NASCAR: Earnhardt a "huge asset", but his health is "first and foremost"

Dale Earnhardt Jr. offered a candid medical update on his weekly podcast on Monday.

NASCAR: Earnhardt a "huge asset", but his health is "first and foremost"
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, heads to the garage after a wreck
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet after crashing
Steve O'Donnell
Jeff Gordon, Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet

The “Concussion Discussion with Dale Jr.” on his Dirty Mo Radio network detailed his problems with gaze stabilization and balance, which have led to his absence from the race track over the last three races.

Earnhardt also covered the anxiety he’s felt while suffering from concussion symptoms that doctors believe stem from an incident at Michigan International Speedway in June (Read more from his podcast here).

What NASCAR needs in order for Earnhardt to return

On Tuesday, Earnhardt was to meet with doctors again to assess his current situation. Earlier that morning, Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer weighed in on the sport’s most popular driver and what it will take for Earnhardt to return.

“Each situation is unique, but we have a set of doctors and medical liaisons that are there to assist with any driver,” O’Donnell said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Tuesday. “And the protocol will be that they're cleared either through our set of doctors — or through, in this case when a concussion occurs, a board certified neurologist that works directly with our docs.

“It really depends with the injury and the circumstances, but a really good system when it comes to data sharing and trust between the competitors and we’re always looking to improve in that space.”

Baby steps

Earnhardt said on Monday, his symptoms “came out of nowhere.” He described his latest bout was “scary” because he’s had balance and vision issues which had never plagued him in the past. The third-generation driver added he doesn’t know how long the recovery process will take before he’s ready to return.

“Dale is taking his time — as he should,” O’Donnell added. “His health is first and foremost for us. He’s a huge asset to the sport but not only that an ambassador to the sport. (We) pretty much text back and forth every day. He’s making some progress but still has some challenging things he wants to get right.

“I applaud him for taking his time and working with the right doctors to get to a place where he feels comfortable coming back.”

Still involved

As fans might imagine, Earnhardt is just a text or phone call away from the day-to-day activities of the sport. On the podcast, he acknowledged messaging his former crew chief Steve Letarte in the NBC booth during the weekend — and Jeff Burton via Letarte. Earnhardt is in constant contact with the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports team. And he didn’t hesitate to bend O’Donnell’s ear in the middle of the race on Monday.

“He’s still as engaged as ever,” O’Donnell added. “As soon as we red-flagged the cars, I talked about this post-race, he said, ‘Why are we leaving the drivers in the cars?’ I tried to explain. He’s like, ‘Man, I’d be ticked off at you if I was there. I’d want to get out of the car.’

“But he’s watching. He’s engaged. I know he wants to get back, but I applaud him for doing the right thing.

“Each situation is unique, but we have a set of doctors and medical liaisons that are there to assist with any driver. And the protocol will be that they're cleared either through our set of doctors — or through, in this case when a concussion occurs, a board-certified neurologist who works directly with our docs.

“It really depends with the injury and the circumstances, but a really good system when it comes to data sharing and trust between the competitors and we’re always looking to improve in that space.”

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