Concussion will idle Dale Earnhardt Jr. for two races
The concussion that will force Dale Earnhardt Jr. to miss at least the next two races —- and will deprive him from any shot at a NASCAR Sprint Cup championship -- wasn't his first.
Neither was the one the suffered Aug. 29 during a Goodyear tire test at Kansas Speedway.
It was the two concussions just five weeks apart, however, that compelled Earnhardt to seek evaluation and treatment this week and ultimately sidelined him from the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at Charlotte on Saturday night and Kansas on Oct. 21.
Earnhardt was shaken up during a 25-car wreck on the final lap of Sunday's Good Sam Road Assistance 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. Realizing that he "wasn't right,” Earnhardt waited until Tuesday to visit neurologist Dr. Jerry Petty.
Though Earnhardt's MRI was normal, the symptoms he described, including headache, led to Dr. Petty's recommendation that he sit out the next two races. Dr. Petty said Earnhardt won't be cleared to race again until after being headache-free for four to five days.
"You can't layer concussions,” Earnhardt said Thursday during a press conference at Charlotte Motor Speedway. "It's extremely dangerous.”
Regan Smith, who is under consideration for a full-time Nationwide Series ride next year with JR Motorsports, will replace Earnhardt in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet for the next two races.
Earnhardt qualified for the Chase for the Sprint Cup this season and was 11th in the championship standings, 51 points behind leader Brad Keselowski, after finishing 20th at Talladega.
"It's pretty frustrating,” Earnhardt said. "I just enjoy driving cars every weekend. I look forward to being at the race track with (crew chief) Steve (Letarte). So I'm really going to miss that.”
Earnhardt said he won't attend the race at Charlotte this weekend.
Earnhardt was evaluated in the ambulance at Kansas after an impact he said had a force of 40Gs, but he chose not to reveal his concussion symptoms, fearing that he might be pulled from the car with the start of the Chase less than three weeks away.
"The wreck at Kansas was really severe and it surprised me how tough it was to get past that,” Earnhardt said. "I remember everything about that accident and everything after that accident, but you know your body and how your mind works, and I knew something was just not quite right.
"I decided to just try to push through and work through it.”
Earnhardt told Letarte after the Kansas wreck that he was feeling the effects of the accident and might sit out the upcoming Sept. 2 race at Atlanta if the symptoms persisted. But Earnhardt felt better by the time he got into the car at Atlanta. He qualified 35th and finished seventh.
In retrospect, Earnhardt said he made a mistake not seeking medical attention at after the Kansas wreck.
"I regret not seeing somebody after that happened,” he said. "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 I was capable of doing my job.”
Earnhardt said the impact at Talladega was less than half of what it was at Kansas, but he was concerned by the proximity of the two concussions.
"I contacted my sister (Kelley Earnhardt Miller), and we talked about seeing a neurosurgeon, and we ended up getting steered toward Dr. Petty,” Earnhardt said. "Met with him (on Tuesday), ran through a couple tests, everything was checking out, and did an MRI. Everything looked good there. But I was really honest with him about how I felt and honest with him about the whole process from Kansas all the way on.
"He spent the night thinking about what we discussed and everything that we did and couldn't clear me to race this weekend. I trust his opinion. That's why I went to see him. He's been a good friend of mine for a long time and has helped me through a lot of injuries before, so I believe when he tells me I don't need to be in the car and I need to take a couple weeks off that that's what I need to do.”