NASCAR star Dale Earnhardt Jr. will miss the next two races in the chase for the Sprint Cup after sustaining a concussion during a massive wreck on the last lap of Sunday's Good Sam 500 at Talladega, Alabama, Earnhardt said Thursday.
Earnhardt was part of a 25-car pileup at Talladega. He told a press conference Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway that he was hit and spun during the wreck, apparently aggravating a concussion injury he sustained during a test run at Kansas Motor Speedway five weeks ago.
Earnhardt's doctor told him that "if you get hit again right away, it could be catastrophic," Rick Hendrick, owner of the Hendrick Motorsports team for which Earnhardt races, said Thursday.
Though Earnhardt said he felt completely recovered from the Kansas wreck by the time the green flag fell at Talladega, he said he knew immediately that the Talladega wreck had caused an injury.
“You know how your body is and you know when something’s not quite right, and I knew as soon as it happened that I had re-injured myself,” Earnhardt said Thursday.
“It wasn’t even half of the impact I had at Kansas, but it was enough to cause me some concern,” he said.
After enduring headaches until Wednesday, he met with his doctor.
Tests didn't reveal any problems, he said, but when he discussed the Kansas wreck and how he still felt on Wednesday, the doctor advised him to take some time off.
“When he tells me I don’t need to be in the car and I need to take a couple weeks off, then that’s what I need to do,” Earnhardt said.
Repeated concussions can put athletes at risk for chronic traumatic encephelopathy, a neurodegenerative disease with Alzheimer's-like symptoms.
Earnhardt said Thursday he wants to have a long career so he is taking the proper precautions.
"I want to live a healthy life so I wanted to make sure I'm doing the right thing," he said.
Earnhardt, who was a contender for the Sprint Cup season title, finished 20th after the wreck at Talladega, dropping to 11th place in the 12-driver chase for the Sprint Cup. Missing two races assures he cannot win the title.
After the Talladega race, Earnhardt was sharply critical of how NASCAR runs at Talladega and said fans were "bloodthirsty" if they want to see such carnage.
"It's not safe. Wrecking like that, it's ridiculous. It's bloodthirsty if that's what people want,” Earnhardt said afterward, according to news reports, including SI.com.
"If this is what we did every week, I wouldn't be doing it. I'd find another job," Earnhardt said Sunday.