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Dale Earnhardt Jr. Is ‘Not Ready To Quit’ Racing Anytime Soon

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Is ‘Not Ready To Quit’ Racing Anytime Soon

by August 6, 2016 0 comments

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – On Friday at Watkins Glen International, Dale Earnhardt Jr. made his first appearance at a racetrack since he was diagnosed with concussion-like symptoms.

On June 12, Earnhardt Jr. crashed along the backstretch at Michigan International Speedway, while battling for position with Chris Buescher and AJ Allmendinger. The impact into the outside wall is when doctors believe the concussion-like symptoms were triggered. The crash didn’t appear that incredibly violent, but everyone’s body reacts differently in situations, and this particular accident has contributed to sidelining the 41-year old.

“There are no guidelines or rule book, or consistent history on how long this stuff really takes to clear up,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “So, we just have to be patient. My doctors feel great about the opportunity that I will not only be healthy again, but they can actually make my brain stronger to be able to withstand these common events. The event that I had at Michigan which they have tied this concussion to I shouldn’t have had a concussion from. I should be able to get through events like that without having any issues. So, they are not only working to get me healed up, but are working to make it to where I can compete and go through events like that without any concern.”

Following the crash, Earnhardt Jr. competed in the next three races, where he finished 11th at Sonoma Raceway; 21st at Daytona International Speedway; and 13th at Kentucky Speedway. By the time the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series made its way to New Hampshire Motor Speedway, he had to make the decision to step out of the car and hand over the steering wheel to Alex Bowman and then Jeff Gordon, beginning at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Sunday’s Cheez-It 355 will mark Gordon’s third race in-a-row that he has been in Earnhardt Jr.’s car.

“It’s hard because you basically put yourself out there to be pulled out of the car,” said Earnhardt Jr. on being sidelined. “But man, your quality of life is so important. Your health beyond your driving career is so important. If you plan on having a family, or have a family already, those things are going to be a priority. There are so many reasons to do the right thing and go ahead and get the help you need and get back in the car, when you’re healthy. I’ve learned a lot through this experience in the last three or four years and feel like it’s a hard decision to make.”

Earnhardt Jr.’s symptoms fire up during situations that cause anxiety. His doctor says that it’s a good exercise for him to get out of the house and put himself into those situations. In doing so, the Hendrick Motorsports driver has been eating out in loud restaurants and spending more time with groups of people; however, there’s still no timeline on Earnhardt Jr.’s return to Sprint Cup Series competition. The symptoms that Earnhardt Jr. are experiencing certainly aren’t uncommon for someone, who has had this type of injury, but the symptoms don’t fit his past history. That’s why all of this is especially frustrating for Earnhardt Jr. because it’s something new.

“There are six types of concussions as far as what part of the body they really affect,” Earnhardt Jr. “Mainly I’ve got ocular imbalance issues. They are all connected. And so, you can have an injury to the ocular or the balance and it will affect the emotion. And it is all sort of tied together. So, if you injure one part of your brain, all of them get deficient in some way, shape, or form. So, you have all these other symptoms. And you’ve just really got to corral and fix that one area and it stops affecting the rest of it. So, we’re working on it.”

Even if Earnhardt Jr.’s symptoms were to improve and diminish, the question still remains when he’d be able to return to a race car. A NASCAR weekend can be very stressful for a driver, and doctors need to make sure that his symptoms won’t return. Between the competition side of the sport, to the interviews and camera flashes, a race weekend can certainly cause anxiety. Before Earnhardt Jr. returns to Sprint Cup Series competition, he mentioned that he’d like to get behind the wheel of a late model and try to get back into the groove of driving.

“I personally would like to get in a race car and drive it at a closed course somewhere,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “Whether that is one of my late models, or if NASCAR would lift the restrictions on the testing policy to go to Gresham or someplace I want to get in the car and run for a day. I think I should do that.  That would be the smartest thing to do before actually trying to accomplish an entire race weekend.”

As for now, four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, Jeff Gordon will continue to pilot Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 88 Chevrolet SS this weekend at Watkins Glen International and again in two weeks at Bristol Motor Speedway. With the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup quickly approaching, it appears that Earnhardt Jr.’s chances at competing for the championship are certainly getting slimmer. After Bristol, the only races remaining before the cutoff is Michigan, Darlington and then Richmond. If Earnhardt Jr. were to return, he’d have to win a race and stay within the top-30 in the points to make the Chase. Although, the Chase is important, it’s not Earnhardt Jr.’s top priority at this point. He’s focusing on getting better because he certainly isn’t ready to quit racing.

“I want to race,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “I miss the competition. I miss being here. I miss the people and as Rick (Hendrick, car owner) likes to say ‘we’ve got unfinished business.’ I’m not ready to stop racing.  I’m not ready to quit. It’s a slower process, I wish it wasn’t. I don’t know how long it’s going to take. As impatient as I am I worry about everyone else’s patients as well. But, I’m not going to go in the car until the doctors clear me. The doctors won’t let me race. This is not my decision, but it’s the right decision and I trust what my doctors are telling me. When they say I’m good to go I believe them. If they say I’m healthy and I can race I’m going to race.”

Photo Credit: Josh Hedges/Getty Images

Hunter Thomas
Hunter Thomas is a journalist who grew up in Darlington, S.C. His first motorsports-based endeavor was working as the Public Relations Director at Dillon Motor Speedway in Dillon, S.C., and his journalism start came while he was freelancing at his hometown newspaper, the News & Press while in college.

Hunter has been working within the NASCAR industry since 2010, and throughout the years, he has done everything from PR/Marketing for drivers and teams in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, NASCAR XFINITY Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, to working at Rockingham Speedway. As a journalist, Hunter has covered everything from regional short tracks to NASCAR, ARCA Racing Series, World of Outlaws, Red Bull Global Rallycross, NHRA and much more.

Follow Hunter Thomas on Twitter by following, @HunterThomas08

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