How an innocent-looking accident altered Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s season

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It was an accident that no one could have realized would have such implications for Dale Earnhardt Jr., who will miss the rest of the season because of it.

Running with a reduced downforce package that made restarts chaotic at Michigan — pole-sitter Joey Logano nearly crashed entering Turn 1 at the start of the race — competitors slid throughout the June 12 race.

“Restarts were chaos,’’ Logano said, reflecting upon that event. “What made it more chaos is the fact the cars weren’t handling. You take all the downforce off the car and now we’re still going to get runs.’’

Four of the nine cautions in the June 12 race at Michigan International Speedway came within four laps of the previous caution.

One of those incidents involved Earnhardt.

Chris Buescher was on the bottom, Earnhardt in the middle and AJ Allmendinger on the outside as they raced off Turn 2 on Lap 62. Buescher slid up and clipped Earnhardt’s car. That caused Earnhardt’s car to hit Allmendinger’s car before Earnhardt’s car slapped the backstretch wall. Earnhardt drove the car back to the garage.

After the accident, Earnhardt said of the contact from Buescher: “I hate it, but you try to take care of each other out there. We all try to race hard, and I wish he would have taken better care of us. He just lost the car and hit the quarter panel. It happens though. I’m angry, but I won’t be too upset about it later.”

Earnhardt finished 39th.

“The way it all worked out, at the end of the day it was just a racing incident at Michigan,’’ Buescher said Friday in a teleconference. “On the restart with the new package everybody was sliding around a lot. We were on the bottom and we were making progress and when we ended up three-wide we just lost air and lost sideforce and got into (Earnhardt). It’s just a racing deal at that point.

“Obviously, it transitioned over the next little bit into something more serious, and, yeah, I do hate it. You never want to be a part of anything like that, but that’s unfortunately the way it goes. There’s always going to be accidents in our sport. We’re not going to leave Darlington without somebody getting into somebody else and it’s just a part of it.

“It’s tough for me to know that I was involved in that incident, and, like I said, I do hate that that’s the case. You can only do so much with the package we were dealt and when we lost the amount of sideforce that we did, it made it tough.’’

Earnhardt ran the following three races — Sonoma, Daytona and Kentucky — before sitting out at New Hampshire. He has not returned since. It was that Michigan accident that doctors later determined caused Earnhardt’s concussion even though Earnhardt, who had suffered concussions before, didn’t experience any symptoms until weeks later.

“I’ve never had a concussion that came on weeks after the event,” Earnhardt said Aug. 1 on his weekly Dale Jr. Download podcast. “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.”

Friday in a statement Earnhardt said: “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. I plan to be healthy and ready to compete at Daytona in February.”

Buescher said he admires what Earnhardt has done since in seeking help after not feeling well at Kentucky and sitting out for the rest of the season.

“I think for Junior’s standpoint, taking a step back and making sure his health is his priority, I think everybody has a lot of respect for that and the fact that’s it’s hard to step out of a race car when you’re doing what you love and you’re competing or a championship opportunity,’’ said Buescher, who is in a position to make the Chase after his Pocono win last month.

“I know it’s not easy and I hate to be included in that conversation, but at the end of the day racing is going to have contact. It was obviously nothing intentional, it’s just part of it. We wish him the best and hopefully he’ll be back racing soon.”