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Peers To Junior: We Hear Ya

Deb Williams | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, October 11 2012

Brad Keselowski says he understands why Dale Earnhardt Jr. did what he did. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Gregg Ellman)

CONCORD, N.C. – Several NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers said Thursday it’s their responsibility to get checked by a doctor when they believe they have suffered a concussion, but admitted it’s a difficult step to take knowing they may not be cleared to drive.

“For any race car driver not being in the car is your worst fear; it’s the nightmare that you have,” said standings leader Brad Keselowski. “Concussions are mostly self-described or whatever you want to call that, self-policed, and that only you know how bad they are. Everybody has got their own code. The difference in our sport versus [football and hockey] is that when you’re unable to make great decisions or you lose your focus, the potential is there for others to get hurt where that doesn’t necessarily exist in football. In racing, if you can’t focus, you knock the wall down or you wreck somebody.”

The drivers’ comments were in response to Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s announcement Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway that he would not compete in the next two NASCAR Sprint Cup races due to suffering two concussions in the last six weeks. The first came in a tire test Aug. 29 at Kansas Speedway. The most recent was Sunday on the final lap of a 25-car pileup at Talladega Superspeedway. During the press conference, neurosurgeon Dr. Jerry Petty said 90 percent of a concussion diagnoses depends on individual information.

“There are some athletes that are more prone for concussions,” five-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson said. “Clearly, racing is one. Hockey, football, and you get into some of those contact sports where you, as an athlete, have to know whether you’re right or not. I think in some cases, even if you are right, you could work your way through some of these different evaluations and not say anything and just try to get better on your own.

“I credit Junior for being aware of how he feels and what’s going on. It’s going to be a tough week for him, especially as the week goes on. To come so far all year long, for himself and that team, and the sponsors associated and everybody involved, it’s a sad day that he’s going to be out.”

Earnhardt Jr. was seventh in the standings, 39 points behind Keselowski when Petty told him he would not clear him to race for the next two weeks. Saturday’s Bank of America 500 at CMS will be the first NASCAR Sprint Cup race without an Earnhardt since the 1979 Southern 500 at Darlington, S.C.

“Concussions are a tricky thing, as we all know,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to make sure that he’s right so if he is in the car and does have another crash that it doesn’t set him back any further.”

Some drivers could cite when they suffered a concussion.

Johnson said he suffered one or two concussions on dirt bikes when he was young and it was easy then not to race. However, it was different when he suffered a hard hit at Watkins Glen when the brakes failed on his car.

“I literally got in my truck and was going to drive to the race shop,” Johnson said. “I got on I-77 and went north [should have gone south] and ended up at Interstate 40…before I realized where I was going. I made a phone call and drove myself to the doctor and got checked out. At that point, once I was on the books, I had to be cleared before I got back in the race car.”

The drivers also said they weren’t concerned about competing in an event with someone who may have suffered a concussion but not acknowledged it.

“A large portion of the sport is based on trust and that’s why it’s such a tight-knit community,” Keselowski said.

Yet, Gordon admitted that if he was leading the standings, on the verge of winning a championship, with two races to go he wouldn’t admit to anyone that he possibly had a concussion.

“That’s why I say we [NASCAR, NASCAR liaisons, track safety crews, drivers and teams] all play a part in this,” Gordon said. “ If I have a shot at the championship and there’s two races to go, and my head is hurting and I just came through a wreck, I’m feeling signs of it but I’m still leading the points I’m not going to say anything. I’m sorry. That’s the competitor in me and probably many other guys. That’s not the way it should be, but it is something that most of us would do. I think that’s what gets a lot of us in trouble.”

– Deb Williams can be reached at dwilliams@racintoday.com

Deb Williams | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, October 11 2012
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  • Robert says:

    Some good points made by Johnson, Gordon and Kes.

    Good luck to Jr. Hope he gets back soon.

    Good luck to Regan Smith, AJ and Kurt too. It’d be cool if they finished 1, 2, 3, no matter the order.