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Junior! Back in the car, and ready to rumble at Martinsville

Junior! Back in the car, and ready to rumble at Martinsville

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

  By Mike Mulhern

   Dale Earnhardt Jr. returned to action here Friday, after a two-week layoff recuperating from two concussions, and he appeared in good shape.
   However some of the issues raised surrounding Earnhardt's medical issues remain up in the air.
   -- NASCAR still doesn't appear interested in allowing injured drivers to sit out a race or two while recovering, without penalty. By sidelined himself, Earnhardt took himself out of championship contention. ( for more on this: An Earnhardt Rule? )
   -- NASCAR has yet to clearly address the issues that led to the 25-car last lap crash at Talladega, which triggered Earnhardt's championship-ending injury. Earnhardt, after that crash, called that type of racing dangerous: "It's not safe....it's bloodthirsty. I can't believe nobody is sensible enough to realize just how ridiculous that was. The way we are going ain't the right direction."
   -- NASCAR has not legalized that in-the-ear 'accelerometer ( Safety? ) that Indy-car drivers are using, a safety device that records the motion of the driver's head in a crash. NASCAR does use a larger 'black box' device, which sits under the seat and determines G-forces in a crash. (Brad Keselowski is one driver who says he wants to use that acceleromoter, but he says NASCAR told him it was illegal for him to use.)
   It might seem somewhat unusual, particularly in such a high profile case, involving this sport's most popular driver, that NASCAR's safety guru Tom Gideon has not been brought out to address such safety issues and ways the sport is dealing with them.


   This was only a 20-G hit for Earnhardt, but on top of that 40-G hit at Kansas, he wound up sidelined for two weeks (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   Earnhardt says his August 29th concussion while testing at Kansas Speedway was "completely different" from his Talladega concussion:
   "The first one, at Kansas, was your typical concussion, where the frontal lobe and the headaches and the fogginess that you typically feel," Earnhardt said.  "The one that I had at Talladega was a vestibular is what they call it.  It's more in the back, or the base of the brain, where the brain and your spine sort of connect."
   The first one left him foggy; the second one was different, leaving him with what he called "a lot of anxiety and emotional stuff.
   "If I would get into a 'busy' situation, I would get a lot of anxiety.  I was already that way anyways -- I've never really been much on being around crowds.
    "So the two concussions were completely different; I was dealing with different symptoms."
   After being sidelined by Charlotte's Dr. Jerry Petty, Earnhardt then went to the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Sports Medicine Concussion Program, to work with Dr. Michael (Mickey) Collins.
   "When I went to Pittsburgh, I was really frustrated," he said. "When I say I was a mess, I was just really frustrated, and having a lot of anxiety about 'Man, how long will this last? Is this ever going to be right again."
    After all, this sport has had several drivers with severe head injuries over the years, Herb Thomas, Neil Bonnett, Ernie Irvan, Jerry Nadeau...
   "You want your brain to clear up, and the fogginess to go away, and all those symptoms to go away," Earnhardt said.
    "Every concussion is different. They're like snowflakes: every one is different, and you react differently to each one.
     "I've learned a lot about it. I feel good knowing what I know now about it."

 Brad Keselowski: says he'd like to use that Indy-car earpiece G-force safety sensor (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

      A large part of the treatment, of course, is simply resting and doing as little as possible.
     "I wanted to get back in the car as soon as I could, but I wanted to make sure it was not too quick," Earnhardt said.
     "It changes the way I feel about it -- If I know I've suffered another concussion, or if I have symptoms after an accident, I'm definitely going to be a lot more responsible about it.
     "I can understand people's opinions that they would try to push through it, or they would ignore it to stay in the car... because I did the same thing in the past.
    "Some concussions are light, and the symptoms are real light. If you don't have another incident, you feel like you can get through it.
    " Some concussions are really bad. And I don't care how tough you think you are, your mind is not working the way it is supposed to, and it scares the heck out of you: You are not going to think about race cars, you aren't going to think about trophies, you are not going to think about your job. You're going to be thinking about 'what do I got to do to get my brain working the way it was before.'
    "That's going to jump right to the top of the priority list, I promise you."


  Actually this Chevy Zebra tends to grow on you, the more it runs. Here, testing at Phoenix (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    Meanwhile NASCAR's somewhat fitful 2013 race car project continues. Eight drivers, including several top drivers, tested for two days this week at Phoenix International Raceway (Brad Keselowski, Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards, Kurt Busch, Jamie McMurray, Paul Menard and Brendan Gaughan). That follows a two-day test at Kansas Speedway which participants considered a general mess.
    The next 2013 test is set for Nov. 6th and 7th at Charlotte Motor Speedway. That is to be a wide-ranging test for Goodyear too.
    Continuing NASCAR tweaks of the rules for the 2013 car are aggravating teams, which are trying to set a schedule for building the new fleet, each driver figuring on needing 12 to 18 cars. The most recent tweak being studied is to put more downforce on the 2013s, apparently the result of the disconcerting Kansas test.
    In turn, those tweaks and the general chaos that seems to be surrounding the 2013 project has thrown Goodyear's own tire production schedule off. The tire giant typically starts building tires for the new season in late September-early October. The tires are built by hand, and Goodyear will have to have some 5,000 tires ready for Daytona SpeedWeeks.
    Goodyear's Greg Stucker says production on those Daytona tires will begin in a week or so.
    In July Goodyear officials said they'd hoped that the 2013 car would have very similar characteristics -- as far as what the tires actually 'see' -- to the 2012 car and that they wouldn't have to make many changes in tire designs. Now however that's no longer the game. In fact Brian Vickers says part of the goal now is to race on 'new' 2013 tires designed for the new car.


  The traditional four-wide salute to the fans. Man, wouldn't that be a heck of a green flag start.... (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   The 2013 NASCAR Nationwide and Truck tour scheduled are late too.
   Sports officials are still trying to plug the hole left in the Nationwide series by the loss of the August Montreal race.
   And NASCAR has been looking at what would be a novel Truck race on Eldora dirt.
   Those two situations, however, may be hampered the need to have soft walls at any track this sport runs at. Eldora has no soft walls, and Ron Fellows Mosport (Canada) track likewise.
   A Truck race on Eldora dirt? That could be a wildly popular move...and it's curious that NASCAR executives have been trying to keep that possibility under wraps.
   Parker Kligerman and Ty Dillon have confirmed NASCAR executives are studying the possibility of a NASCAR Truck race at Tony Stewart's Eldora Speedway, a legendary dirt track in Ohio.
   Dillon, who is in the running for this year's Truck championship, did the Eldora test for NASCAR. What might come of that is still up in the air, Stewart says.
   Of course Stewart also said the Eldora possibility was only in the talking stages, while it has been confirmed that some type of preliminary test has already been run there.
   NASCAR hasn't had a major dirt track event in decades. And a dirt track is a difficult creature to groom for racing, a big reason asphalt tracks dominate.


 Ty Dillon: tested a NASCAR Truck at Tony Stewart's Eldora Speedway for NASCAR (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   " I've only done two dirt races in my life, ARCA, and I won them both," Kligerman says. "I look at it as
'Hey, let's do it.'  
    "But I guess Ty is the better one for the question, because he was the only one invited to the (Eldora) test.  Let's see what he thought of driving a truck around dirt."

  Dillon: "A test? What are you talking about," he said with a laugh, teasing about the 'secrecy.' 

   "I think it would be exciting for the series. It opens up a whole new venue for the fans. I'm looking forward to it, if we do do it. It would be a great show if it does happen.

   Hopefully it will open up a whole new chapter for NASCAR -- something new, something great." 

    Kligerman:  "I think any diversification of our schedule is really enhancing our series. In a lot of ways I think adding a road course (Mosport is under consideration) or adding a dirt track...  when you have a well-rounded champion like that you can consider that guy to be a well-
rounded race car driver.  I think adding dirt racing and adding road courses only adds to that."


   Smoke himself, on his Eldora dirt. Wonder what kind of show NASCAR's Truckers could put on here? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


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