By admin | October 18, 2012
By Richard Allen
According to reports, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. will miss this week’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race in Kansas and then will return to action the following week in Martinsville. This after the popular driver has already missed one race this past weekend in Charlotte due to concussions caused by wrecks in Kansas and Talladega.
As of now, there is no reason to believe anything other than the report that Junior will soon return to the track. However, that has not stopped a number of people from speculating that something otherwise will happen. In particular, a well known television analyst asserted his belief that there is at least the possibility that Junior’s time away could become longer, if not permanent.
ESPN’s Brad Daugherty said during his network’s pre-race show on Saturday night in Charlotte that, “I would not be surprised if Dale Earnhardt, Jr. does not race again.”
Daugherty did not disclose that he had any inside information to lead him to this speculation. However, fellow analyst Ray Evernham did, at least to some degree, support the former basketball star’s conjecture when he revealed that it was concussions that ended his own driving career before he became one of the sport’s most successful crew chiefs.
What if Daugherty statement that he would “not be surprised” if Junior does not race again were to come to fruition? As we have all seen from other professional sports, closed head injuries can indeed be career ending. Certainly, the hard hits incurred while driving race cars would equate to those experienced in football or boxing.
Junior’s sister, Kelley Earnhardt Miller, wrote in a blog post on JRNation.com that all indications are that the driver will indeed return to the track soon. “If all goes according to plan, and he continues to improve to 100%, he will test a car early next week to be cleared for Martinsville,” she wrote. But there is a degree of uncertainty in that statement.
First and foremost, Earnhardt’s health has to be the top priority. If he is deemed not fit to continue or if doctors were to determine that another hit such as those he has already endured could cause further damage, he should step away. But keep in mind that “if” is the key word in the previous sentence.
This perhaps takes on added significance, or at least an added sense of caution, when it is considered that Dale Earnhardt, Sr. died as a result of a severe head injury suffered on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.
But what would be the impact on the sport and its fans if this much liked son of the seven time champion were to be removed from NASCAR?
Take a quick look at the marketing that centers around this one driver. Even though he has won only two races since 2008, Junior remains a top seller of virtually all forms of merchandise. T-shirts, hats, banners, posters and whatever else that carries the NASCAR logo on it moves best when it has the Earnhardt name or the number 88 emblazoned on it.
And more, virtually every ad campaign run by NASCAR and its tracks has Junior as the(or one of) centerpiece. That has been especially true after the driver’s revival over the past two seasons in which he has won a race and qualified for the Chase for the Championship.
Quite simply, if Junior were to stop racing, NASCAR would be in somewhat of a pickle. Much of their focus in terms of marketing and strategy would have to be changed. Vendors and other sales people would be affected by loses in sales. Overall, the sport’s economy, at least in the short term, would be hurt.
Personally, I have never been a huge fan of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. but I hope that Brad Daugherty’s conjecture does not come to be. He has so many fans and so many people who depend on him for their livelihoods that a sudden departure from the sport would impact NASCAR in a negative way.
However, if it is best for Earnhardt to step, he should step away.
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