The right thing to do isn’t always the easiest thing to do. Just ask Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
The 38-year-old driver suffered the first of two concussions in a five-week span when he spun in a tire test at Kansas on August 29th and then suffered the second one when he was involved in the 25-car wreck on the last lap at Talladega this past Sunday. Due to the multiple concussions, Earnhardt, Jr. will now miss the next two races in the NASCAR Sprint Cup season and has ended any chance he had at winning his first series championship.
While the decision to hold Earnhardt, Jr. out of the two races ultimately fell in the hands of Dr. Jerry Petty, the neurosurgeon would never have had the opportunity to make the call had the driver not been upfront and honest about his symptoms. In a culture where athletes seem to be more concerned with playing the game than worrying about their health, Earnhardt, Jr. made what might have been the toughest decision of his career when he went to Dr. Petty.
Earnhardt, Jr. said in his press conference on Thursday – which was aired live on Speed Channel – that he had felt better week by week after the wreck at Kansas and by the time the Chase started, he said he felt 100%. After suffering from headaches following the Talladega wreck – remember, he was rubbing his head throughout post-race interviews – he consulted with Dr. Petty and had some tests run.
“I contacted my sister, and we talked about seeing a neurosurgeon, and we ended up getting steered toward Dr. Petty,” Earnhardt, Jr. said. “Met with him, ran through a couple tests, everything was checking out, and did an MRI, everything looked good there. But I was really honest with him about how I felt and honest with him about the whole process from Kansas all the way on.
“He spent the night thinking about what we discussed and everything that we did on Wednesday and couldn’t clear me to race this weekend. I trust his opinion. That’s why I went to see him. He’s been a good friend of mine for a long time and has helped me through a lot of injuries before, so I believe when he tells me I don’t need to be in the car and I need to take a couple weeks off that that’s what I need to do.”
Most drivers would have tried to keep it to themselves that they were feeling the effects of a concussion, especially drivers who are in the middle of a run to try and claim a championship. But Earnhardt, Jr. allowed himself to seek another opinion after he knew that something just wasn’t right. He knew that having two concussions that close together was a serious issue, but also knew that if it was up to him, he would probably race this weekend.
“I knew having them two concussions back-to-back was not a good thing so I needed to go see somebody regardless of whether I wanted to get out of the car or not,” Earnhardt, Jr. said. “Just for my own well-being, I couldn’t — if I didn’t need to go get in a race car and get hit again, I needed somebody to tell me that because I was going to have a hard time making that decision for myself. I feel perfectly fine, but I don’t want to keep getting hit in the head.”
Had the decision been up to Earnhardt, Jr. on whether or not he could race this weekend, the driver would probably be sitting in the car when the green flag drops. But the one thing that should be admired about Earnhardt, Jr. is that he used his head and not his heart when it came to being in a racecar this weekend and beyond. He showed that he understands exactly what he is facing and that concussions are nothing to be taken lightly.
“It’s frustrating – I really didn’t get to make the decision,” Earnhardt, Jr. said. “I left it in the hands of the docs, and I’m going to do what they tell me to do. But it’s frustrating; I just enjoy driving cars week in and week out. I would love to race this weekend, and I feel perfectly normal and feel like I could compete if I were allowed to compete this weekend.”
Knowing how tough it was for Earnhardt, Jr. to contact a neurosurgeon and possibly put his season in doubt, team owner Rick Hendrick said that Earnhardt, Jr.’s honesty is one thing that people admire most about him.
“He cares a lot about the team, his fans and the sport in general,” Hendrick said. “But when he knew that there was something not right, he went to see Dr. Petty here, and I admire him. And for these two guys (Earnhardt, Jr. and crew chief Steve LeTarte) to have the kind of year they’ve had, to lead the points and get in the Chase, we’ve got a lot of years left to race, I always want to be on the side of safety, and I applaud Dale for raising his hand and going in there and getting checked out.”
It would have been easy for Earnhardt, Jr. to just ignore the headaches and play them off as just a normal ache and pain that are associated with any type of wreck, but especially one at Talladega. But instead of being stubborn, the driver knew that it was in his best interest to seek help from a medical professional.
You may not be a fan of Dale Earnhardt, Jr., but you have to respect that the driver had enough common sense to know that something was wrong and to get it checked out instead of just getting back into the car and putting himself – and others – in danger.
It just might be the best decision of Earnhardt, Jr.’s career.
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