A concussion has brought an end to Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s chances of challenging for this year’s Sprint Cup. It also snaps the racer's consecutive-start streak.
Earnhardt Jr. will be a spectator for at least the next two weeks after doctors parked the popular NASCAR driver. He will miss Rounds 5 and 6 of the 2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup, ending any hope of claiming the NASCAR championship.
Failing to start Saturday night’s , at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, also stalls his run of 461 consecutive Sprint Cup starts, which is the fifth-longest active streak in the series. He won the Daytona 500 in 2004 and has been voted by fans as the most popular driver in the Sprint Cup Series since 2003.
The announcement comes on the heels of Earnhardt Jr. involvement in a massive 25-car wreck during the last lap of last weekend’s Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500, at the Talladega Superspeedway. Earnhardt says the rear of his car was hit during the accident and, even though he continued on to finish 20th, he didn’t feel right following the race.
“It was sort of an odd kind of collision where the car spun around really quickly and it just disoriented me,” he said. “I knew as soon as it happened that I had re-injured myself, for a lack of better way to describe it.”
Earnhardt explained that the symptoms he is feeling date back to a crash he had while testing tires for Goodyear in Kansas at the end of August. He said he has had concussions previously and knew what to expect and “I knew something was just not quite right.” He said he decided to try to work through what he was feeling.
“I felt pretty good after a week or two and definitely 80, 90 percent by the time the Chase started (four weeks ago), and by the time we got to Talladega I felt 100 percent, felt really good.” The driver went on to say that when he was “still having some headaches” on Wednesday, he decided to consult neurosurgeon Dr. Jerry Petty. “He spent the night thinking about what we discussed and couldn’t clear me to race this weekend.”
Dr. Petty outlined the process ahead and what must happen before Earnhardt is cleared to race again.
“We want him to have four or five days after he has no headache… then we will give him some sort of test like to get his pulse rate up,” said Dr. Petty. If there are no headaches, “we will let him go out and drive a lap or two and see how that goes. If that goes well, we’ll probably clear him to race.”
With the fifth of 10 rounds in the Chase for the Sprint Cup set to go Saturday night in Charlotte, Earnhardt Jr. said he enjoys “driving cars week in and week out” and is frustrated not being able to race, but knows he must rest and relax in order to heal properly.
“I would love to race this weekend, and I feel perfectly normal and feel I could compete if I were allowed to compete this weekend,” Earnhardt said. “It’s frustrating. I left it in the hands of the docs and I’m going to do what they tell me to do.”
Earnahrdt sits 11th after four races in this year’s championship chase, 51 points behind leader Brad Keselowski.
Regan Smith will drive Earnhardt’s car during the absence.