Will NASCAR Culture Accept Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Stance on Concussions?

Sandra MacWattersCorrespondent IDecember 5, 2012

AVONDALE, AZ - NOVEMBER 09:  Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 Diet Mountain Dew/National Guard Chevrolet, speaks to the media during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AdvoCare 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on November 9, 2012 in Avondale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

NASCAR racing, especially in the Sprint Cup Series, is about more than who wins the race. It is about the show, the rivalries with drivers and the inevitable accidents. Fans want action in whatever form it takes.

The new G6 (Generation 6) car that will be raced in NASCAR's top series, beginning at Daytona in 2013, is designed to put more control back in the hands of the driver.

The latest racing product is supposed to be less aero-dependent which should result in tighter racing. That usually translates to more action on the track which results in wrecks.

This past season has had more green-flag racing than we have seen in a while. Fans usually complain about the races being boring with a lack of restarts, and pit stops that change the dynamics of the race.

No real fan of the sport wants to see a race filled with accidents or one major accident that takes out half of the field.

Drivers take hard hits in all kinds of accidents, with the worst usually being those that go straight into a wall at high speeds.

SAFER barriers certainly have saved some injuries and lives, but those type of wrecks are still very dangerous. Most any wreck has the potential to cause a concussion.

A concussion really has no visible signs, and even if the driver doesn't feel quite right, they can mask the effects of concussion and continue racing.

Not being behind the wheel of their race car during an event is perhaps the one thing a driver fears the most. Seeing another driver wheel their car can be heartbreaking.

Jeff Gluck at SB Nation reported Dale Earnhardt Jr. took a hit of 40 G's (G-force) when a tire blew during a test at Kansas Speedway Aug. 29.

He was examined by the medical staff on premises and cleared to leave the track.

Only Earnhardt knew how he felt, but with the Chase just two races away he felt the pressure to power through any ill effects he had from the Kansas crash.

Junior continued to race though his brain had been injured by concussion. On Oct. 7 at Talladega the driver of the No. 88 got caught up in a last-lap crash. This hit was a milder 20-G impact.

Earnhardt realized all was not right and took the step no driver wants to take. He sought the opinion of a prominent Charlotte doctor, and was diagnosed with a concussion.

The diagnosis resulted in Earnhardt having to sit out two races during the Chase. That would be a tough call for any driver in the preseason, but to have it happen during the Chase was the worse-case scenario.

Most all drivers would have continued to race regardless of feeling off. That has been the way the sport operates since wrecks back in the early days of NASCAR.

Jeff Gordon expressed his feelings to the media at the Charlotte Chase race which probably reflects the feelings of many other drivers as well.

Gordon stated, as reported by Sporting News, "If I have a shot at the championship, there's two races to go, my heads hurting, and I just came through a wreck, and I am feeling signs of it, but I'm still leading the points or second in the points, I'm not going to say anything. I'm sorry."

NASCAR has regulated much within the sport and made great strides with safety, but when it comes to seeing drivers not racing because of possible concussion, they have no guidelines.

NASCAR is evaluating medical procedures that would require baseline testing for every driver at the start of each season. Some drivers and teams have taken it upon themselves to do this.

It is a sensitive matter for NASCAR to deal with when it comes to pulling a driver from his car, especially the drivers who are most popular with fans.

Leaving well enough alone has worked all these years. Just let the driver be the judge of his ability to drive a race car. The problem is many drivers don't know they have a concussion or the symptoms.

Fans are quick to jump on the sanctioning body for all the rules and regulations that some feel has led to the decline of the sport.

Races on the high banks of Daytona and Talladega could easily see several drivers take hard hits on any given lap. A driver is subject to concussion when they strap themselves into the car for a race.

With the sport struggling to bring in new fans and retain the base they have, telling a driver to sit out a race or two because they have a concussion flies in the face of all that NASCAR is.

Failing to take action to keep drivers from suffering cognitive deficits, neurological damage and possible dementia later in life is not an option either.

Earnhardt made the best decision for his well-being and perhaps the safety of his fellow drivers.

The mentality of NASCAR has always been that drivers in the Cup series are tough and they drive injured if at all possible.

Medical decisions are personal for every individual. Earnhardt did what he had to do, but should NASCAR mandate when a driver should step away from driving duties?

Will fans think their favorite driver is whimping out because he was involved in a crash that didn't cause any obvious injury, but yet the driver feels a little off, and sits out some races?

It is a fine line for NASCAR to walk in an age when they are worried about losing fans. Driver safety is foremost, but should NASCAR mandate baseline testing? What do you think?