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Admiring Dale Earnhardt Jr’s decision to step aside

October 11, 2012

Today we’ve learned that Dale Earnhardt Jr’s intelligence isn’t something to be messed with. Those of you that thought he was simply another second (or in this case third) generation racer trying to live up to his father’s (and grandfather’s) exploits have discovered that Junior is smart enough to know when to say when.

Earnhardt suffered a concussion at Kansas during a tire test on the new surface a few weeks ago. He had another concussion this past weekend at Talladega, a race he might have won had he not incurred a speeding ticket early in the going. Faced with a headache after the race, Earnhardt was smart enough to see a neurosurgeon who confirmed his diagnosis. Although an MRI came out clear, with the headache ongoing, it was the right thing for the driver to sit out this weekend’s race at Charlotte and next weekend’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series tussle at Kansas Speedway.

As NASCAR’s game of musical chairs continues, it’ll be Regan Smith in the No. 88 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports at these two races. Smith was released from his ride in the No. 78 Chevrolet in favor of Kurt Busch, who moved over from the No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevy for the balance of the season and next year – beginning this weekend.

With Smith out of the No. 78, he got Busch’s former ride with Phoenix, but now that he’s driving the No. 88, that left the No. 51 available once again. James Finch, who owns the latter race car, decided to call on AJ Allmendinger, the best driver not owning a permanent ride at this point. Dinger, of course, was recently reinstated to NASCAR following a failed drug test and quick completion of NASCAR’s Road to Recovery program.

Funny how these musical chairs work.

Once again, though, it’s important to look at the racers when they’ve been in a wreck. While Junior’s 20G impact at Talladega last weekend was about half of what he experienced in the Kansas shunt, he wasn’t checked last week because he drove his car back to the garage. Perhaps it’s time for the series to rethink that idea and force any driver to the medical center to make certain they’re really, truly in good condition.

After seeing Dr Jerry Petty, a neurosurgeon who’s worked with drivers and NFL players, Earnhardt Jr realized it was in his best interest to sit out these two races before being re-evaluated for further competition. His honesty and maturity are two points that keep this driver at the top of every fan’s “favorite driver” list. Stepping away is never easy and his decision to stay away from the track this weekend has to be a tough one.

That Earnhardt Jr didn’t want to be in the way as Smith takes over the seat of his extremely capable car with the estimable Steve Letarte atop the timing stand was courageous and smart. I hope he recovers fully and comes back stronger than ever.

By Anne Proffit

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