Dale Earnhardt Jr. did not feel right heading into this week. The driver could tell something was not right with his head. Earnhardt had suffered a concussion at the conclusion of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Talladega. Yesterday Earnhardt and team owner Rick Hendrick announced that the popular driver would not race at Charlotte or Kansas.
Before I continue I should inform the reader that I am for the advancement of concussion testing. Further I believe that safety in any sport is the utmost importance.
The move by Earnhardt raised awareness to fans of the sport that concussions are not exclusive to the National Football League. Instead when Earnhardt spoke he talked about how he got a concussion weeks ago at Kansas and opted not to tell anyone. At that time Earnhardt was working towards ensuring a place inside the top-ten for NASCAR’s Chase.Instead of Earnhardt driving the No. 88 car this weekend it will be Regan Smith behind the wheel.
As the Chase has started Earnhardt has fallen out of contention for the title. Knowing his chances to win the Sprint Cup title were decreasing and knowing his body was not right Earnhardt sought medical advice. Being NASCAR’s most popular driver and a marketing cash cow probably made the decision a little easier too.
Teammates Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson are supportive of Earnhardt’s decision. Johnson noted that “Concussions are a tricky thing, as we all know. And we’ve got to make sure that he’s right so if he is in the car and does have another crash, that it doesn’t set him back any further.”
While others outside the organization applauded Earnhardt’s move the question still existed as to whether everyone would pull themselves out of their car.
“Honestly, I hate to say this, but no, I wouldn’t,” teammate Gordon said. “We all have to play a part in this. But if I have a shot at a championship with two races to go and my head’s hurting, and I came through a wreck and I’m feeling signs of it but I’m still leading the points or I’m second in the points, I’m not going to say anything. I’m sorry. That’s the competitor in me, and probably many other guys. And that’s to a fault. That’s not the way it should be. But I think that’s something that most of us would do, and I think that’s what gets a lot of us in trouble.”
Gordon’s comments as eerie as they sound are not far removed from those from NFL player Calvin Johnson. Johnson, an explosive Detroit Lions receiver, feels that concussions are just part of the game. “It’s a part of football, you get concussed, you gotta keep on playing. You can’t get afraid to go across the middle any more than you were at the beginning.”
Professional athletes are always talking about looking over their shoulder and not letting their competition know that they are hurt. Granted NASCAR is a little different then the NFL but there is still a good bit of mind games and banging on the doors done weekly.
Earnhardt Jr could afford to sit the time out with a concussion because he knew he would not be replaced in his car long term. The reason Earnhardt could sit out now with a concussion and not after his wreck during a tire test at Kansas is because he is no longer chasing a spot in the chase, he is no longer in contention for a title.
Hendick believes “The good news is the cars are so safe, the medical field is so advanced. If we do what they tell us we shouldn’t have any trouble.” The problem is getting a driver or any athlete to admit something is wrong with their body.
Would a driver who was less popular and further down in the point standings make the same decision?