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.”

DGR-Crosley switches from Toyota to Ford beginning in 2020

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Ford Performance is strengthening its driver development program by joining forces with DGR-Crosley, which announced its move from Toyota to Ford Wednesday.

The multi-year agreement will see team co-owner David Gilliland, a former Cup Series driver, lead the team’s driver development program as it field entries in late models, the ARCA Menards Series and NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series.

“We’re very excited to have DGR-Crosley come to Ford as part of our long-term efforts to develop drivers for NASCAR,” said Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance Motorsports in a press release. “We have just scratched the surface of what is possible in developing the next generation of Ford drivers with people like Chase Briscoe, and we believe a coordinated effort with a team like DGR-Crosley will help move that process forward successfully.

“David Gilliland was a trusted and valued Ford driver in NASCAR for many years, and we look forward to renewing that relationship with him in this new effort.”

Said Gilliland: “I’m super excited about the partnership with Ford and how things are lining up for 2020. I spent a lot of time racing Fords throughout my career, and it’s really special to now be able to bring them into our race shop. A lot of time and consideration was spent on this decision, and internally we know that this is the move that we needed to make in order to advance our program to the top level. We have a great group of hard-working, talented people at DGR-Crosley, and with Ford coming on board, our future is really bright. We’re excited for all the things ahead.”

DGR-Crosley will announce its driver lineup at a later date.

The team first entered the Truck Series in 2018. Tyler Ankrum won its first race this year at Kentucky Speedway, qualifying for the playoffs in the process.

It fielded a team record five entries in the playoff race at ISM Raceway.

Brennan Poole to compete full-time for Premium Motorsports in Cup Series

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Former Xfinity Series driver Brennan Poole will compete full-time in the Cup Series in 2020 with Premium Motorsports, Poole announced Wednesday on social media.

Poole, 28, will drive the No. 15 Chevrolet and would make his Cup debut in the Daytona 500.

He joins a rookie class that includes Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell and Cole Custer.

“I’ve been working towards this moment since I was 5 and feel blessed to have the caliber of people surrounding me that I have in this next chapter of my racing career,” Poole said in a press release. “I look forward to the opportunity to showcase our sponsor partners, both new and existing, who are supporting me at the highest level of NASCAR competition.”

Poole takes over the car that was driven by Ross Chastain in a majority of his Cup starts in 2019.

A native of The Woodlands, Texas, Poole drove for Chip Ganassi Racing in the Xfinity Series from 2016-17. His best finish was second in the 2017 race at Kentucky Speedway.

He made 13 starts in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series in 2019, driving for On Point Motorsports. His best result was second in the May race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“I’m very happy to welcome Brennan and his group to the Premium Motorsports family,” team owner Jay Robinson said in the press release. “Brennan is a very talented and dedicated young man, I believe he has a very bright future in the NASCAR Cup Series.”

Bojangles’ ends sponsorship of Southern 500

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The fast food chain Bojangles’ will no longer sponsor the Southern 500.

Bojangles’ has sponsored the event at Darlington Raceway since 2012.

Since 2015, the Southern 500 has been the site of NASCAR’s Throwback Weekend, with Cup and Xfinity Series teams fielding retro paint schemes celebrating the sport’s history.

DarlingtonRaceway.com

“We’ve enjoyed a terrific relationship with Bojangles’ since 2012 and we look forward to their continued involvement in NASCAR for many years to come,” track president Kerry Tharp said in a statement. “Like Darlington, they are truly an authentic Southern brand.”

A logo for the race on Darlington’s website does not include a sponsor.

“Bojangles’ has enjoyed a long and successful partnership with the team at Darlington Raceway,” Bojangles’ said in a statement provided to NBC’s Myrtle Beach-affiliate WMBF. “While we will no longer be the title sponsor for the Southern 500, NASCAR remains an important part of our sports marketing strategy, and we look forward to announcing our plans for 2020 in the near future.”

The 2020 Southern 500 is scheduled for Sept. 6 on NBCSN.

NBC Sports Power Rankings: What were best NASCAR teams overall in 2019?

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As NASCAR Talk continues its post-season Power Rankings, here are the 10 teams we feel performed the best throughout the entire season across all three major series: Cup, Xfinity and Trucks.

We made our picks based using a number of variables including which drivers work the best with their crew chiefs, which teams have the strongest pit crews, how a team was run, and assorted other elements that often spell the difference between success and lack thereof.

Note that we are selecting the best TEAMS, not necessarily the best organizations overall. But as you will soon find out, several of those best teams also came from within the same organization, as well.

Here’s how we picked them:

1. Kyle Busch and No. 18 Cup team (30 points): Sure, this team slumped a bit in the second half of the season, going winless in 21 of the final 22 races (although they still were able to win the regular season championship), but when everything was on the line in the championship-deciding race at Miami, Busch and crew chief Adam Stevens proved why they are the best … and why they are the champions.

2. Martin Truex Jr. and No. 19 Cup team (27 points): From an overall consistency standpoint, there are few teams like the one spearheaded by Truex and crew chief Cole Pearn. Truex won the championship in 2017 and finished second in 2018 and 2019. The No. 19 also had a combined 19 wins in those three seasons. No other team matched that kind of performance (although Busch came close with 18 wins and finishes of 2nd, 4th and 1st during that same period). Truex will have a new crew chief in 2020 after Pearn unexpectedly announced he was leaving his position with Joe Gibbs Racing on Monday.

3. Kevin Harvick and No. 4 Cup team (23 points): Even though most other teams would welcome the opportunity to have the kind of performance the No. 4 team has enjoyed, the No. 4 team is seemingly stuck in a loop of sorts. Even though Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers have a team that has won 14 races in the last three seasons and have one of the best pit crews in the business, they’ve finished third in each of those last three seasons. This is a team that has made a few mistakes over that same time period, and it can be argued that may be one of the reasons why it finished third so frequently.

4. Denny Hamlin and No. 11 Cup team (22 points): The combination of Hamlin and crew chief Chris Gabehart together for the first time in 2019 paid big dividends, particularly with six wins (including the Daytona 500). Not only was that the second-most number of wins in a single season for Hamlin – and the most races he’s won in a decade – but also was a big bounceback after Hamlin failed to win even one race in 2018 with former crew chief Mike Wheeler. Sadly, the season did not end the way Hamlin and company had hoped. And given he is now 39 years old, it may very well have been the last strong bid Hamlin will have to win that elusive Cup championship.

5. Christopher Bell and No. 20 Xfinity team (15 points): There’s domination, then there’s what this team did from 2018-19. No titles, but 15 wins, 38 top fives and 41 top 10s in 66 races. Bell now advances to the Cup Series for 2020 and he’s taking crew chief Jason Ratcliff with him, which is a no-brainer.

(tie) 6. Chase Elliott and No. 9 Cup team (7 points): Valiant comeback to advance past the second round was wasted when everything went wrong in the next round. Elliott and crew chief Alan Gustafson have become a strong team, winning a combined six races in the last two years, but there is still the issue of performing well under pressure. Elliott appeared a lock to advance to the Championship 4 round until he reached the third round and finished 36th, 32nd and 39th, ending his title hopes with a definitive thud.

(tie) 6. Ross Chastain and No. 45 Truck team (7 points): A team that opened the season not planning to run a full season with one driver, switched to a championship hunt after eight races, bounced back from having a win disqualified to win the next race and made it to the Championship 4.

(tie) 6. Cole Custer and No. 00 Xfinity team (7 points): Upgraded at crew chief with Mike Shiplett and went from a one-win-per-season team for the previous two seasons to finishing with seven wins in 2019, one less win than Christopher Bell. Not surprisingly, Custer and Shiplett will remain together when Custer jumps to the Cup series and the No. 41 in 2020.

(tie) 9. Joey Logano and No. 22 Cup team (6 points): It was a similar season to 2018 for Logano and crew chief Todd Gordon in 2019, but the end results were diametrically opposite. Whereas Logano went from underdog to champ in 2018, he fell short of running for a second career title in 2019, ultimately finishing fifth in the standings. Still, this duo works very well together. One thing that needs to be looked at if Logano wants to improve in 2020 is to cut down on the number of mistakes both he and his pit crew make.

(tie) 9. Tyler Reddick and No. 2 Xfinity team (6 points): This was an outstanding season for Reddick despite some challenges. Not only did Reddick move to Richard Childress Racing after he won the 2018 Xfinity championship for JR Motorsports, Reddick and crew chief Randall Burnett worked seamlessly throughout the season, winning five times and failing to finish in the top 10 just six times in 33 races. No surprise, they’ll stay together when Reddick drives the No. 8 for Richard Childress Racing in 2020, with Burnett going with him.

Others receiving votes: Brad Keselowski and No. 2 Cup team (5 points), Austin Hill and No. 16 Truck team (5 points), Kyle Busch Motorsports No. 51 Truck team (2 points), Kyle Larson and No. 42 Cup team (3 points) and Ryan Newman and No. 6 Cup team (1 point).

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