NASCAR superstar Danica Patrick, who estimates she's dealt with at least a dozen concussions during her racing career, stated during Wednesday's Daytona 500 media day she would retire from the sport if doctors told her there would be long-term consequences from another head injury.
Bob Pockrass of ESPN.com passed along comments from Patrick about the hot-button issue as fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. gets prepared for his return after missing the latter stages of the 2016 season due to concussion symptoms. She considers the situation a "good lesson."
"I think that we'd like to sweep it all under the rug as drivers like we feel fine and nothing is wrong," Patrick said. "But it's our life. If there was someone that told me or, I would hope any other driver, if you have another wreck, you could have a serious problem, then they would [choose to] be out."
She added: "I would be out because I love what I do, but I love lots of other things and I also love life. I'm too young to have it be over. It was a good lesson for a lot of people and a good education."
Patrick started competing at the elite professional level in 2005 when she joined the IndyCar Series, but she's been involved in racing for nearly two decades. The 34-year-old Wisconsin native also had a stint in the Nationwide Series before joining NASCAR's top division, the Monster Energy Cup Series.
Although she's still looking to register her first top-five finish in the Cup Series, she's one of the sport's most notable names as a female in a male-dominated sport.
The Stewart-Haas Racing star has been involved in numerous wrecks while trying to establish herself as a contender. She admitted those incidents all take a toll, per ESPN.
"I've had concussions. Every time you crash, you have a concussion on a varying degree," Patrick said. "When [Earnhardt] said something about having 12 concussions, I'm like, 'I'm sure I've had 12 concussions.' ... It makes you think for sure."
She credited Earnhardt for walking away last season in order to get healthy, which showed that it is an option for drivers rather than trying to get right back in the car the following week.
Meanwhile, Earnhardt spoke with Dave Caldwell of the New York Times about how much the perception of head injuries has changed since he arrived on the scene.
"When I got my first concussion, in 1998, it was like, Wow. I feel dizzy, ha ha. I think I'll go home and lay on the couch," he said. "It was almost like I was braggadocious about it: 'Man, I'm tough. I hit my head on the car.'"
The two-time Daytona 500 champion noted the change in mindset: "It's scary now, knowing everything we know. There's still a ton to learn. We're going through such a transition how we talk about concussions, how we treat concussions. It's very interesting to me. Very educational."
Those pointed remarks from Patrick and Earnhardt come after NASCAR announced an expansion to its concussion protocol for the 2017 season.
The governing body stated any driver whose vehicle gets damaged during the race will now have to visit the Infield Care Center for evaluation and screening for a head injury. In addition, NASCAR is starting a partnership with American Medical Response (AMR) to provide additional support.
"NASCAR has worked very closely with the industry to ensure our concussion protocol reflects emerging best practices in this rapidly developing area of sports medicine," NASCAR senior vice president of racing operations Jim Cassidy said.
The Monster Energy Cup Series kicks off the 2017 campaign with the 59th running of the Daytona 500 on Sunday afternoon.