Ultimately, the decision wasn’t left up to Dale Earnhardt Jr.
After Earnhardt went to neurosurgeon Dr. Jerry Petty last Wednesday about the lingering effects of his crash at Talladega, the decision was made to hold NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver out of the next two Sprint Cup Series races.
“It’s frustrating. I really didn’t get to make the decision,” Earnhardt said at last Friday’s press conference at Charlotte. “I left it in the hands of the docs, and I’m going to do what they tell me to do. But it’s frustrating; I just enjoy driving cars week in and week out.”
Paul Lewis, a Johnson City resident and former Cup Series winner, believes Earnhardt made a courageous decision to seek medical help when he felt something wasn’t right. Drivers often feel the pressure of racing while hurt, but Lewis said there are more important things than race wins or championships to consider.
“I don’t think he should take a chance,” Lewis said. “He’s taking some good advice from the medical professionals. He might not feel a problem when he’s driving a car, but it’s something that might show up later on. He’s obligated to a lot of people, but first and foremost, he’s obligated to himself and his family. I think he made the right decision.”
Earnhardt, a 19-time winner in the Cup Series, has to deal with the legend of his father as the ultimate tough-guy competitor. Dale Earnhardt Sr. returned to the driver’s seat only one week after breaking his leg at Pocono in 1982. Fifteen years later, he started a race at Indianapolis, only one week after breaking a collarbone in a vicious crash at Talladega.
Still, it’s a different scenario which Dale Earnhardt Jr. faces. As medical research has evolved, NASCAR drivers are finding out head injuries are nothing to mess around with.
It’s especially true when an athlete suffers multiple concussions as was the case with Earnhardt, who was hurt weeks earlier in a practice crash at Kansas.
“I think the basis of this whole deal is that I’ve had two concussions in the last four to five weeks,” he said. “You can’t layer concussions. It gets extremely dangerous.”
Amanda James, the daughter of NASCAR legend Fred Lorenzen, applauded Earnhardt in a letter published by the Charlotte Observer. Her father suffers from dementia and she recounted how he suffered two severe head traumas during his career, but didn’t take the time to recover.
While not to the extent of former boxers or NFL players, there are certainly accounts of drivers suffering the long-term affects of head injuries. Most famous of these is Lee Roy Yarbrough, who driving for Junior Johnson won seven races including the Daytona 500 in 1969. A year later, Yarbrough suffered two vicious crashes which sent his career and his life on a downward spiral. It ended with his death in a mental institution in 1984.
The plan is for Earnhardt, also a Daytona 500 winner, to return to the driver’s seat at Martinsville late next week. He believes this short-term setback is needed for the long-term future of his career.
“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,” Earnhardt said. “I think if I give myself time to get healed up, I can race for as long as I want to race, and that’s my objective.”
With Earnhardt missing two races in the Chase, he is obviously eliminated from any championship contention. With the 10-race NASCAR playoff now at its halfway point, you have to believe two other drivers are also eliminated.
Despite his win at Talladega, Matt Kenseth is 11th in the standings, some 67 points behind leader Brad Keselowski.
Kevin Harvick also lags far behind Keselowski, 56 points in arears. In addition, Harvick has been the least competitive of all the Chase drivers with no wins and only four top-five finishes.
The NHRA Full Throttle Series took last weekend off before heading to Las Vegas this weekend.
Greeneville’s Allen Johnson continues to maintain control of the Pro Stock point standings, 82 points ahead of runner-up Jason Line and 125 points ahead of Erica Enders.
Antron Brown looks to be in good position to capture his first Top Fuel crown, 104 points ahead of Spencer Massey and 136 points ahead of seven-time champion Tony Schumacher.
The best battle is the Funny Car position where Don Schumacher Racing teammates Jack Beckman and Ron Capps are seperated by 23 points with Mike Neff 54 points down.
After Las Vegas, only one race remains, the NHRA Finals at Pomona, Calif.
The 25th annual Suzuki Top Gun Showdown, the biggest race of the year on the local motocross scene, takes place this weekend at Muddy Creek Raceway.
On the track’s website, they wax nostalgic about an early Showdown which came down to a battle between Ricky Carmichael and Mike Brown.
Kevin Windham, James “Bubba” Stewart and Damon Bradshaw are some of the other superstars who have competed in the historic event.
There are 42 classes to be contested in the Mega Series event, ranging from 51cc powered bikes for riders as young as four years old to the 250 and 450 Pro divisions. Three ATV classes are in the mix.
Friday is a practice day with races scheduled on Saturday and Sunday.