I've been around the team throughout the week. I've still been going to all of the meetings and hanging out. Chewing Noah (Gragson) out when he brings Big Macs to the team meeting on Monday mornings.. we're working on it (laughs).
But it's been good to stay plugged in with the race team and to be back at the racetrack today. Seeing the support from the fans and everything's been really cool. I’m appreciative for the warm welcome. I'll just be hanging out today, I guess. I don't really know. It's going to be weird.”
If Phoenix Raceway was not the final race, if Phoenix was not your hometown, would you be doing this? Or would you just wait until February?
“I think for me, having a goal to get back to was important. As far as how hard I've had to work to get to this point, it was pretty difficult. It was 6 a.m. workouts every day, followed by another 9 a.m. workout every day. I've worked really hard. I think if I didn't have the possibility to get back this year, it would have been easier to kind of push those things off and not work as hard. But on top of that, the doctors have said that I'm 100%. So I think if there was any hesitation there, it would be different.
There was a lot of motivation to get back for a Phoenix race; my last race with Greg (Ives) as a crew chief. I didn't want to go out how Texas went with Greg. I don't want to sit all off-season questioning it. I want to get back in the race car. So when the doctor said I was 100%, I trust them. I'm going off of what they say and I don't think there was any hesitation there and they said I'm good to go.”
When we heard the radio exchange in Texas, initially as it was happening, it was absolutely chilling to hear you say ‘I've never taken a hit so hard like this in my life’ and you have a lot to base that on. What did you base that on? Did you know immediately and was there any sense that maybe I need to get out of the car now or did it not seem that dire at the time?
“That’s a hard question, right? Like it's the middle of the playoffs. You're going for every last point.
The thing I based it on when I said that was just how it felt. Like it just felt solid, which we've all gathered that in the last couple of weeks. It was just hard and the way my head hit the head rest was definitely violent.
Yes, the right decision would have been to pull over, get out of the car and quit. But you won’t get any of the other 35 guys that do this every Sunday to do that. It's a difficult decision. I still drove the race car and felt like I did a fine job of driving the race car for the rest of the day. It's just part of what we do. When the car isn’t torn up, you're going to keep going.”
Some of your competitors said that the adrenaline probably kept you going, kind of override whatever sense that you had of getting out of the car. But later that week, you got into a sprint car, correct?
“Yeah, I ran a couple laps on Tuesday. How I felt on Monday, I wasn't planning on running. And then Tuesday, I was 100% and I felt totally fine through that whole thing. I really just fired it off to warm the engine. I ran like two or three laps, just to make sure it was good for him. But I felt 100% through that experience.
It was honestly during meetings I had. The NASCAR media assignment, where you go through an hour or an hour and a half of call-ins, and some team stuff that I was doing throughout the day on Wednesday. By the end of that, I just felt terrible. So it had nothing to do with Tuesday.. I felt 100% through all of that. I saw a lot of speculation that I got in the sprint car and felt bad and that's when I knew. That wasn't the case at all. I felt fine through that and that actually reinforced me being like ‘oh, nothing's wrong, I’m fine’. But then staring at a computer screen for a couple hours on Wednesday made it pretty obvious that something was up.”
Have you touched base with Kurt Busch at all and compare what you guys have experienced?
“Yeah, definitely. I'm talked to Kurt (Busch) a lot. A lot of the guys throughout the garage have been super helpful and that's been really cool. Whether it's Kurt or Jeff Burton - obviously I've talked to Dale (Earnhardt Jr.) a lot. Kevin Harvick reached out a lot throughout the process and that was really cool. It was cool to see the support from the rest of the drivers. Obviously we don't want to see any of our peers in this situation. I think there's a lot to be learned from everything that's happened and hopefully nobody else has to go through it.”
What do you feel could be done to you know to limit that happening in the Next Gen car for other drivers? “Yeah, I'm glad there's people a lot smarter than me to make those decisions. But I think you have to learn from the experiences.. whether it's mine or Kurt's crashes or all other crashes throughout the year, the crash testing that they've done. Obviously there are changes that are going to be made over the off-season.
Obviously this wasn't expected when they designed the Next Gen car, right? Like it wasn't like NASCAR would be like, ‘oh, it's going to be fine’ and it's not been fine. It was just unexpected. There's a lot of really smart people working on making it better. I think the communication between NASCAR, the teams and the drivers has gotten better. I haven't been at the race track until now, but there have been a lot of driver meetings with NASCAR, so that I think is a good thing. I think there's going to be improvements made. I don't think safety ever ends. It’s always an evolving thing. Hopefully we'll get to a point where we're better than where we are today.”