Earnhardt to miss 2 races because of concussions
CONCORD, N.C. — Dale Earnhardt Jr. knew he had suffered a concussion in an August crash so jolting that other drivers tweeted about it immediately after the impact.
Earnhardt was too stubborn to see a doctor about it. He was too worried he would be yanked from his car, derailing his long-suffering Sprint Cup championship hopes.
So he kept it a secret until a 25-car accident on the last lap Sunday at Talladega left him with a lingering headache.
NASCAR's most popular driver sought medical attention from a neurosurgeon, who found Earnhardt had indeed suffered two concussions in six weeks and couldn't be medically cleared to race. Earnhardt said Thursday he will sit out the next two weeks — at Charlotte and Kansas — ending his championship chances.
“I would love to race this weekend, and I feel perfectly normal and feel like I could compete if I were allowed to compete,” Earnhardt said. “But I think that the basis of this whole deal is that I've had two concussions in the last (six) weeks, and you can't layer concussions. It gets extremely dangerous.”
Clearance to race after suffering a concussion isn't given until after a driver obtains a medical release.
“I think we've got a pretty good history of sending drivers to the care center and then also to a neurologist if we think there may be any cause to do so,” said NASCAR senior vice president Steve O'Donnell, who added that only nine drivers from NASCAR's three national series have suffered concussions in the past five years.
“His eyes did what they were supposed to do, his balance tests and so forth are perfect,” said Dr. Jerry Petty, a neurosurgeon who consults with NASCAR and the Carolina Panthers. “The one test, the one symptom that is more important than all the tests is headache, and as long as there's any headache, the brain is not healed.”
Hendrick Motorsports tabbed Regan Smith to replace Earnhardt in the No. 88 Chevrolet the next two races. Smith had been scheduled to drive the No. 51 for Phoenix Racing in Saturday night's race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and AJ Allmendinger will drive that car in his first start since his July 7 suspension for failing a random drug test.