Dale Earnhardt Jr. won’t drive at New Hampshire on Sunday on the advice of a neurologist because of concussion concerns.
A statement from Hendrick Motorsports said Junior didn’t feel well entering the last Sprint Cup race at Kentucky. The race before Kentucky, at Daytona, Earnhardt Jr. was involved in a crash. He also crashed out at Michigan two races before Daytona.
The release said Junior was experiencing “concussion-like symptoms.”
I wasn’t feeling great the week going into Kentucky (Speedway) and thought it was possibly severe allergies,” Earnhardt said in the statement. “I saw a family doctor and was given medication for allergies and a sinus infection. When that didn’t help, I decided to dig a little deeper. Because of my symptoms and my history with concussions, and after my recent wrecks at Michigan and Daytona, I reached out and met with a neurological specialist. After further evaluation, they felt it was best for me to sit out.
“I’m disappointed about missing New Hampshire this weekend. I’m looking forward to treatment with the goal of getting back in the race car when the doctors say I’m ready.”
Earnhardt Jr. most recently missed two races in 2012 after crashes at Talladega and in a test at Kansas. He was replaced by Regan Smith in those races and will be replaced by Alex Bowman on Sunday at New Hampshire. Bowman has driven for Earnhardt Jr.’s Xfinity Series team in 2016.
Junior, who also has said he hid a concussion he suffered in 2002, expressed his increased awareness of concussions and their effects earlier this year. In an offhand remark on Twitter he said he would be donating his brain for concussion research.
In discussing his tweet, Junior said he was comfortable with the protocols NASCAR has in place for concussions. Though if you’re a sports fan, you likely understand that our understanding of concussions is ever-evolving even as awareness for head injuries has grown exponentially recently.
No two concussions are the same and symptoms can be misdiagnosed (as what happened this year with IndyCar driver Will Power) or take a significant amount of time to show up after trauma to the brain takes place.
“I feel very good about the protocols that are in place,” Earnhardt Jr. said in April. “[NASCAR] have stepped up and they have gotten more, like using the impact test, I believe in the impact test and what it’s used for and how it’s used. I think it’s a great tool not only for understanding a concussion or trying to diagnose a concussion, but it’s also a great tool to treat the concussion once you have been diagnosed and understand that you have the concussion how to treat it.”
Junior is currently 13th in the points standings and has five top-five finishes and six top-10 finishes. Without a win, he’s currently in the last tier of drivers who would make the 16-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup.
“I’m proud of Dale for standing up,” said Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports. “The number-one priority is his health, so we’re going to give him all the time he needs. We completely support the decision by the doctors and will be ready to go win races when he’s 100 percent.”
The team said any news about Junior’s status for the Brickyard 400 would be made after New Hampshire and no timetable had been established for his return. He would need to receive a waiver from NASCAR to make the Chase, but given that NASCAR gave Kurt Busch one in 2015 after it suspended Busch for three races to begin the season, it’s a foregone conclusion Junior will receive one upon his return to competition.
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