Dale Earnhardt Jr. will retire after the 2017 season.
In a press conference this afternoon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. said that he’s retiring because he wants to go out on his own terms.
“You’re wondering why I’ve reached this decision…it’s really simple,” he said today. “I just wanted the opportunity to go out on my own terms…I’ll admit that having influence over my exit only became meaningful when it started to seem most unlikely.”
The 42-year-old NASCAR racer suffered a concussion last year. He was medically cleared to compete this year and he says that he is healthy, but he has also spoken about the fact that returning to racing at all is a huge risk and that he now has a wife to think about. In his press conference today, Earnhardt talked about the fact that it was important to him that he can announce his retirement as his choice, rather than being severely injured and being forced to retire.
So what information has been made available about Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s concussion and its severity? Had he suffered any concussions before? Here’s what you need to know.
1. It Was Announced in July 2016 That Earnhardt Was Experiencing Concussion-like Symptoms
In July 2016, it was announced that Dale Earnhardt Jr. would miss an upcoming race, as he was experiencing “concussion-like symptoms.”
Earnhardt said at the time that he at first thought he was just going through some severe allergies.
“I saw a family doctor and was given medication for allergies and a sinus infection,” Earnhardt said in a statement at the time. “When that didn’t help, I decided to dig a little deeper. Because of my symptoms and my history with concussions, and after my recent wrecks at Michigan and Daytona, I reached out and met with a neurological specialist. After further evaluation, they felt it was best for me to sit out.”
At the time, it was unclear how long Earnhardt might be gone. Two months later, he announced in September 2016 that he would miss the rest of the season.
“To say I’m disappointed doesn’t begin to describe how I feel, but I know this is the right thing for my long-term health and career,” he said in a statement.” I’m 100 percent focused on my recovery, and I will continue to follow everything the doctors tell me. They’re seeing good progress in my test results, and I’m feeling that progress physically.”
Earnhardt went on to say that he hoped to compete in the Daytona in February. He did end up being able to compete in the Daytona this year, but he crashed and finished in 37th place.
2. He Sustained the Concussion During a Crash in June 2016
Dale Earnhardt Jr. later revealed the race in which he sustained his concussion.
According to Fox Sports, Earnhardt’s concussion stemmed from his June 2016 crash at the Michigan International Speedway. However, Earnhardt said that he did not feel anything different immediately following the crash.
“I didn’t feel anything that next week,” he said, according to Fox Sports. “We had an off week, I went to Germany, raced in Somona and felt great, ran good, felt awesome. It was strange to me why these symptoms came out of nowhere.”
Earnhardt went on to say that this was very scary for him because he’s never been in a situation where it took so long for him to experience symptoms.
At the time, Earnhardt talked about the fact that he really wanted to race again, and it sounded like he had no intention of retiring anytime soon.
“It worries me that people don’t know what I’m dealing with and I want them to know why I can’t drive,” he said. “I’ll talk to my doctors and say, ‘What do I have left as far as the racing?’ My doctors are confident they can make me stronger than I was before this event. I want to race more.”
3. He Had Previously Suffered a Concussion in 2002
June 2016 was not the first time that Dale Earnhardt Jr. suffered a concussion.
In 2002, Earnhardt sustained a concussion at the Fontana race after crashing his car into the outside wall. However, he continued racing for several months afterwards, not admitting until September of that year that he actually suffered a concussion.
“I didn’t want to tell until it got better and I started to run better,” Earnhardt said at the time, according to The USA Today. “Steve [Park, Dale Earnhardt’s teammate], he couldn’t hide his injury and he dealt with so much (stuff) over it ‘He’s never going to be the same, he’s (messsed) up, he’s a write-off.’ In the garage, all kinds of people have that idea, and I didn’t want to go through that. So I didn’t tell anybody.”
Earnhardt said that he was feeling “loopy” after the crash and that he probably shouldn’t have been racing afterwards. However, he said that he was afraid that people would write him off and say that his career was over if he said anything.
“No, ’cause then you just start back at zero and people are going, ‘Oh, he’s finished, he’ll never be the same,'” Earnhardt said. “And every time you run bad, it’s because of that reason — it’s because your head is (messed) up. So I just didn’t say a thing. I had a bad concussion and I got over it, and now I’m running great again.”
4. He Also Suffered Two Concussions in 2012
Dale Earnhardt Jr. once again suffered a concussion in 2012, although this time it took him out of action.
This concussion was sustained during a 23-car crash at Talladega in October 2012. He had also suffered a concussion at the Kansas Speedway in August 2012. It was only after the second concussion in October that the first one was diagnosed.
”I knew having those two concussions back to back was not a good thing,” he said at the time, according to Fox Sports. ”I knew to go see someone whether I wanted to get out of the car or not.”
Earnhardt later recalled that the concussion symptoms were the worst he’s ever experienced.
“I felt very trapped inside my head,” he said, according to NASCAR. “One of the guys on my crew, he was like, ‘Man, you look off. You look like you’re staring through me.'”
5. He Recently Said That Returning to Racing Was a Big Risk
In December 2016, it was announced that Dale Earnhardt Jr. had been medically cleared to compete again. However, Earnhardt recently said that going back to racing at all was a huge risk.
“I took a big risk, I think, to come back to race,” he told NPR in April 2017. “Although I’m healthy, I’m still at danger, just like anyone else out there racing, to get concussions. And having gone through it at one point — during the worst, sickest part about it – I really didn’t want to have anything to do with racing. But as I got healthier, I got the itch, I guess, or the urge to come back.”
Earnhardt went on to say that he wants to race as long as he enjoys it and that as soon as he doesn’t enjoy it anymore, he’ll find something else to do.
However, Earnhardt did also say in that interview that his marriage changed his priorities a bit.
“My marriage in the off-season definitely reordered some of my priorities,” he said. “Our wish to start a family one day soon has changed a few things around for me and made me think about life differently.”