Dale Earnhardt Jr. met with the NASCAR media on Friday morning at Martinsville Speedway, marking his first interview since announcing he would miss races at Charlotte and Kansas while recovering from concussions.
Here are some of his selected comments from the lengthy media session:
On whether he considered sitting out the rest of the season to recover:
Just like the decision to get out of the car in the first place, I wanted the doctors to make the decision instead of me. If I could race, I wanted to be at the racetrack – and if the doctors felt I was healthy enough to be doing it, I wanted to do it.
I really kind of left all that up to them throughout the whole process and I've been really honest and up front about how I felt every day. They feel like I can get back in the car, so that's what I want to do.
I felt like I could race at Kansas for sure and probably have raced at Charlotte no problem, and I felt foolish sitting at home feeling OK and not being in the car. It feels really unnatural. If I feel good and the doctors say it's OK, I want to be in the car.
On whether he could have remained silent and raced despite the second concussion:
I can understand people's opinions they would try to push through it or ignore it to stay in the car – because I did the same thing in the past. ... But some concussions are really bad, and I don't care who you are: When your mind is not working the way it's supposed to, it'll scare the shit out of you.
You're not gonna think about race cars or trophies or your job, you're going to think about, ‘What do I gotta do to get my brain working how it was before?' That's going to jump right to the top of the priority list, I promise you.
How a visit to the University of Pittsburgh's sports concussion program changed everything:
When I went up there to Pittsburgh, I was just really frustrated about, ‘Man, how long (are the symptoms) going to last? Is this ever going to be right again?' I had no answers, didn't know anything. And these guys up there, I asked them everything I wanted to know and we went through all these drills and exercises...and by the end of the day, I felt like I understood what I was dealing with and what the process was. I just felt a whole lot better.
On how he spent his time:
The first 48 hours, they told me not to do anything. I slept a lot. No TV, just basically walking around the house doing nothing. It was really weird. I went back to the doctor and told him I couldn't do that anymore, that I needed to watch TV or play video games or something. I needed some kind of entertainment.
I went to Pittsburgh and they put me on a physical and mental exercise program I did every day. That really made the biggest difference.
... It's really hard to see your car out there running around, turning laps without you in it. That was really difficult. It was frustrating sitting at home knowing how good of a car we had and not being able to enjoy that with the team.
I was on the phone with (the Pittsburgh concussion doctor) twice a day, talking about everything I was feeling, everything I was doing. I wanted to do it right. I didn't want to take any chances. I wanted to get back in the car as soon as I could, but I wanted to make sure it was not too quick.
On what it feels like to have a concussion:
Every concussion is different. They're kind of like snowflakes, and you react differently to each one.
... I would compare it to like a computer that has too many processes running in the background. Slows it down. Just doesn't work as fast, programs don't start up as quick and things sort of hang up in the middle. That's kind of what it's like.
On whether he's worried about taking his next big hit:
I don't really think about that too much. The one thing I can tell you is I'm going to be honest with myself and honest with the doctors and I'll do whatever they tell me to do. I want to be able to live a full life and not have any issues down the road.
I feel fortunate to have recovered from this concussion rather quickly. Had I tried to push through the second one, I would have put myself in a lot of danger. We can just hope I don't have any more big hits for while. I want to race for another five, 10 years and have some fun.
I feel like I've been out of the car for a year. It doesn't feel like a couple weeks. But I feel like we can go right to it, you know? I want to do a good job over the next four weeks. I want to run hard and go into every weekend trying to do what we've done all year long.