Dale Earnhardt Jr. set to return, says you can’t ignore concussions

October 26, 2012

Dale Jr. is back at the track. (Rainier Ehrhardt / Getty Images)

Dale Earnhardt Jr. wanted to race the last two weekends in Charlotte and Kansas, and had he chosen to keep quiet about his headaches, he could have. Instead, Earnhardt spent the last two weeks away from the track dealing with a pair of concussions.

Three days before he is set to return to NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series, Earnhardt said he made the right decision.

“I hate the attention it got,” Earnhardt said Friday at Martinsville Speedway in his first press conference since his concussions were reported (via ESPN). “I hate being in front of you guys here talking about it. But I’m glad I did what I did, took the time off, made the choices I made. I had to do it. I knew something wasn’t right. You can’t (ignore) concussions. It’s really dangerous doing that.”

Neurosurgeon Dr. Jerry Petty ruled NASCAR’s most popular driver out for two weeks after Earnhardt complained of a lingering headache following a 25-car pileup on the Oct. 7 Sprint Cup race at Talledega. Petty diagnosed Earnhardt with his second concussion in three months — the first came in an Aug. 29 crash and went untreated.

Petty re-examined Earnhardt this week and cleared him to return for Sunday’s race. Earnhardt will wear a new Stilo Motorsports Helmet instead of the Impact Racing helmet he has previously used, a switch he said he had planned even before the crash.

“I feel fortunate to have recovered from this concussion quickly, and I feel lucky I made the choices I did,” Earnhardt said Friday. “Had I tried to push through it like I did the other ones I was putting myself in a lot of danger.”

After the wreck at Talladega, Earnhardt dropped to 11th in Chase points. After two weeks off, he now trails leader Brad Keselowski by 122 points.

Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon commended Earnhardt for his handling of the injury and the the positive impact he could have on the rest of the sport.

“Just continue to applaud him in the decision that he made,” Gordon said, “and I think he can come back now feeling very positive about how he handled the situation as well as be a positive impact on the rest of us, and how we’d hopefully handle that same situation.”

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Matt Brooks | October 26, 2012