Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s doctor: Goal is to get driver ‘feeling normal as a human being’

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DARLINGTON, South Carolina – One of the primary doctors treating Dale Earnhardt Jr. views the Hendrick Motorsports driver’s recovery as a two-step process, and the first has nothing to do with NASCAR.

“When I first saw Dale, my goal was to see Dale become a human being again,” Dr. Micky Collins said Sunday during a news conference at Darlington Raceway. “I can tell you with confidence that is occurring in front of our eyes. He’s feeling better. He can tolerate a lot more. He’s having fewer and fewer symptoms, and is doing very well. That is the No. 1 goal is to get Dale feeling normal as a human being.

“The second goal is Dale becoming a race car driver again, and yes we will be working on that as well. I’m very confident we’re moving in right direction in that respect.”

Collins, who works at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program, said Earnhardt was “pretty sick” with symptoms involving vision, balance, anxiety and mood when the Hendrick Motorsports driver initially was evaluated six weeks ago.

Suffering from the symptoms of a concussion sustained in the June 12 race at Michigan International Speedway, Earnhardt will miss the second half of the 2016 Sprint Cup season while recovering from the head injury.

Hendrick announced Friday that the 13-time most popular driver would be sidelined for the final 12 races of the season after missing the past six events.

Collins indicated the decision was made to help alleviate the pressure of returning and allow Earnhardt to focus on his recovery. Dr. Jerry Petty, the Charlotte-based neurosurgeon who frequently has worked with NASCAR drivers, made the decision with Collins.

“Though he’s improving, it’s very clear that his test results and our findings and things we look at are not back to normal,” Collins said. “Dale is a competitor. He wants to be back in the race car like no other. The stress he puts on himself is very apparent.

“He wants to race. I feel very strongly the right decision was made to take Dale out of racing so he can focus on him getting better. Just the stress associated with that. Stress and concussion don’t get along well. We see stress can really exacerbate and worsen things. I don’t think it’s coincidence since we made that decision, we’re starting to see a lot of progress here.”

Collins said an encouraging sign was being able to use exercise and vision therapies with Earnhardt that are designed to match specific types of concussions.

“Over the last two to three weeks, the fruits of that labor are now paying off,” Collins said. “Dale has been a model patient. Dale has worked as hard as any patient. He’s very diligent about doing his therapies. We have very specific treatments that are targeting these problems that Dale has, and we’re seeing the benefits of that.”

Earnhardt has said his doctors were concerned his Michigan crash shouldn’t have caused a concussion based on its severity. Research has shown the effects of head injuries are cumulative, and it’s considered a red flag when lesser impacts cause greater effects.

“We want to make sure we get Dale’s systems rehabbed to the point to where he feels normal and hopefully to the point that we don’t see less force cause this to come back,” Collins said. “Hopefully, we’re building to a point where he can withstand normal forces that a race car driver could face. If he had a significant force, that could cause an injury as it would anyone. That’s what we’re trying to do at that level.”

There also is an increased level of susceptibility with head trauma. After the first concussion, a person is four to six times more likely to sustain another.

Collins still is encouraged that Earnhardt will have the option of choosing to race again, though he couldn’t establish a timeline. Earnhardt and his team are hopeful of a return for the 2017 Daytona 500.

“To get him to that level of being a race car driver is a different set of skills than any of us have,” Collins said. “I’m very confident that we’ll be able to do that. Right now, I don’t have specific criteria because we have time.

“We will need to stress the systems enough to see if they produce any problems and rehab those systems enough to where he won’t run into problems with this injury. I feel confident we’re heading in the right direction. … With concussions, the only times you run into problems is when it’s not managed appropriately. That’s what we’re doing with this, taking the time we need and treatments that are needed.”

NASCAR Power Rankings: William Byron, Kyle Busch rank 1-2


Kyle Busch moved closer to the top spot after his win Sunday at WWT Raceway, but William Byron keeps hold of No. 1 after another top-10 run.

The series heads to Sonoma Raceway this weekend, the second race of the season on a road course.


(Previous ranking in parenthesis)

1. William Byron (1) — He goes into Sonoma with six consecutive top-10 finishes after his eighth-place result at WWT Raceway. Byron has led a series-high 717 laps this season.

2. Kyle Busch (4) — Recorded his third win of the season Sunday. He is tied with Byron for most wins this year. Busch scored 59 of a maximum 60 points and won his first stage of the year Sunday. He has 16 playoff points. Only Byron has more with 17 this season.

3. Kyle Larson (3) — His fourth-place finish continued his up-and-down season. In the last nine races, Larson has two wins, four top fives, a 20th-place result and four finishes of 30th or worse. He has led 588 laps this season, which ranks second this year to Byron.

4. Martin Truex Jr. (2) — His fifth-place finish is his sixth top 10 in the last eight races. He ranks third in laps led this year with 383.

5. Denny Hamlin (7) — Runner-up result at WWT Raceway is his fourth top 10 in the last seven races.

6. Ryan Blaney (10) — Followed Coca-Cola 600 win with a sixth-place run at WWT Raceway. He had an average running position of 2.6 on Sunday, second only to winner Kyle Busch’s average running position of 1.9.

7. Joey Logano (9) — Third-place finish is his second top 10 in the last four races.

8. Kevin Harvick (NR) — His 10th-place finish is his fourth consecutive finish of 11th or better.

9. Ross Chastain (6) — Lost the points lead after placing 22nd, his third consecutive finish outside the top 20.

10. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (NR) — Headed for his eighth top 15 in a row until he was collected in a crash after the contact between Austin Cindric and Austin Dillon late in Sunday’s race.

Dropped out: Chase Elliott (5th), Tyler Reddick (8th)

NASCAR will not penalize Austin Cindric for incident with Austin Dillon


Despite Richard Childress and Austin Dillon saying that Austin Cindric intentionally wrecked Dillon late in Sunday’s Cup race at WWT Raceway, NASCAR will not penalize Cindric.

Elton Sawyer, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, said Tuesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that there would be no penalty to Cindric after reviewing the contact.

Dillon and Childress were upset about the incident, which brought out the caution on Lap 220 of the 243-lap race. Dillon said NASCAR should suspend Cindric for the contact, just as NASCAR suspended Chase Elliott one race for hooking Denny Hamlin in the Coca-Cola 600.

Contact between the left front of Cindric’s car and the right rear of Dillon’s car sent Dillon up the track into Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Dillon finished 31st. Cindric continued and placed 13th.

Dillon told Frontstretch.com: “I was wrecked intentionally by (Cindric), hooked right just like Chase and Denny and Bubba’s deal (in wrecking Kyle Larson at Las Vegas in 2022). He better be suspended next week.”

Childress said: “(Dillon) had drove up to about 10th until (Cindric) wrecked him in there on purpose, sort of a payback.”

Sawyer said a review of the incident included viewing video and data.

“We didn’t see anything — and haven’t seen anything — that really would rise to a level that would be a suspension or a penalty,” Sawyer said. “It looked like hard racing. One car coming up a little bit and another car going down.

“As we said last week, we take these incidents very serious when we see cars that are turned head-on into another car or head-on into the wall. I spent a lot of time (Monday) looking at that, looking at all the data, looking at TV footage and just deemed this one really hard racing.”

Sawyer said NASCAR plans to talk to both Cindric and Dillon “to make sure we’re all in a good place as we move forward to Sonoma.”



Seven Cup drivers entered in Xfinity race at Sonoma


Kyle Larson is among seven Cup drivers entered in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Sonoma Raceway.

The race marks the first time the Xfinity Series has competed at the California road course. Teams will get 50 minutes of practice Friday because this is a new event on the schedule. That additional time will give those Cup drivers more laps on the 1.99-mile road course.

MORE: Sonoma Xfinity entry list

Here is a look at what Xfinity rides the Cup drivers will pilot this weekend:

The race is scheduled to start at 8 p.m. ET Saturday.

The ARCA Menards Series West also is competing this weekend at Sonoma Raceway. Cup driver Ryan Preece is entered in that event. Xfinity drivers Cole Custer, Riley Herbst, Sammy Smith and Parker Retzlaff also are entered in that race, which will be held at 6:30 p.m. ET Friday.


Winners and losers at WWT Raceway


Winners and losers from Sunday’s Cup race at WWT Raceway:


Kyle BuschWins the pole, leads the most laps and holds the field off over the last five restarts to win the race. He scored six playoff points, giving him 16 on the season, second only to William Byron’s 17. Busch left Joe Gibbs Racing after last season for Richard Childress Racing. Busch’s three wins this year equals what JGR has done so far.

Ryan BlaneyHis sixth-place finish moved him into the points lead. He last led the points after the spring 2022 Richmond race. Blaney also won a stage Sunday to collect another playoff point. He has seven this season.

Kyle LarsonFourth-place finish was a big turnaround after struggles earlier in the race. It has not been easy for this team the last few weeks. He has three top-five finishes and four finishes of 20th or worse in the last seven races.

Daniel SuarezHis seventh-place finish moved him up two spots to 16th in the standings, the final playoff transfer spot at this time.


Ross ChastainHe finished 22nd for his third consecutive result outside the top 20. He entered the weekend leading the points and fell to fifth afterward. He is 29 points behind new series leader Ryan Blaney with 11 races left in the regular season.

Tyler ReddickRebounded from an early spin to lead but had his race end after a brake rotor failed. He was one of four drivers eliminated by brake rotor failures. The others were Carson Hocevar, Bubba Wallace and Noah Gragson.