Hendrick Motorsports driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. announced Thursday that he will not compete in this weekend’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at New Hampshire Motor Speedway after experiencing concussion-like symptoms. Alex Bowman will be the team’s substitute driver this weekend.
In an emailed team release, the organization said Earnhardt evaluated this week in Charlotte and Thursday was not cleared by physicians to race.
“I wasn’t feeling great the week going into Kentucky (Speedway) and thought it was possibly severe allergies,” Earnhardt said. “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,” he added. “I’m looking forward to treatment with the goal of getting back in the race car when the doctors say I’m ready.”
Earnhardt has been diagnosed with at least three concussions during his racing career. He suffered a concussion at the Fontana race in April of 2002 but didn’t reveal the injury until September of that same year as he continued to race. In 2012 Earnhardt suffered two more concussions in the span of six weeks. He self-diagnosed after a hard crash during a tire test at Kansas Speedway, then after another big crash at Talladega Superspeedway. After that crash, Earnhardt went to a doctor for an evaluation and was forced to sit out two races in October because of the injury.
This past March Earnhardt Jr. said on social media that he would donate his brain for concussion research after his death. NASCAR’s most popular driver made the pronouncement on Twitter in an almost matter of fact manner, tweeting, “I’m donating everything one way or another.”
Recently Earnhardt was involved in a multi-car crash at Daytona on July 2. In June Earnhardt crashed in the race at Michigan. He failed to finish at Michigan, and struggled to a 21st place finish at Daytona. Earnhardt wasn’t a factor last Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway, starting and finishing 13th.
The team said a timetable for Earnhardt’s return has not determined. Hendrick Motorsports said it will provide an update next week regarding plans for the July 24 event at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“I’m proud of Dale for standing up,” said Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports. “The number-one priority is his health, so we’re going to give him all the time he needs. 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 Greg (Ives) and the team, and we know they’ll do a great job.”
The issues with athletes and concussions centers on chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) – a degenerative brain disease associated with head injuries. Evidence is mounting that repeated head injuries and concussions many pro athletes suffer can lead to (CTE). The debilitating disease is marked by depression, dementia, and other Alzheimer’s-like symptoms. The disease can only be diagnosed after death. Those who have been diagnosed are NFL stars Frank Gifford and Ken Stabler, who were diagnosed with CTE after their deaths.