Brad Keselowski recalls Dale Jr.'s 'really, really hard' Kansas wreck

When Dale Earnhardt Jr. wrecked during a tire test at Kansas Speedway, current NASCAR points leader Brad Keselowski was there that day and saw firsthand just how hard of an accident it was.

"I had heard it in my car when we were sitting in the garage when it (Earnhardt Jr.'s wreck) happened," Keselowski said Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. "I looked up and could see the marks and could see that he hit really, really hard and that he probably was not going to be okay."

And when Earnhardt Jr. was checked out and cleared by the medical staff that August afternoon, Keselowski was part of the contingent who gave him a lift back to the garage. The two even sat next to one another on the ride and according to Keselowski, "He looked fine to me" and "was impressed" that Earnhardt Jr. had apparently emerged unscathed from what was a hard lick.

But Earnhardt Jr. wasn't fine, as he had a concussion that neither himself, Keselowski, nor anyone else knew about at the time. So in spite of not feeling 100 percent right, Earnhardt Jr. continued to race, as NASCAR drivers too frequently do when injured.

As Keselowski went on to explain, asking a driver to step out of the car for any length of time is a tough proposition - even if it may be in their own best interests to take a week off.

"For any race car driver, not being in the car is your worst fear," he said. "It's a nightmare that you have. It's your worst fear not to be in the race. That's the competitive desire you have as a race car driver so missing the show is terrible. It's just terrible to watch and not be a part of."

If there is a driver who knows something about racing with a serious injury it would be Keselowski.

Last year in a testing accident at Road Atlanta, the Penske Racing wheelman suffered a broken ankle. But despite the limitations, Keselowski didn't miss a single race, and in fact, the very next week at Pocono he went out and won.

"It's a tough situation to race in this sport and be injured," Keselowski said. "You're always left wondering what the line is and I think we all have our own code for that. ... As a driver the temptation, for me, at least is to honor that code back by finding a way to persevere through adversity - and physical injury is certainly one of them.

"But you're left balancing that with the knowledge sometimes you can compete through an injury and perpetuate whatever damage there is or, even worse, risk those around you. There is certainly a fine line to walk and every injury is different. But I would say that every driver will encounter that at some point in their career and has to find their own path through it."

However, there is a big difference between competing with broken ankle compared to an injury to your brain - especially when racing at speeds that can top 200 mph and where one mistake can not only put yourself at risk but those around you.

And this is why Keselowski recognizes and respects Earnhardt Jr. being forthright about his symptoms, as him doing do so made him ineligible to race the next two weeks at Charlotte and Kansas.

"Respectfully to Dale, he chose to not put himself in a bad situation and I think that is very admirable," Keselowski said." "Because everyone knows the effects of cumulative concussions can have on your body and that's something he doesn't need to take a risk of.

"And I think we all respect that; especially because of Dale's passion for the sport and the caring of his competitors not to put them in a tough situation."

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