Earnhardt Jr. will be missed

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will not race at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bank of America 500 at Charlotte...

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will not race at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bank of America 500 at Charlotte after suffering a concussion. (Getty/AFP)

DEAN MCNULTY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:19 AM ET

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Bank of America 500 goes Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway minus the sport’s biggest star.

Just like the Pittsburgh Penguins sputtered without superstar Sidney Crosby, NASCAR is likely to suffer in the all-important television ratings game without Dale Earnhardt Jr. behind the wheel of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

Earnhardt, in case you had not heard, is out of the car at Charlotte and again next week at Kansas Speedway, after being diagnosed with a concussion following last week’s white-flag-lap wreck at Talladega Superspeedway.

His injury at Talladega came after a worse crash six weeks earlier at Kansas during a tire test where Earnhardt did not report concussion-like symptoms.

The hit he took at Talladega, however, brought on headaches severe enough to scare Earnhardt into seeing a neurologist.

The visit to the doctor resulted in a prescription to take two weeks off from racing.

It could not have come at a worse time for Earnhardt, who was in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship, even though he sits 11th, 58 points back of leader Brad Keselowski, with little chance to win the title even before the concussions took him out of contention for good.

It was still a very big blow in a season in which Earnhardt looked to be back on the winning track and in a season where he had re-invigorated his massive fan base.

It was also good news for NASCAR that its most important driver be a competitive force in the all-important Chase.

To properly judge the impact Earnhardt has on NASCAR and the Chase, for announcement that he was out of the No. 88 Chevrolet, Speed-TV pre-empted its regular programming and went with the Earnhardt media conference live.

The question that wasn’t asked, however, was: If Earnhardt had been leading the Chase, would he have gone to see a doctor and admit he had concussion-like symptoms?

A day later the very question was put to four-time champion Jeff Gordon who sits fifth in the Chase and has had a few big wrecks of his own in the past.

It surprised many — although it shouldn’t have — that Gordon said he would have hidden such symptoms if it meant he would have to give up his seat in the No. 24

Chevrolet in the middle of a championship run.

“I hate to say this, but no, I wouldn’t,” Gordon said. “If I have a shot at the championship, there’s two races to go, my head is hurting, and I just came through a wreck, and I am feeling signs of it, but I’m still leading the points, or second in the points, I’m not going to say anything. I’m sorry.

“You know, that is competitor in me, and probably many other guys. And, that’s to a fault. That’s not the way it should be. It is something that most of us, I think, would do. I think that is what gets a lot of us in trouble.”

Gordon’s admission, though, is no different than Crosby continuing to play hockey after his first hit to the head from Dave Steckel.

It is the nature of professional athletes to want to compete, regardless of their own well being.

It is not right but it is a fact and Gordon said despite it being illogical it is just the way it is.

“If you ask me if I am going to volunteer (he had an injury) if I’m in a championship battle ... I can’t say that I would,” Gordon said. “If I was in that position of being in a championship, I’d almost guarantee that I wouldn’t.

“Those things just don’t come along very often.”

At the same time Gordon said he respected Earnhardt for having the courage to step up and admit he was experiencing concussion symptoms serious enough to consult a doctor.

“I applaud Junior for stepping up,” he said. “Whether he felt like he was out of the championship or not, the fact that he felt like he needed to, I applaud him. And I think that you would wish as an individual, you would do the same thing in that situation.”

 

VETTEL BACK ON TRACK

It looked for much of this Formula 1 season like Sebastian Vettel would not be able to win his third consecutive world championship.

Gone was the absolute domination the Red Bull Renault team had in qualifying over the past to seasons.

A late season surge, however, now has Vettel on the back bumper of Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso going into Sunday’s Korean Grand Prix at Yeongam.

After his win in Japan at Suzuka last week Vettel is only four points back of Alonso.

And Vettel and Red Bull teammate Mark Webber were 1-2 in Friday practice, a definite sign that Red Bull is back in the hunt.

Vettel’s fastest lap was one minute, 38.832 seconds with Webber close behind at 1:38.864.

Alonso was third at 1:39.160, a full three-tenths back in the Ferrari.

“We can be quite happy,” Vettel said. “All in all the car felt alright and obviously we will see what we can do tomorrow.”

As for Alonso, he complained that the Yeongam circuit was dirty during the two practice sessions, making find a grip level difficult.

“Let’s hope the situation improves for tomorrow because it’s always more fun driving when the track offers at least some grip,” he said.

Jenson Button was fourth fastest on Friday for McLaren Mercedes on a lap of 1:39.160 with Michael Schumacher rounding out the top five for Mercedes at 1:39.160.

 


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