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Earnhardt Jr. to miss Kansas Speedway race

  • The Kansas City Star
  • Published Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012, at 10:04 a.m.
  • Updated Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012, at 2:14 p.m.

— Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR’s most popular driver, will not compete in the next two Sprint Cup races, including the Oct. 21 Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.

Earnhardt said he began feeling symptoms of a concussion after he crashed during a testing session at Kansas Speedway’s newly reconfigured and repaved track last Aug. 29. He was diagnosed with a concussion following last Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway which included a last-lap collision that involved more than 20 cars.

“At the test at Kansas, I blew a right front tire, going into turn one,” Earnhardt said at news conference on Thursday morning at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “I remember everything about that accident … You know your body, and how you’re your mind works, and I knew something was not quite right.”

Earnhardt, driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports, was diagnosed on Wednesday afternoon in Charlotte. Regan Smith will be the team’s substitute driver in Saturday’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway and next week’s race at Kansas.

Earnhardt was treated by emergency medical staff after the accident at Kansas Speedway but did not immediately seek further care to treat his concussion-like symptoms.

“I regret not seeing somebody,” Earnhardt said. “I was stubborn. I’ve had concussions before and thought I knew what I was dealing with and was capable of doing my job.”

Earnhardt said data from the accident at Kansas Speedway measured at a 40 G force compared to 20 Gs at Talladega.

“At the end of that race, I got hit on the left rear quarter panel in an odd collision,” Earnhardt said. “It was an odd collision, the car spun around really quick and disoriented me, I knew I regressed and had a bit of a setback.”

Earnhardt had a concussion in 2002 after a wreck in California as well as others in his career but said previous incidents were mild compared to the one at Kansas.

“The wreck at Kansas was severe,” he said. “I was surprised how tough it was to get past that. I thought I was in the clear, but that little accident at Talladega … I started having headaches immediately after the wreck. On Tuesday I thought I should take it seriously. Typically it takes 24 to 48 hours …”

Team owner Rick Hendrick said Earnhardt had a normal MRI, and Earnhardt said he expects to resume racing in three weeks.

“I feel perfectly fine, but I don’t want to keep getting hit in the head,” Earnhardt said.

Earnhardt fell to 11th in the Chase for the Sprint Cup playoffs following a 20th place finish at Talladega. His streak of consecutive starts in the Cup series will end at 461.

Earnhardt is the last Sprint Cup driver to miss a race due to injury since Ricky Rudd in 2007. He nearly missed time due to what he called headaches after a race at California in 2002.

Earnhardt was outspoken after the race at Talladega, saying: “If this is what we did every week I wouldn’t be doing it,” he said. “If this is how we raced every week I would find another job.”

Earnhardt was angry with the restrictor-plate racing on the 2.66 mile superspeedway that forces cars to bunch up.

“That is what the package is doing,” he said. “It’s really not racing. I don’t know it’s a little disappointing how that all went down. That cost a lot of money right there. If this is how we are going to race and that is how we are going to continue to race and nothing is going to change I think NASCAR should build the cars. It would save us a lot of money.

“You just can’t get away from each other that good. … It’s not safe. Wrecking like that is ridiculous. It’s blood-thirsty if that is what people want. It’s ridiculous. … There has been a last lap wreck in like 90 percent of these things for the last four years with this car. We can’t get away from each other with the bumpers lining up and everybody pushing all the time and spinning each other out. I mean that’s no good. It’s not working. Somebody needs to change it.”

When asked what changes Earnhardt would like to see, he said: “There are plenty of engineers out there. I’m just a driver. There are plenty of smart people out there that can figure something out where when one guy gets in trouble we don’t have 30 cars tore up at the expense of it.

“I mean it’s awesome in a word and everybody can get … excited about all that … but for the longevity of the sport that ain’t healthy. I don’t care what anybody says for the good of the sport … It’s good for the here and now and it will get people talking, but for the long run that is not going to help the sport the way that race ended and the way the racing is. It’s not going to be productive for years to come. I don’t even want to go to Daytona or Talladega next year, but I ain’t got much choice.”

To reach Randy Covitz, send email to rcovitz@kcstar.com

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