How Concerned Should We Be for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s Long-Term Well-Being?

Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images

After Hendrick Motorsports announced that Dale Earnhardt would be absent from this weekend’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway – and for the foreseeable future – because of concussion-like symptoms, many were quick to praise the 41-year-old driver for stepping up and saying something when the competitor’s edge might otherwise cause a racecar driver (or any other athlete) to want to hide it and continue forward.

Team owner Rick Hendrick was one of those people.

“I’m proud of Dale for standing up,” said Rick Hendrick in a statement. “The number-one priority is his health, so we’re going to give him all the time he needs. We completely support the decision by the doctors and will be ready to go win races when he’s 100 percent. In the meantime, we have full confidence in Greg (Ives) and the team, and we know they’ll do a great job.”

This won’t be the first time Earnhardt has missed a race because of a concussion. The driver of the No. 88 missed two races in 2012 after suffering a concussion following a hard crash in a test session at Kansas Speedway.

Hendrick Motorsports did not give a timetable as to how long Earnhardt will be out. If Earnhardt returns before the regular season ends, it’s likely that NASCAR will grant him a Chase waiver with similar criteria that they gave Stewart this year and Kyle Busch last year, though the team’s performance this season might indicate that winning their way into the Chase will be an extremely tall order.

Be that as may, as Hendrick and many others have said, that is certainly not the top priority right now.

While all we know right now is that Earnhardt will be out at New Hampshire and will continue to receive treatment from his physicians, the larger question is how will this impact his future as a driver in NASCAR?

Take a look at the statement Earnhardt released when this was announced earlier today:

“I wasn’t feeling great the week going into Kentucky (Speedway) and thought it was possibly severe allergies,” Earnhardt said. “I saw a family doctor and was given medication for allergies and a sinus infection. When that didn’t help, I decided to dig a little deeper. Because of my symptoms and my history with concussions, and after my recent wrecks at Michigan and Daytona, I reached out and met with a neurological specialist. After further evaluation, they felt it was best for me to sit out.

“I’m disappointed about missing New Hampshire this weekend. I’m looking forward to treatment with the goal of getting back in the race car when the doctors say I’m ready.”

Earnhardt’s wreck in Michigan…

And Daytona…

…certainly seemed like mild hits – if you can call a crash around 180 mph “mild”. However, in the grand scheme of the wrecks we see every year in the sport – and some harder wrecks suffered by Earnhardt himself – there was certainly no reason to be concerned for his well-being after seeing those crashes. There was no reason to assume that those wrecks would cause (or contribute to) Dale Jr. to miss the next Sprint Cup Series race.

After Earnhardt’s then-teammate Jeff Gordon retired at the end of last season, many began asking who would be the next big name to hang up their hats.

Tony Stewart announced he would be retiring at the end of the 2016 season, following a couple of serious injuries over the last couple of years (including a severe spine injury over the offseason that caused him to miss the first eight races of the season).

Gordon was 44 years old when he retired last year. Stewart will be 45.

Earnhardt will be 42 at the end of this year.

Though Earnhardt has said that he doesn’t know when he will retire and plans to stay in the sport as long as necessary, you have to wonder if this latest bout with a head injury will force the driver of the No. 88 into an earlier retirement than he had originally planned or wanted.

The Sports Concussion Institute has this excerpt on their website:

“A major determinant of sport-related concussions is an athlete’s prior history of concussions. Research suggests that if someone has already received one concussion, they are 1-2 times more likely to receive a second one. If they’ve had two concussions, then a third is 2-4 times more likely, and if they’ve had three concussions, then they are 3-9 times more likely to receive their fourth concussion.” 

Earnhardt will no doubt receive the best treatment possible, but ultimately, the human body and brain can only take so much. How this winds up impacting his future as a racecar driver remains to be seen, but it’s certainly has opened up much public concern for NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver.

4 Comments

  1. Howie Feltersnatch Jr. Sr.

    July 15, 2016 at 4:06 pm

    Oh no, If Jr. does not race he will be washing dishes down at the truck stop within the month ! Really ? I think if Jr. is hurt or unable to drive around in circles he can retire in comfort and style. As far as his brain is concerned he can afford the very best in medical care and that is assuming that his squash worked well in the first place. I can’t see myself or, honestly, anyone else losing sleep over Jr.s “plight”.

    EDITOR’S RESPONSE: You are entitled to your opinion and we appreciate your comments; however, callous and hateful they may be. Still, thanks for reading. -Jerry

    • Cilly

      July 16, 2016 at 9:50 am

      Jerry that was very nicely put. Howie how rude of you if you don’t care for someone you really don’t have to talk trash. This isn’t about anything except Jr’s health. Jerk

  2. Dave in Ohio

    July 15, 2016 at 10:08 pm

    While not being uncaring of Jr’s health like the above poster, it is certainly a fact that he could, and maybe should, hang up his helmet immediately. Jr could retire today, and he and his heirs will be wealthier than most folks can ever imagine. And that is a good thing, he earned every nickle, but I just don’t see the point in continuing to drive with health in question. Go forth, raise a bunch of little Earnhardts, play with your go carts, and be happy.

  3. Jonas Fliger

    July 31, 2016 at 3:10 pm

    The next few months will be a great indicator of where teams stand going into the Chase for the Sprint Cup, but for now JGR is still clearly situated atop the pecking order.

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