Thursday Hendrick Motorsports announced that Dale Earnhardt Jr. would be sitting out this weekend’s activities due to medical advice after suffering concussion-like symptoms. Friday Morning at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Hendrick Motorsports General Manager Doug Duchardt, along with crew chief of Earnhardt’s No. 88 Chevrolet Greg Ives, and driver Alex Bowman, who will replace Earnhardt Sunday, met with the media. Below is the transcript of that press conference.
The session was moderated by David Higdon VP of NASCAR Integrated Marketing Communications.
DAVID HIGDON:“I wanted to start off providing a little bit of background on NASCAR’s concussion protocol. As you know, NASCAR requires drivers to submit a baseline neurocognitive assessment such as an impact test. And again those are only one tool as a prerequisite for being licensed to compete. This mandate filed a comprehensive industry-wide education process launched by NASCAR in 2013. Additionally, NASCAR’s medical advisory group, a team of consulting physicians who work directly with the league on policy development while regularly meeting with drivers to continue the education process includes many leaders in the neurological field such as Dr. Vinay Deshmukh of the Carolina Neurosurgery & Spine Associates.
“Another important element worth noting in the process is the active role our drivers and teams take in monitoring their health. Drivers approach this responsibility very seriously, and that ultimately benefits their entire team, the sport, and their fellow competitors. We applaud Dale Earnhardt Jr. for being a great example, dating back to 2012, where he chose not to race in Charlotte and in Kansas during the Chase; and has made that decision this weekend, as well. I will turn it over to Mr. Duchardt, who has some opening remarks related to the process that led to Dale making the decision not to compete this weekend.”
DOUG DUCHARDT:“So, I just wanted to lay out kind of what the timeline was for us and how the week went. There are a lot of questions, I know, on how we got to this point. At Kentucky, Dale started talking to Greg (Ives) that he wasn’t really right. And I think as Dale pointed out in the (Hendrick Motorsports) statement, he felt like he had a cold or the flu or some sort of sinus infection that was causing him to not feel well.
“On Tuesday morning, he notified Greg and me before our competition meeting, that he still wasn’t feeling real well. He had gone to the doctor to try to understand what he had going on. Again, he thought he had some sort of sinus infection. At that point, he told Greg and me to be thinking about potential backup plans if we had to put someone in the car to backfill for him; like he would start the car and we might have a replacement driver after he started the car to have a contingency plan for that.
“And at that point, that’s when Dale and Greg and I felt like Alex (Bowman) was the right person. He’s run the Xfinity car. He’s done a good job in that car. He is part of the JR Motorsports system and part of our system. And so, Greg reached out to Alex. Alex came in Tuesday night to get fitted for the car. And at that time, it was in the contingency that he would have to backfill for Dale after Dale started the race.
“Dale then went and saw a team of neurologists; and in the past two days has been going through some tests. Yesterday around noon is when I found out that Dale could not be in the car for this weekend based on their suggestion. And of course as Rick (Hendrick) said, we 100 percent support that; and as Dave (Higdon) said we’re proud of him making that decision. The most important thing in this whole process is for Dale to get better and feel better; and we’re going to let that happen on the timeline it’s going to happen on. And so, basically, less than 24 hours ago we found out that Dale couldn’t run. We had Alex lined up to be in the car. It made perfect sense. And I have confidence that he and Greg will go a good job this weekend.”
FOR YOU, ALEX, A LOT HAS OBVIOUSLY HAPPENED IN THE LAST 12 HOURS. SHARE WITH US YOUR APPROACH THIS WEEKEND. YOU ARE EXPERIENCED IN SPRINT CUP OVER THE LAST COUPLE OF YEARS AND HOW THAT MAY APPLY TO YOUR RACING THIS WEEKEND HERE IN NEW HAMPSHIRE
ALEX BOWMAN:“Yeah, it’s been a crazy 12 hours for sure. I think the first time Greg called me I was at work, so I didn’t even answer. But it’s definitely not the circumstances that I want to get an opportunity like this. But obviously I’m hoping Dale feels better, but at the same time it’s the best opportunity I’ve ever had in my life. I’m ready to just plug into their program and do my job. I’ll give them the best feedback I can and go from there. I’m really confident in the whole team. Obviously they bring great race cars to the track every weekend, so if I just do my job I feel like we would be good to plug into it.”
IN THE OFFICIAL STATEMENT FROM HENDRICK WAS THAT DALE EARNHARDT JR. WAS NOT CLEARED TO RACE. AND IN DALE’S QUOTE, HE SAID THE DOCTORS FELT IT WAS BEST THAT HE DIDN’T RACE. ULTIMATELY, WHO’S DECISION WAS IT? WOULD THE DOCTORS NOT HAVE CLEARED HIM? HOW WOULD THAT HAVE ALL GONE DOWN?
DOUG DUCHARDT:“I guess I wasn’t in the room when all that happened. It’s my understanding that Dale was told that he shouldn’t race. And he knew he wasn’t feeling well and had concerns about being in the car and running the whole race earlier in the week, just based on how he was feeling. And then I think as he gained more knowledge he found out to get healed he needed to be out of the car. So, I wasn’t in the middle of those conversations to know the exact wording, but I think the joint between Dale and his doctors, the best thing for him to get better is to get out of the car.”
ULTIMATELY IT WOULD HAVE BEEN HIS DECISION?
DOUG DUCHARDT:“I don’t know. I wasn’t there.”
IS THERE ANY CONCERN THAT THIS COULD BE CAREER-THREATING OR CAREER-ENDING FOR DALE? ALSO, DID YOU ALL TALK AND WOULD YOU CONSIDER ASKING JEFF GORDON TO GET IN THE CAR?
DOUG DUCHARDT:“I’m not going to speculate on Dale’s future. Again, the most important thing is for this process to play out for him to feel better. And at the end of all that, what’s the right thing to do will become clear when more knowledge is gained on how he is feeling.
“As far as Jeff Gordon’s situation, certainly he’s a four-time champion with 93 wins, he’s not a bad person to think about to put in the car. This week he’s in France. And obviously the way the week went, we didn’t even think we were going to need a replacement driver. We just thought we were going to need a backup driver. However, if Dale is not able to go to Indianapolis, we will put Jeff Gordon in the car.”
DOUG DUCHARDT:“That’s for sure if Dale’s not ready. Obviously when Dale is ready, that’s his car to get back into. But if Dale can’t go next week, Jeff Gordon will be the driver at Indianapolis.”
WHAT KIND OF CONVERSATIONS HAVE YOU HAD WITH DALE? HE MENTIONED MICHIGAN AND DAYTONA. WERE YOU AWARE AT THAT TIME THAT HE HAD MAYBE HIT HIS HEAD OR THAT IT WAS VIOLENT? WHAT KIND OF CONVERSATIONS HAVE YOU HAD WITH HIM?
GREG IVES:“No, with Michigan and Daytona, I don’t know any of those scenarios for him to say that he didn’t feel well there. Basically the timeline of what Doug (Duchardt) spoke about is basically how it all came about to me. That’s how we gained the knowledge about Dale’s condition and how he felt. Really, just based on allergies and potential sinus infection is kind of where he thought he was having some issues. So, speculating back then, I don’t know because that wasn’t even on the top of my mind.”
YOU ARE NOT GOING TO SPECULATE ABOUT CAREER ENDING, WHAT HAVE THE DOCTORS SAID? IS THERE ANY LIGHT OF INDIANAPOLIS? THERE ARE A LOT OF QUESTIONS ABOUT WHETHER YOUNG DRIVERS WOULD EVEN RECOGNIZE A CONCUSSION IF DALE, JR. WHO IS SO SCHOOLED IN IT WOULD THINK IT’S AN ALLERGY. IS IT SOMETHING HE IS PICKING UP ON THAT OTHERS WOULDN’T?
DOUG DUCHARDT:“I think Dale has become more aware over the years and I think to his credit and I think this is important, and I think I’ve heard this in some of the dialogue since the announcement. The only person that knows how you feel is yourself, anyone to know; ‘well I don’t feel right today’ has to be you. No one else can do that for you, so you have to be self-aware of how your body responds. Everyone is different. For Dale, I could tell that when he called me Tuesday it was a tough conversation because I know for him, as much as he is doing the right thing and he knows he is doing the right thing for himself. I know he feels bad that he feels like he is letting Greg (Ives, crew chief) and the team down, but that is just natural. And that is how any of us would feel. That is how the sport has been for a lot of years. I think one of the good things that has come about is this point system and the way we approach… in the previous, way back before the Chase, missing a race basically insured that you weren’t going to get a championship. I think now, NASCAR’s system has allowed you to take a step back if you aren’t feeling well or something happened in an incident on the track and then you can come and hopefully… we will apply for a waiver when the time is right and hopefully still have a potential of moving forward. But, the important thing is Dale recognized he had something going on and took a step out. How that is for younger drivers or younger people, I think it’s not only drivers, it is football players, it is baseball players; it’s anyone in sport, anyone that falls off a scooter. Do you know if something happened to you? Maybe until it happens a couple of times, I haven’t had it so it’s hard for me to speculate.”
IS THERE ANY SERIOUS INDICATION THAT HE EVEN SUFFERED A CONCUSSION AT MICHIGAN OR DAYTONA OR IS THIS PART OF A LINGERING PROBLEM FROM PREVIOUS INCIDENTS? WHILE WE ARE HERE THIS WEEKEND IS HE CONTINUING TO UNDERGO TESTS?
DOUG DUCHARDT:“I think the first part of your question it is really hard for me to say on that. Nothing was said to us after Michigan or Daytona. So, we didn’t know of anything until he started talking to Greg about not feeling quite right in Kentucky. Then Tuesday was the first time he talked to me. I can’t say regarding Michigan and Daytona.
“I think this weekend; he is just, per doctor’s orders laying low like most people in these situations, minimum stimulation and just work to get better and keep activities down.”
IS HE GOING THROUGH A SIMILAR PROTOCOL TO WHAT HE FOLLOWED IN 2012?
DOUG DUCHARDT: “I haven’t been exposed to what he and his doctors have said and what the plan is. I haven’t spoken to Dale. That is between him and is doctors. I don’t know what he is doing.”
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT WHAT A CHAMPION DALE, JR. HAS BEEN FOR YOU IN YOUR CAREER?
ALEX BOWMAN: “I think I can really thank Dale, Jr. for saving my career two years ago pretty much, with those two Xfinity races at Charlotte and Phoenix, and then for the opportunity to run nine races this year with him. Obviously, we have been knocking on the door to get some wins and it has been a lot of fun. He has been a good friend to me. He has been somebody that I can lean on all the time. Obviously, I hate to see him not feeling well. That was my first thought but, he has done a lot for my career and I couldn’t be any more thankful than I am. I owe him a lot. It’s just been an honor to get the phone call to fill in for him.”
CAN YOU PUT SOME KIND OF TIMELINE ON NEXT WEEK WHEN A DECISION WOULD HAVE TO BE MADE DALE OR JEFF?
DOUG DUCHARDT: “I would say probably around Wednesday. For Greg and the team, certainly the way Jeff sits in the car and what we have to do to prepare the car for Jeff they have to get ready for that. But, I think I would be looking around Wednesday time frame.”
DO YOU THINK JEFF MIGHT DRIVE GOING FORWARD IF THIS EXTENDS OVER A PERIOD OF WEEKS?
DOUG DUCHARDT: “I really don’t want to speculate past Indy. I think we just want to take it one race at a time here. I think putting any speculation past that is assuming that Dale is not going to be ready for that amount of time. We will obviously be thinking about contingency plans, but we don’t have anything formalized for sure past Indy.”
IN A TOUGH SITUATION THIS IS A UNIQUE OPPORTUNITY FOR YOU. HOW DO YOU BALANCE TRYING TO SHOW WHAT YOU CAN DO IN THIS RACE WHILE ALSO NOT GETTING OVER BOARD CRASHING THE CAR WHERE IS THAT LINE FOR YOU?
ALEX BOWMAN: “Kind of like what I was saying at first, my job is just to plug in to the No. 88 race team and do… I’m not here to try to be Dale Earnhardt, Jr. I’m my own person, but I just need to plug in and give them the best feedback I can. Just be a part of their program in a similar way that Dale would be. I just have to do my job. I’m not here to… obviously, I would like to impress people, but I’m not going to do anything crazy. I’m just here to plug into their race team.”
THE RELEASE SAYS CONCUSSION SYMPTOMS HAS HE BEEN DIAGNOSED WITH A CONCUSSIONS? CAN YOU OFFER ANY CLARITY THERE? TYING INTO THAT WITH THE MANDATORY BASELINE TESTING THAT NASCAR INSTITUTED A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO DO YOU UNDERSTAND FROM THEM HOW THAT WILL DETERMINE WHETHER HE IS ABLE TO COME BACK?
DOUG DUCHARDT: “I think the difficult thing for me is that I don’t know all those details. The reason is that is between Dale and his doctors. It’s not for me to know all those details. Dale and his doctors made the decision that this is the right thing for him to do this weekend; and moving forward until he is better. I don’t know the details of what the diagnosis is and I don’t know that I need to because that is really between them to sort that out. He is doing what they suggested to try to get better. We will see where all that takes us.”
HAVE YOU GOTTEN ANY INDICATION FROM NASCAR HOW BASELINE TESTING MIGHT COME INTO PLAY?
DOUG DUCHARDT: “No, I have not. We have not talked about that yet, no.”
DAVID HIGDON, MODERATOR: “Just some clarity on that too. For a competitor to return to racing in NASCAR, we need to receive a notice from an independent board certified neurologist. That would be our expectation that the driver is prepared and able to compete in our sport.”
OBVIOUSLY YOU ARE BATTLING TO GET INTO THE CHASE. THIS IS OBVIOUSLY GOING TO BE A SET-BACK TO THAT. HOW DOES YOUR TEAM REACT TO THAT? OR IS IT NOT EVEN PART OF YOUR THINKING BECAUSE YOU JUST WANT THE GUY BACK IN YOUR CAR?
GREG IVES: “Really the first thing that comes to mind has nothing to do with championship, wins or the racing side of it. It’s always understanding what Dale is going through, which I can’t because I have never been through that, but just making sure that he gets better, supporting him and his decision. It takes a lot to come out and address some of the health concerns that he had. I really commend him for that. The whole time it’s not about who are we going to get to back fill, what we are going to do when he does come back it’s all about him getting better on a timeline that is satisfied to him. Not anything to do with the Chase, not anything to do with points or anything like that. Our team supports him 100 percent. We have a relationship that goes beyond driver. That is something that is more important than anything.
ARE YOU COMFORTABLE WITH THE PROTOCOL AND THE WAY THAT THIS HAPPENS WHERE THE DRIVER IS PRETTY MUCH RESPONSIBLE FOR LETTING NASCAR KNOW ABOUT THEIR HEALTH? I’M CURIOUS IF YOU CHECKED G-FORCES FROM DATA RECORDERS FROM THESE PAST WRECKS TO SEE IF THERE WAS ANY INDICATIONS? ALSO, IF DALE, JR. MISSES TWO OR THREE RACES, SOME WOULD SAY THERE ISN’T A TON TO RACE FOR THE REST OF THE YEAR IF HE’S NOT IN THE CHASE. WOULD THAT FACTOR INTO ANY DECISION ON WHEN HE COMES BACK?
DOUG DUCHARDT: “Okay, let’s see, first on the g’s and the crash recorders. To my knowledge we haven’t pulled all this, but obviously the last two or three days when all of this has come up and obviously that is data that NASCAR has that we would have to ask them and they would have to be willing to share. They usually are very good about that. But, to my knowledge we haven’t done that yet. The point is you have to learn from everything. I’m sure we will go back and take a look at what those g’s were.”
WITH POINTS AND WHERE HE IS AT IN THE SEASON WOULD THAT HELP DETERMINE…
DOUG DUCHARDT: “Yeah, I’m not going to speculate on the ‘what if’s’ on all that stuff. The point is as we gain information through this we will look at the scenario as it moves, whether it’s short term or long term. But, until we get to that point I’m not going to speculate on what we are going to do.”
DID YOU HAVE DISCUSSIONS WITH DALE THAT YOU NOTICED THAT ANYTHING SEEMED AWRY? THE ALLERGY WOULD THAT JUST BE LIKE A HEADACHE THAT HE HAD?
GREG IVES: “As far as that goes, I do not know, I’m not a doctor I work on racecars and computers all day. As far as him and our relationship at the race track, I didn’t notice anything different other than him telling me he was not feeling well. Anything beyond that I do not have an idea of what is going on, other than tight, loose and what he tells me on that side of things. Like Doug has probably highlighted before it’s really up to the individual to know how they feel. I may be sick one day and not tell Dale and he may not know unless I tell him. It’s really hard to say.
WHEN IS THE FIRST TIME YOU HAD ANY INDICATION OTHER THAN MAYBE HE HAS SOME SORT OF ALLERGY THAT IT MIGHT BE SOMETHING MORE SERIOUS?
GREG IVES: “Really, it was as Doug put it. Tuesday he said he was going to get checked out and Wednesday is really when he started thinking that it might have been something more serious, but we didn’t know until Thursday until about noon that he was going to be out of the car for that reason.
DOUG DUCHARDT: “I will just say Tuesday’s we have our competition meeting. He shows up and he is just normal Dale. It was Mexican day so he was in a good mood. If you sat down and listened to him discuss the Kentucky race, you guys know him well enough; you would just think it’s no different. The same thing every week the way he is.
DO YOU KNOW WHAT THE SYMPTOMS WERE? DID HE HAVE HEADACHES? WHAT WERE THE ALLERGY SYMPTOMS?DOUG DUCHARDT: “I think he just felt a lot of pressure.”