This weekend’s race in Charlotte was different than many in the past. Sure, it came down to fuel mileage, a common theme that has played out this year. Sure, some of the Chase competitors had their struggles, it’s happened before. But this race wasn’t about what happened on the track. Instead it was what happened before any track activity occurred.
On Wednesday, a press conference at the Charlotte Motor Speedway was announced with Dale Earnhardt Jr, Rick Hendrick and Steve Letarte. What was said took a lot of wind out of the sails of many fans in the sport.
It was released that Earnhardt Jr, who was 11th in the points, was going to sit out the next two races, Charlotte and Kansas, because he was suffering from a concussion, his second of the month. Regan Smith would fill his seat in the No. 88 Chevrolet during that time, and there is a possibility Junior could sit out longer if doctors feel he’s not ready to return to the seat.
But, what brought all this on?
Weeks earlier, Earnhardt Jr. was part of a tire test at Kansas, as the track has a new surface and Goodyear wanted to test compounds that would work on the new asphalt. He crashed at that testing session, and didn’t feel right. But, feeling tough, he continued to race, getting better each week. By Talladega, he felt really good, but then the last lap came.
The massive 20+ car pileup involved the No. 88, as it took some hard hits on the sides.
Junior then began feeling the after effects, and on his own decided to see doctors and neurologists, to see if there was any issues. Sure enough, the concussion symptoms were back, and there was a greater risk for him if he got behind the wheel. So, with the blessing of his owner and team, he and the doctors made the decision to have him rest up, and not risk his career or life to win a championship.
So in theory, Junior has been racing with these kind of symptoms for a little while, and was driving with a concussion for a few weeks, not known to the media, fans or competitors. This was a huge risk for him, but an even bigger risk to the competition.
We don’t hear much about concussions in racing, more in football because of the hard contact. But think about this, hitting another human being is much different than hitting a wall, especially when that wall is approaching at 190 mph. These days, drivers have a lot more resources to diagnose such things as concussions than what were available say 10 or 20 years ago. Former drivers have said that even doing the simplest things, like shaking water off their heads following a shower, could give them a major headache. It’s the after effects that we hear about, not so much the causes.
I attribute driving with a concussion as the same as driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs. There’s a similar effect because your vision is not the same, depth perception is changed, and everyone surrounding that driver is at risk.
One mistake, many lives could be forever changed. That is why Junior did the right thing and not race. Sure, a championship was still on the line, however that was not worth the risk of costing him a career he loves, or a career of a fellow racer.
Will two weeks be enough to have NASCAR’s most popular driver heal up in time? It’s uncertain, it could be enough, it may not be. Only time will answer that.
RESULTS: 1-Bowyer 2-Hamlin 3-Johnson 4-Biffle 5-Kyle Busch 6-Martin 7-Edwards 8-Kahne 9-Logano 10-Truex Jr.
NOTABLE FINISHES: 11-Keselowski 13-Stewart 14-Kenseth 16-Harvick 18-Gordon
CAUTIONS: 5 for 23 laps. Lap 12-15 (#17 spin-T4), 17-21 (#31, 34 accident-FS), 37-41 (#27 spin-T4), 168-172 (Debris-T1), 224-227 (Debris-FS).
LEAD CHANGES: 20 among 8 drivers. Biffle 1-2, Martin 3-4, Biffle 5-37, Keselowski 38-41, Ambrose 42-43, Keselowski 44-71, Johnson 72-83, Gordon 84-85, Keselowski 86-97, Johnson 98-134, Hamlin 135-167, Keselowski 168, Johnson 169-172, Biffle 173-179, Keselowski 180-220, Bowyer 221-222, Keselowski 223-275, Bowyer 276-277, Hamlin 278-280, Biffle 281-309, Bowyer 310-334.
TIME OF RACE: 3 Hrs, 14 Mins, 1 Sec.
AVERAGE SPEED: 154.935 MPH
MARGIN OF VICTORY: 0.417 Seconds
2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup: 1. Keselowski, 2214 points; 2. Johnson, -7; 3. Hamlin, -15; 4. Bowyer, -28; 5. Kahne, -35; 6. Biffle, -43; 7. Truex, -49; 8. Stewart, -50; 9. Gordon, -50; 10. Harvick, -56; 11. Kenseth, -67; 12. Earnhardt Jr, -86.