|"I was a little disappointed..."|
NASCAR fans are anxiously awaiting the return of Dale Earnhardt, Jr., to on-track competition this week at Daytona International Speedway.
Seven-time NASCAR champion Richard Petty, however, is not one of them.
Petty told FS1’s NASCAR Race Hub last week that he was “a little disappointed” in Earnhardt’s decision to return from a concussion suffered last season; an injury that sidelined him from the second half of the 2016 campaign.
“I was a little disappointed that he did,” said Petty, adding that Earnhardt has “lived half his life, and he don’t need to be messed up going to the next (half).
“I feel like he got through with it two or three times, and he had some pretty big knocks in the head,” said Petty. “I’ve had them, too. I think I still live in one of them, but hitting (my head) was never that bad. He’s got a lot of career, opportunities in front of him. He could make another career, and racing would be a minor thing for him.”
Petty compared Earnhardt -- who was medically cleared to return to competition this season after an exhaustive regimen of rehabilitation and therapy -- to Joe Gibbs Racing driver Carl Edwards, who cited a desire to maintain good health in his decision to retire earlier this year.
|Junior returns at Daytona|
"Look, man, you are still a young man,” said Petty. “You still have your career in front of you. I don’t know if Carl had thought about that same of that kind of stuff.”
To some, Petty’s remarks smacked of “do as I say, not as I do.” After all, the avowed “King of NASCAR” raced with a laundry list of injuries during his Hall Of Fame career, even competing with a broken neck at Talladega Superspeedway in 1980 after a savage crash at Pocono Raceway a week earlier.
“When I broke my neck at Pocono, they took me to the hospital there in Pennsylvania and took x-rays,” recalled Petty in a 2016 interview. “The doctor came in and looked at the x-rays and said, `When did you break your neck before?’
“I didn’t even know I had broken my neck before. I probably broke it some time that I broke something else that hurt worse. They made me a special brace for my neck, and I qualified the car and started the race. I did get out of the car after a while and turned it over to another boy.”
Petty insisted that in his era, drivers were financially incapable of sitting out, unlike today’s stars with their seven-figure incomes.
|Petty knows what it's like to race hurt|
“No matter how bad you were hurt, your job was to get in that race car and do the best you could,” he said. “You had obligations to yourself, your family and the people that you worked with. You just went and done it.
“If you had a broken leg, you got in the car. If you had broken ribs, you got in the car. If you had a broken neck, you got in the car. If you had a broken shoulder, they taped the dang thing up, put you in the car and you went.”
The 42-year old Earnhardt said he believes he was initially injured in a crash at Michigan International Speedway in June of last season, though no symptoms presented themselves at the time. A second crash in the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona in July prompted him to seek medical attention, and he stepped out of the cockpit under doctors’ orders four weeks later.
The marked the second time NASCAR’s perennial Most Popular Driver has been forced to the sidelines by a concussion, after missing two Chase races in October of 2012 with similar symptoms.
“I’ve accomplished more than what I thought I would accomplish. I look at my trophies and I can’t believe they’re mine. I’m pretty happy with what I did. I’m blown away with how fortunate I’ve been.”
The third-generation driver will sit out next week’s non-point, Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona in favor of youngster Alex Bowman, before returning to competition in the season-opening Daytona 500; a race he won in 2004 and 2014.owman, before returning to competition in the season-opening Daytona 500; a race he won in 2004 and 2014.