Sitting Out Means Earnhardt Jr. Wants to Feel Safe Behind the Wheel, and Protect His Fellow Drivers
Feeling safe at the work place is critical no matter what the job entails. Whether it's the pizza maker tossing the dough and toppings, or the bouncer at the club looking for potential trouble, feeling safe is a big priority.
In NASCAR, feeling safe is not just critical, it's required. NASCAR takes so many safety measures at the track to ensure drivers, crews and fans are safe, and they don't have to worry about getting injured.
But what happens when an injury or potential threat isn't seen, felt, or even recognized?
That's what forced Dale Earnhardt Jr. to sit out the next two races, ending his run to win the 2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup. He wasn't parked by NASCAR, or suspended by his owner. Instead, something that he experienced put him on the sidelines.
Earnhardt Jr. was diagnosed with a concussion following the melee that ended Sunday's race at Talladega. The 20-car pileup at the end of the race included Junior, Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson and many others. But, Junior began to feel something wasn't right long before the chaos on lap 189.
His accident testing at Kansas was the beginning, but Talladega was the ending.
A concussion in NASCAR is not something heard of very often because drivers are so protected while in the car itself. The headrests, helmets, safety devices and even the seats are meant to keep drivers safe and secure in the event of an accident. But, things can still go wrong, and Earnhardt Jr. showcased that when he visited the doctors.
Call it stubborness, which Junior personally called it, but when he climbed behind the wheel at Talladega, possibly with a concussion, he was putting himself at risk, as well as his other drivers. Suffering from a concussion is not like being under the influence of a drug, as symptoms are often not seen with the naked eye. Trained doctors and neurologists know the signs of such an injury, which has been made newsworthy thanks to the NFL.
But NASCAR, who would have expected it?
Junior was told by doctors on Wednesday that it would be best to sit out at least two races, let himself heal up before even getting behind the wheel.
Sure, some fans will have the usual "but he looked fine, he should race." At the same time, someone may look fine after just taking a sip of a beer, but as the slogan goes, "Buzzed driving is still drunk driving." Driving with a concussion or any kind of head injury is just ask risky, and it not only puts the driver at risk, but the other competitors as well.
Sure, Junior may not win the championship this year, but the bigger picture is that his health was at risk, and no championship is work risking his life or his fellow drivers.
Doctors recommended two weeks off from driving, and for those two weeks Regan Smith will be driving the No. 88 Chevrolet, while A.J. Allmendinger will be at the wheel of James Finch's No. 51 Chevrolet. That means should Earnhardt Jr. be healthy and cleared to race, he could return as early as the Oct. 27 event at Martinsville.
At the same time, if he doesn't feel like he's ready to get behind the wheel again, he should sit out longer, maybe the remainder of the season. It's up to him and his doctors, no one else.
Yes, seeing someone else behind the wheel of his car will be a change, but a concussed driver is a dangerous driver. The risks greatly outweigh the rewards.