Dale Earnhardt Jr. suffered a second concussion in six weeks and has been ordered by doctors to sit out the next two races, a move that squashes the championship aspirations of the most popular driver in NASCAR.
On Aug. 29, Earnhardt suffered the first concussion at Kansas. However, that went undiagnosed until Wednesday, when Earnhardt was examined in Charlotte for lingering effects from Sunday’s 25-car crash at Talladega.
Earnhardt admitted that he kept to himself the symptoms he experienced after the Kansas crash the way an NFL player might do for fear of being taken out of the car for the start of the Chase.
“I remember everything about that accident, everything after that accident,” Earnhardt said. “But I knew I didn’t feel . . . you know your body and how your mind works. I knew something was just not quite right. I decided to push through and work through it. I had concussions before and knew exactly kind of what I was dealing with. I felt pretty good after a week or two, definitely 80 to 90 percent after the Chase started. By the time I got to Talladega I felt 100 percent, really good.”
And then the massive wreck happened. Hendrick Motorsports said Earnhardt will sit out races at Charlotte and Kansas, and Regan Smith will replace him in the No. 88 Chevrolet.
Earnhardt, who celebrated his 38th birthday on Wednesday, was injured in a 25-car, last-lap accident at Talladega. Because he was able to drive his car away from the accident — teammate Jimmie Johnson even caught a lift on the window back to the garage — Earnhardt was not required to go to the care center for an examination at the time.
Immediately after the race, he called restrictor-plate racing “bloodthirsty” and said he no longer had any desire to compete at Daytona and Talladega.
The wreck was at least the second hard hit Earnhardt has had this season. He struck the wall extremely hard during the Goodyear test at Kansas when his right front tire failed, an accident driver Brad Keslowski tweeted about moments afterward.
Earnhardt said data confirmed the hit at Kansas was 40 Gs, compared to 20 Gs at Talladega. He said persistent headaches after the Talladega crash caused him to seek out Dr. Jerry Petty, his personal physician who also is the physician for NASCAR.
Earnhardt said results from tests taken Tuesday and an MRI administered on Wednesday indicated there was no damage to his brain. But because the headaches persisted, Petty made the decision to rule out NASCAR’s most popular driver for two weeks.
“I trust his opinion,” Earnhardt said. “That’s why I went to see him. He’s been a good friend of mine for a long time, helped me through a lot of injuries before. I believe when he tells me I don’t need to be in the car.”
Petty said he doesn’t anticipate any issues that would prevent Earnhardt from being cleared after sitting out two races.
“He had no amnesia after either incident, which is very important,” Petty said. “We’ll want to give him four, five days without a headache,” and then they’ll try to invoke a headache to see how he reacts before clearing him to race.”
Earnhardt earlier this season snapped a 143-race winless streak dating to 2008, and many believed he was in the best position in years to finally win his first Sprint Cup Series championship. But he had a mediocre start to the Chase for the Sprint Cup and left Talladega ranked 11th in the field.
Although he’s mathematically still in the running in the 12-driver Chase race, by sitting out the next two races he’ll most certainly finish last.
Earnhardt will also end his streak of 461 consecutive starts, which is the fifth longest active streak in the Sprint Cup Series.