Earnhardt to make NASCAR Sprint Cup return in Martinsville
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Photo by ASP, Inc.)
Dale Earnhardt Jr. has been medically cleared to race this weekend at Martinsville Speedway, Hendrick Motorsports announced Tuesday.
Earnhardt missed the past two races after suffering a concussion Oct. 7 in a last-lap crash at Talladega Superspeedway. It was his second concussion within six weeks. He suffered a concussion in a crash during an Aug. 29 tire test at Kansas Speedway.
Earnhardt’s rehabilitation program was directed by Charlotte neurosurgeon Dr. Jerry Petty, who also consulted with Dr. Micky Collins, director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program.
“Dale Jr. has done everything asked of him,” Petty said in a statement issued by Hendrick Motorsports. “He hasn’t had a headache since Oct. 12, and we have not been able to provoke any symptoms since that time. I have informed NASCAR and Hendrick Motorsports that he is medically cleared for all NASCAR-related activity.”
Earnhardt sought Dr. Petty because of lingering headaches after the Talladega race.
“The one symptom that is more important than all the tests is headache, and as long as there’s any headache, the brain is not healed,” Petty said Oct. 11 during a press conference at Charlotte Motor Speedway announcing that Earnhardt would miss the next two races because of a concussion.
“We want him to have four or five days after he has no headache, and then we'll give him some sort of test like to get his pulse rate up, see if we can provoke a headache, and then if we can't, we'll let him go out and drive a lap or two and see how that goes, and if that goes well, we'll probably clear him to race.”
Earnhardt drove 123 laps in a Sprint Cup car Monday at the half-mile Gresham Motorsports Park in Jefferson, Ga., without any issues.
Crew chief Steve Letarte wrote on Twitter after the test that Earnhardt “looked great and ran some awesome laps.”
Petty monitored the test. He cleared Earnhardt Tuesday morning after a final neuropsychological evaluation in Charlotte.
On Sunday at Kansas Speedway, car owner Rick Hendrick said that it was never a consideration to hold Earnhardt the rest of the season.
“He’s burning up to get in the car,” Hendrick said. “He wanted to run this weekend. He’s very anxious. He wants to get back. No way you’re going to hold him out unless the doctor wouldn’t clear him, but he’s good to go.”
While Earnhardt was out, Regan Smith drove his car. An engine failure left Smith with a 38th-place finish at Charlotte, but he placed seventh at Kansas last weekend.
Earnhardt is the second driver in NASCAR’s national series to suffer a concussion and miss races this season. Eric McClure suffered a concussion, along with other injuries, in a crash during the May 5 Nationwide Series race at Talladega Superspeedway. McClure, who suffered his third concussion in less than two years in that incident, sat out five races before returning.
Hendrick Motorsports’ announcement did not include a statement from Earnhardt. He’s scheduled to talk to the media Friday morning at Martinsville Speedway before practice.
Matt Kenseth (Photo by ASP, Inc.)
LAME DUCK? Sure, Matt Kenseth is leaving Roush Fenway Racing after this season to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing, but he’s won two of the last three Cup- races. Had it not been for some mechanical issues earlier in the Chase, Kenseth, who won at Talladega two weeks ago, might have a chance to contend for the title.
“We've had two great races where they couldn't be better, and we had four that probably couldn't be a lot worse, other than Loudon,” Kenseth said after his 24th career Cup victory. “It's been up and down. I thought last year we were really strong. I thought in the Chase last year we had a shot to win the championship as far as performance. I feel like I let my guys down and didn't do a good enough job making decisions on the track or even off the track. I felt like I cost us, but our cars were fast enough to win.
“This season we started off real fast and could run in the top five every week it felt like. We went through a couple months where we didn't perform as well. Unfortunately, one of those months ran into the Chase. I just felt like we were a little off as a group, plus we made a few mistakes that we typically never make, have had some other problems that cost us some finishes. It feels good to get here, have a fast car, have everything happen right, be able to get the win.”
Another driver on the move after this season is Joey Logano, who will leave Joe Gibbs Racing for Penske Racing’s No. 22 ride. Although he finished 19th at Kansas on Sunday, he’s placed in the top 10 in four of his last six races.
PIT STOPS AJ Allmendinger is back in the car for Phoenix Racing this weekend at Martinsville. Allmendinger finished a career-best second there in the spring for Penske Racing. ... Points leader Brad Keselowski has an average finish of 13.4 in five previous starts there. ... Jimmie Johnson, second in the points, has six wins at Martinsville and has finished outside the top 10 there only twice since 2002 (20 races). ... Denny Hamlin, third in the points, has four Martinsville victories and only two finishes outside the top 20 there since 2005 (14 races).
Popular driver will sit out at least two NASCAR events after Talladega wreck
Dale Earnhardt Jr. and team owner Rick Hendrick. (ASP, Inc.)
Hendrick Motorsports announced on Thursday that driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. will sit out the upcoming NASCAR Sprint Cup races at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway after suffering a concussion at Talladega on Sunday.
In a release, the company stated that Earnhardt was diagnosed with a concussion Wednesday afternoon in Charlotte and that Regan Smith will serve as the No. 88 team’s substitute driver in his absence.
Earnhardt currently sits 11th in the Chase for the Championship, a distant 51 points behind leader Brad Keselowski. Earnhardt was involved in a final-lap crash in the Oct. 7 Good Sam 500 that also collected 24 other cars.
Earnhardt revealed that he suffered an initial concussion during a wreck on Aug. 29 while conducting a tire test at Kansas Speedway.
“I decided to push through it,” Earnhardt said of the concussion at Kansas. “I’d had concussions before and knew exactly what I was dealing with. I felt pretty good after a week or two and definitely 80 to 90 percent by the time the Chase started (Sept. 23) and by the time we got to Talladega I felt 100 percent.”
Earnhardt said that while the impact at Talladega was roughly half as hard as the Kansas hit, the proximity of the two concussions raised concerns.
“If you have more than one in a small period of time you need to take that quite seriously. The one in Kansas was really bad and to get shaken up so quickly (at Talladega) over something so trivial—that one shook me up and I thought I should take that seriously.
“I knew that I had sort of regressed and had a bit of a setback. You know how your body is and if something is not quite right. I knew as soon as it happened that I had re-injured myself.
“I went a couple days wondering how my body would react and sort of waited for it to process what was happening. I was still having some headaches — that was really the only symptom I was having. So I took it upon myself to contact my sister (Kelley Earnhardt Miller) and we talked about seeing a neurosurgeon and ended up getting steered toward Dr. Petty.”
Dr. Jerry Petty is a Charlotte neurosurgeon that consults for NASCAR as well as the NFL’s Carolina Panthers. Dr. Petty stressed that an MRI on Earnhardt came back normal, meaning no damage was found.
After conducting tests, Earnhardt explained that Petty spent the night thinking about the situation and decided he could not clear the 38-year-old to race.
“His neurological exam was normal. He had no amnesia after either incident, which is very important,” Petty said. “We want to give him four or five days without a headache and then we’ll try to invoke a headache. Then we’ll 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.”
Earnhardt said that he did not seek medical advice about the concussion he suffered at Kansas and that he regretted not doing so.
“I was stubborn and I’d had concussions before and thought I knew what I was dealing with. I felt like I was capable of doing my job and I had called Steve (Letarte, crew chief) and we talked about how I was feeling, but I really wouldn’t know if I would be able to compete until I got in the car.
“When you have a concussion the symptoms can be really mild and then they’ll typically go away after a couple of days and you feel perfectly normal. But when you get in a car and go around a track at a high rate of speed, you start to understand that some things aren’t quite where they need to be; some reactions just aren’t as sharp.”
He was hesitant to get checked out with his team being in championship contention.
“If I was to volunteer myself to medical attention and be removed from the car, I didn’t know how difficult it’d be to get back in.”
Team owner Rick Hendrick praised Earnhardt for taking action.
“One thing everyone admires about Dale is how honest and up-front he is,” Hendrick said. “When he knew there was something not right, he went to see Dr. Petty. We were so happy yesterday that the MRI was completely normal—that no damage had been done.
“He has a lot of years left to race. And I applaud Dale for getting checked out.”
In 2002, Earnhardt admitted that he had raced for months with a concussion suffered at Auto Club Speedway earlier in the season. Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR Senior Vice President of Racing Operations, addressed the subject of drivers not revealing injury, saying, “You saw a driver (Earnhardt) who is racing for a championship, who is our most popular driver, get up here and ask to go see a doctor and get out of a car. That takes a lot of guts. I think it also shows where our sport has come, and they know that safety is first and foremost.”
He also outlined NASCAR’s procedure in evaluating injuries—specifically concussions:
“First and foremost, a driver is evaluated in the (track’s) infield care center where we've got board certified emergency technicians or doctors. If the driver complains of any symptoms or if the emergency room physician believes there may be symptoms, we refer them to a neurologist—in most cases, it is Dr. Petty.
“At that point he's required to go through the tests, then it's up to our neurologists to make the call on whether or not that driver's going to be back. We (NASCAR) take ourselves out of that, and rely on our doctors to make the call on whether or not the driver could be back.”
In missing the upcoming events, Earnhardt will not only be eliminated from title contention—although his chances were slim as it was—but he will break a streak of 461 consecutive Cup Series starts. The streak was the fifth longest among active drivers.
“I'm really going to feel pretty odd not being in the car,” Earnhardt said. “I'm real anxious just to get back into the car and get back. I think you learn not to take things for granted, and I just hate that this has caused such a fuss.”