For the past 15 years Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been one of NASCAR’s top drivers. Earnhardt has never won a Sprint Cup Championship, but he is always in the mix. However the last few weeks of the 2016 NASCAR season have seen Earnhardt reduced to the role of a spectator after he suffered a concussion. Earnhardt was involved in wrecks on June 12 and July 2. And after Earnhardt initially thought that he had a sinus infection, he was diagnosed with a concussion. Earnhardt has missed the last three races with concussion-like symptoms. Earnhardt has been replaced in the No. 88 car by four-time NASCAR Champion Jeff Gordon who was also his former teammate with Hendrick Motorsports. However there isn’t a timetable for Earnhardt’s return to the track as he is still dealing with concussion-like symptoms and quite frankly, you can’t blame him.
15 years ago Earnhardt watched his father die on the race track. Dale Earnhardt Sr. was known as “The Intimidator” while he was also a seven-time Winston Cup Champion. Earnhardt Sr. died during the 2001 Daytona 500 when he was attempting to hold off the rest of the field on the final lap as two drivers that raced for Dale Earnhardt Incorporated in Michael Waltrip and Dale Jr. were looking at a one-two finish for the race. Earnhardt Sr. was clipped by Ken Schrader which sent him crashing into the wall at 200 miles per hour and the impact of the collision would take his life. Dale Jr. would climb back into the car that year to keep the family’s legacy going, but things like that are difficult to get over, and in dealing with his own injury now, he must proceed with caution.
The young Earnhardt has still been dealing with issues as far as his balance, and the last thing that he or the other drivers need is for him to get behind the wheel of a car where he could do some more damage to himself and his fellow competitors. But what Earnhardt’s injury has done is shed more light on a subject that NASCAR has begun to take more seriously.
A few years ago NASCAR implemented a concussion protocol which drivers must pass to get back on the track as they are committed to the health and well-being of their drivers. As more information continues to come out about the long-term effects of concussions, sports leagues around the world are getting on board as far as protecting their athletes. And auto racing has been like other sports where athletes tend to try to gut it out while dealing with injuries, but this is a new day.
Earnhardt was smart enough to put his career on hold while more than likely missing out on a chance to participate in the Sprint Chase this year in order to make sure that he is healthy and he should be commended for that as it takes a bigger person to both realize and admit that they are incapable of doing something; no matter much that they love it.