Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Concussion symptoms stemmed from Michigan; ‘This is scary for me’

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. said his doctors believe his concussion-like symptoms started with his June 12 crash at Michigan International Speedway, though the effects unnervingly weren’t obvious for weeks.

“Obviously with my history of concussions, knowing the event I had in Michigan, that wreck right there is where they believe I picked up this issue,” Earnhardt said Monday night during an episode entitled “Concussion Discussion” on his weekly Dale Jr. Download podcast. “I didn’t feel anything that next week. The off week, I went to Germany (on vacation), went to Sonoma, ran good, felt awesome.

“It was strange these symptoms came out of nowhere. But we started doing a lot of digging, and they seem to feel confident this occurred in Michigan.”

Earnhardt underwent myriad tests to rule out other possible afflictions such as Lyme disease and an inner-ear problem.

He said his symptoms – vision and balance problems – and their gradual development make it impossible to put a timeline on his recovery.

“I’ve never had a concussion that came on weeks after the event,” said Earnhardt, who has missed the past three Sprint Cup races. “Most of them you feel it immediately, and then they get better over time, whether it’s 72 hours or a month. This has been the opposite.

“This is scary for me because of the way it’s been different. I’m having balance issues. I’ve never had balance issues before. The eye issues with the stability, I’ve never had that before.

“It started very slowly, gradually and continued to progress until it stopped and stayed where it is. I don’t know what that tells me about how long this process is going to be. I felt I had a good understanding of concussions in the past, but this is certainly a new one. They all have different symptoms and they all do react differently to treatment and they all have their own time and the length of the recovery is different for everyone.”

Hendrick Motorsports and Earnhardt haven’t announced if he will return this weekend at Watkins Glen International. An update from Hendrick is expected Tuesday or Wednesday.

Earnhardt said his vision problem, known as “gaze stability,” typically responds well to treatment, and he has been doing daily physical exercises at home.

“Those are the ones I like to do the most because I want my eyes to get better as soon as I can,” Earnhardt said. “That’s the part annoying me the most, so I work hard on the visual exercises.”

Earnhardt believes the gaze stability, which prevents him from fixing on a moving object at a distance while moving his head, is the main problem and is causing his issues with balance.

“I think as one cleans up and improves, so will the other,” he said.

Much of the prescription for healing has been more about environment than exercises.

Earnhardt said doctors have encouraged him to spend time in busy locations with noise and movement, forcing exposure to situations that cause the symptoms. It’s the antithesis of his treatment for the 2012 concussion that sidelined him for two races. Doctors then advised Earnhardt to rest at home and avoid stimulus, such as time on his computer and iPad.

During his recovery this time, Earnhardt has spent time at JR Motorsports, gone to the grocery store with his fiancée, Amy, and had lunch with his family in a crowded restaurant.

The goal is to increase anxiety, which has triggered Earnhardt’s symptoms.

“When I first got checked out and was walking into hospital lobbies and halls, that drives the symptoms pretty heavily,” he said. “After an hour or two, your brain calms down and regroups and gets a hold of the situation. Anywhere you go with a lobby and a lot of movement and chatter and things happening. You’re in motion, you’re observing a lot of different things. That really drives the symptoms up. So my doctor wants me to expose myself to that. … Don’t shy away from doing these things because you think it’s going to make you feel bad.

“Go there and if it makes you feel bad, that’s fine. Just don’t make yourself sick. Once you’ve had your fill of exposing yourself to heavy symptoms, get in a calm place you’re comfortable and get back to feeling great. Keep doing that. Expose yourself and recover, throughout the day. You’re basically re-acclimating yourself to things that are driving your brain crazy.”

Earnhardt said he has gotten impatient since the onset of the symptoms from the Michigan crash (video above), which also involved AJ Allmendinger and Chris Buescher (who won Monday at Pocono Raceway). The lack of improvement has been frustrating.

“You go to bed each night hoping each morning, you’re going to be able to tell a difference,” he said. “That drives you absolutely crazy.

“In the past you can feel this improvement and know you’re heading in the right direction.”

On difficult days, Earnhardt said he reaches out to his doctor to say, “tell me you can fix this. I need to hear that again today. He knows me well enough to know all I need is a little positive reinforcement.”

He said it was impatience that caused him to send a tweet Saturday that his symptoms had plateaued (instead of waiting to update fans on the Monday podcast).

“There’s days you feel positive,” he said. “There’s days you’re frustrated. That certainly comes and goes with the process.

“But I’m very impatient, and I want change now. I want improvement now. So I’m constantly texting my doctor, telling him everything I experience every day, going, ‘What can I do to get better tomorrow?’ He’s like, ‘Look, you’ve got to realize this might be a process.’ ”

The 13-time most popular driver said he has been transparent about his recovery because “it drives me crazy wondering what people are wondering,” and he has spent time at his No. 88 Chevrolet’s shop in part to reassure team members that he is “functional” and explain why he isn’t racing.

“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.

Earnhardt, 41, has a contract with Hendrick that runs through next season. He intends to race beyond that, but “I’ll worry about that when I’m well.

“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,” he said. “I want to race more.”

Denny Hamlin hopes teams don’t shoot selves in feet with pit guns

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Denny Hamlin is the hottest driver on the Cup circuit. He has two wins – including Saturday night at Bristol – as well as two runner-ups, and a third- and fifth-place finish in the last six races. He’s also moved up to third in the rankings in that string.

But Hamlin isn’t taking anything to chance, particularly some of the smallest details – such as loose lug nuts and wheels.

Hamlin appeared Monday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “On-Track” show and was asked about how not only his team, but also other Cup teams, can overcome the loose lug nuts and wheels issues.

Hamlin said a significant part of the problem – particularly at a place like Bristol Motor Speedway – is pit guns, which are allocated and issued in a pre-race lottery by NASCAR, rather than have teams use their own guns.

MORE: Denny Hamlin earns hard-fought win over Matt DiBenedetto at Bristol

Hamlin does not like that system and explained why:

“(Bristol) puts probably some of the biggest loads we have on our tires. Truth be told, over the last two years since we’ve had these guns issued to us, they’re not capable of getting all the wheels tight, they really aren’t.

“It’s a lottery whether you get a gun that’s good enough to get ‘em tight. Through JGR, Stewart-Haas and other teams that have documented it, in the spring race there were over 20 loose wheels. This is not just a team thing. It’s just that the equipment is not quite up to par as far as what it’s capable of.

“We keep track of all the guns and how good they are and how bad they are. It’s a lottery system of whether you’re going to get (a good or bad one). It doesn’t matter how fast you go, you can hold the gun on there and it’s just not going to get the torque quite tight enough.”

Hamlin experienced a loose wheel that forced him to pit under green on Lap 186 of Saturday night’s race at Bristol, leaving him two laps behind the leaders. Hamlin had another loose wheel on Lap 374 and pitted while running 10th.

Thus far this season, in addition to several loose wheels in races, Hamlin’s team has also been penalized four times for loose lug nuts after races: Fontana, Bristol spring race, Chicagoland and the July race at Pocono.

This isn’t the first time Hamlin has publicly complained about pit guns and loose lug nuts and wheels.

NBC Sports has reached out to NASCAR for comment.

Check out what Hamlin said about that after Saturday night’s race in the video above (Hamlin talks about this issue starting around the 6:00 mark).

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Preliminary entry lists for Xfinity, Trucks this weekend

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While the NASCAR Cup Series will be off this weekend, that doesn’t mean there won’t be any racing.

On the contrary, the Xfinity Series will be racing Saturday at Road America and the Truck Series will compete Sunday at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park.

Here are the entry lists for both series:

Xfinity – CTECH Manufacturing 180 (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN)

There are 39 cars entered.

Regan Smith will be in the No. 8 J.R. Motorsports Chevrolet.

A.J. Allmendinger will drive the No. 10 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet.

Saturday’s Cup runner-up, Matt DiBenedetto, will drive the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

There is no driver listed yet for the No. 117 Rick Ware Racing Chevrolet.

Click here for the entry list.

Trucks – Chevrolet Silverado 250 (2:30 p.m. ET FS1)

There are only 28 Trucks listed for the entry list.

All seats are filled.

Click here for the entry list.

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. thanks all who have ‘lifted us up’ since plane crash

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. issued his first public comments Monday since he and his family survived a plane crash last Thursday afternoon at Elizabethton (Tennessee) Municipal Airport.

Earnhardt offered thanks to “everyone who has lifted us up with phone calls, messages and prayer since last Thursday. We are truly blessed that all on board escaped with no serious injuries, including our daughter, our two pilots and our dog Gus.”

Earnhardt also thanked the pilots, emergency personnel, law enforcement and hospital staff.

He stated that wife “Amy and I continue to be very appreciative of the privacy extended to us to process everything. It has been important to do that together and on our own time.”

Earnhardt stated that because of the ongoing investigation “we will not be speculating or discussing the cause of the accident.”

A preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board is expected this week. Ralph Hicks, a senior investigator for the NTSB said in a briefing last Friday that “the airplane basically bounced at least twice before coming down hard on the right wing landing gear. You can actually see the right wing landing gear collapsing on the video (from nearby buildings). The airplane continued down the runway, off to the end, through a fence and came to a stop … on highway 91.”

Both pilots have been interviewed and Hicks stated that what they said was “very consistent” with what the video showed. Hicks also said investigators had talked to the Earnhardt family.

NASCAR America 6-7 p.m. ET on NBCSN: Recapping Hamlin’s Bristol win

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs on NBCSN at a special time, from 6-7 p.m. ET, and will recap Denny Hamlin’s win at Bristol.

Steve Letarte will be joined by NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett and A.J. Allmendinger to discuss Hamlin’s win and other storylines.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here for the special start time at 6 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.