Dale Earnhardt Jr. is slated to retire later this year, but he’s said on multiple occasions that he’ll be back on the track, both for Xfinity races and perhaps for the occasional Daytona 500. But one race where fans won’t see Junior behind the wheel next year: the season-opening Clash, which pits the previous year’s finest drivers against one another on the wide, high banks of Daytona.
Earnhardt is eligible, based on winning the pole at Daytona a few weeks back, but apparently won’t be participating. He indicated at a media event at the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Tuesday that his wife Amy doesn’t want him to run the race.
“I’ve got a pole now and I kind of want to run it,” Earnhardt said. “But we’ll see if she warms up to the idea.”
Amy explained her side of the story Tuesday night on Twitter:
“Considering his struggles last fall with his injury,” she wrote, “we are very blessed that he is now healthy, happy & able to enjoy his final season…and hopefully many years beyond racing. So my answer is simple. It’s not worth the risk of his health.”
Naturally, this reasoning—framed as it was with Amy apparently having the final say—brought out the idiots on Twitter. But the whining and bleating of a few anonymous dopes doesn’t account for the fact that there are extraordinarily good reasons for Earnhardt to step out of the car once and for all. To start, concussions magnify; the concussion he suffered last year that put him out of the car for half the season was bad enough that Earnhardt had trouble with basic recovery tasks like walking in public. Risking a concussion with worse effects than that, especially in an exhibition race, runs into the realm of unthinkable. (And let’s not even get into the idea of “risk” when it comes to Earnhardts and Daytona.)
Yes, Dale Earnhardt the elder often raced injured, once asking Dr. Jerry Punch to cinch down the belts tight over Earnhardt’s broken sternum. But times are different now, demands are different, and father and son are different. Earnhardt may well be back in a car at Daytona someday soon, but it’ll be on his and his family’s terms.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports and the author of EARNHARDT NATION, on sale now at Amazon or wherever books are sold. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter or on Facebook.