The conversation surrounding concussions in sports tends to primarily revolve around the NFL, but traumatic brain injuries are also an unfortunate consequence of NASCAR. Just this year, Kurt Busch and Alex Bowman were forced to bow out of the Cup Series playoffs due to serious head injuries sustained during a race. While every NASCAR driver knows the risks associated with competing in the sport's highest level, perhaps no driver, past or present, understands them quite like Dale Earnhardt Jr.
In a 2018 interview with sports reporter Graham Bensinger, Dale Jr. revealed that he suffered anywhere between 20 and 25 concussions during his racing career. Despite waiting until the tail end of his full-time stint in NASCAR to reveal his injury struggles, the 15-time Most Popular Driver and NASCAR Hall of Famer is now a major proponent of driver safety. Today, he's out there telling his story to just about anyone who will listen in the hopes of guiding the next batch of drivers to make smarter decisions behind the wheel.
During his interview with Bensinger, Dale Jr. made a lot of important points about the perception of concussions in NASCAR, while also shining an important light on the effect that injuries had on his own NASCAR career. While many look at Earnhardt's concussion at Michigan in 2016 as the driving force behind his NASCAR retirement (as it sidelined him for half the season), it was a crash during a test run at Kansas Speedway in 2012 that he believes played a major part in cutting his career short.
Earnhardt explained, "I remember thinking as I was heading toward that fence, 'This is going to be an insane, insane impact. And I hit the wall at 190 miles an hour and my head is right against that headrest and it's as stiff as a roll bar, and so my head didn't go anywhere and everything inside of it went into high speed movement, and my brain just compacts against the inside of my skull at an incredible force."
"There's not any situation that I can think of that would result in a harder impact in racing. And if it doesn't happen to me, I probably don't cut my career short. I'm probably still driving race cars today. But that wreck made it easier, I think, for me to get concussions beyond that instance."
Though he spends most of his time these days as an NBC Sports broadcaster and host of The Dale Jr. Download podcast, Junior hasn't retired his racing suit for good. The two-time Daytona 500 winner is still good for about one Xfinity Series race a season, but with that occasional racing comes the added perspective of not pushing himself beyond his limits. When Kurt Busch was in the midst of being sidelined due to injuries sustained during a wreck at Pocono, Dale Jr. was one of the first to publicly lend his support. He understands the frustration that comes with not knowing when your next race will be.
Thankfully, the 47-year-old Earnhardt insists that he is feeling "no lasting effects" from his concussions, and in an interview with People back in February, he said "I feel pretty good about where I'm at personally and health-wise."
"I had a great experience with the doctors in Pittsburgh and [Professor] Micky Collins, who I worked with to get right and get healthy and we wrote a book about all that," Junior added. "And trying to lead other people to reach out to Micky and get the right help that they need to be able to improve their quality of life."
The book that Junior mentioned? It's called Racing to the Finish: My Story, and he wrote it back in 2018 to tell the story of his final days in the Cup Series. While it took him a little time to get there, Dale Earnhardt Jr. now fully appreciates the fact that some things, like a driver's health and well-being, are bigger than NASCAR.
MORE: Dale Earnhardt Jr. Went From Being a Mechanic at His Dad's Dealership to NASCAR's Richest Driver
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