Dale Earnhardt Jr. out indefinitely with concussion-like symptoms

ByBob Pockrass ESPN logo
Friday, July 15, 2016

LOUDON, N.H. --Dale Earnhardt Jr. will miss the Sprint Cup race this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway because of concussion-like symptoms. He will be replaced by Alex Bowman, the team announced Thursday afternoon.

Earnhardt, who missed two races in 2012 because of a concussion, has had two wrecksin a three-race stretch from June 12 to July 2.

There is no timetable for the return of the 41-year-old Earnhardt, who is winless and sits 14th in the Chase-qualifying standings with a 34-point lead on 16th-place Trevor Bayne, the first driver who would miss the Chase for the Sprint Cup in the current cutoff based on wins and points.

"I wasn't feeling great the week going into Kentucky [Speedway] and thought it was possibly severe allergies," Earnhardt said in a statement. "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."

Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick said he was proud of Dale "for standing up."

"The No. 1 priority is his health, so we're going to give him all the time he needs," Hendrick added. "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 [crew chief] Greg Ives and the team, and we know they'll do a great job."

Earnhardt crashed June 12 at Michigan while battling for position with Chris Buescher and AJ Almendinger. While the crash didn't appear that hard -- the right side of the car banged against the wall -- it did do enough damage to keep Earnhardt from returning to the race. Just 13 days later, Earnhardt was involved in the 22-car pileup at Daytona, but he was able to continue as his car hit a couple of others while driving through the melee.

Earnhardt is possibly the most knowledgeable of all Sprint Cup drivers on concussions, and he has pledged to donate his brain to the Concussion Legacy Foundation in partnership with Boston University. His knowledge comes from his experiences in 2012.

He sustained a concussion in August 2012, when he crashed into the wall after having a tire blow out during a Kansas Speedway test, and he has described that injury as more of a typical concussion that caused him to be foggy. The next one, in October that year, happened when he was tagged and spun around quickly a few times, causing an injury around the brain stem. That concussion caused severe anxiety that prompted him to visit doctors and resulted in missing two races.

Earnhardt spent time with Dr. Michael Collins at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Concussion Program. Collins developed the ImPACT neurological assessment tool that athletes take to determine whether they should return to action after a concussion.

NASCAR now requires drivers to take a baseline ImPACT test once every two years so that it can be used to judge whether a driver can return to competition. While some drivers have scoffed at using the ImPACT as its tool to determine driver eligibility, Earnhardt has been a staunch supporter of those efforts.

"It makes perfect sense to make it mandatory," Earnhardt said in February 2013. "It was nice of them to look into ways they could protect us from ourselves, really.

"There was a lot of good information I learned throughout that whole process. There's no way to diagnose concussions, but this is a good standard for being able to measure one."

In order to return to NASCAR, Earnhardt would need to be cleared by a NASCAR-approved neurologist or neurosurgeon who has treated sports-related head injuries for at least five years. Hendrick Motorsports has not determined whether Bowman would continue driving in place of Earnhardt if Earnhardt has to miss races beyond this weekend.

Bowman drives part-time for Earnhardt's JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series. The 23-year-old Bowman spent the 2014 and 2015 seasons driving for the underfunded Sprint Cup teams BK Racing and Tommy Baldwin Racing. He has 71 career Cup starts with a best finish of 13th at Daytona in July 2014.