Junior’s Absence Casts Pall Over Charlotte
The news that hit NASCAR just before its fall weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway was a shocker … and almost totally unexpected.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., the most popular driver in the sport, wasn’t racing in the Bank of America 500. Or, for that matter, in the Kansas Casino 400 a week later.
It turned that Earnhardt, one of 12 drivers eligible for the championship through the Chase for the Sprint Cup format, had been hiding a concussion originally suffered while testing at Kansas Speedway a month earlier.
When Earnhardt was involved in another crash, on the final lap of the Good Sam 500 at Talladega on Oct. 7, his difficulties recurred, and Earnhardt thought it best to consult doctors, who determined it would be best for the 38-year-old veteran to sit out at least two Cup races. Regan Smith substituted for Earnhardt at Charlotte and will do so again in Kansas.
“Just for my own well-being, I couldn’t … if I didn’t need to go get in a race car and get hit again, I needed somebody to tell me that, because I was going to have a hard time making that decision for myself,” Earnhardt said. “I feel perfectly fine, but I don’t want to keep getting hit in the head.”
To a man, all of Earnhardt’s peers united in support of his decision. Some revealed that they had suffered concussions themselves without seeking medical attention.
It was a sobering week for observers who began considering whether they had been lulled into a false sense of complacency and security over the revolutionary advances in safety that had occurred since father Dale Earnhardt’s fatal crash in the 2001 Daytona 500.
Shortly after marveling that every driver walked away from a spectacular 25-car crash at Talladega, many realized that walking away and being OK aren’t necessarily the same.
Sometimes it’s more than a 500-mile race among 43 cars. Sometimes it’s a race between speed and safety, and in that competition, safety is a moving target.
Monte Dutton covers motorsports for The Gaston (N.C.) Gazette. E-mail Monte at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(c) 2012 King Features Synd., Inc.