(The Sports Xchange) – Danica Patrick estimates she suffered at least a dozen concussions during her racing career and told reporters Wednesday she would retire from NASCAR if a doctor told her there would be long-term risks from another head injury.
The subject of concussions came up during Daytona 500 media day at Daytona International Speedway after Dale Earnhardt Jr. missed half a season last year to battle the symptoms.
The 34-year-old Patrick said she considers the situation a “good lesson” for other drivers and praised Earnhardt, who will start the Daytona 500 on Sunday from the front row in his return to racing.
“I think that we’d like to sweep it all under the rug as drivers like we feel fine and nothing is wrong,” Patrick said, via ESPN.com. “But it’s our life. If there was someone that told me or, I would hope any other driver, if you have another wreck, you could have a serious problem, then they would (choose to) be out.
“I would be out because I love what I do but I love lots of other things and I also love life. I’m too young to have it be over. It was a good lesson for a lot of people and a good education.”
Patrick, who enters her fifth season at NASCAR’s highest level with six top-10s and a pole in 154 races after a seven-year IndyCar career, said she did not know if the hits she takes from crashes are comparable to the hits football players and other athletes absorb.
“I’ve had concussions. Every time you crash, you have a concussion on a varying degree,” Patrick said. “When (Earnhardt) said something about having 12 concussions, I’m like, ‘I’m sure I’ve had 12 concussions.’ … It makes you think for sure.
“It makes you pay attention to yourself, and there’s nothing better than having somebody like Dale Jr. going as far as getting out of the car as long as he did, saying, ‘Hey, I have a problem,’ because it makes it more available to everyone else.”
The 42-year-old Earnhardt told reporters Wednesday that he doesn’t compare his concussion issues with athletes in other sports.
“I don’t really worry too much about it,” the newly married Earnhardt said. “The sports are a little bit different how they are (with) the frequency of contact and impacts; they’re a little bit different. I don’t want to minimize this or that. It’s just apples and oranges as far as how they experience and I’ve experienced it. … I’m not an expert. My doctor is, and when I have concerns or questions, I go to him.”
Earnhardt said he never hesitated to ask his physician, Dr. Micky Collins, the pointed questions about the consequences of continuing to race.
“I say, ‘What’s going on? What do you think about this? Am I in danger? I’m 42 years old. If you want me to quit racing, I’ll quit racing today,'” Earnhardt said. “I’d like to keep racing if I’m able to keep racing. He gives me that confidence in our conversations.”
Earnhardt did allow that hoisting NASCAR’s season-ending trophy may just present the ultimate racing exit for him.
“Hell yeah. I would definitely not want to come back and race anymore if I won the championship, I’d be outta of here,” Earnhardt said while smiling. “I’ve always wanted to win a championship so badly. And coming back from this injury, we’ve worked so hard. So to come back this year and win the championship, it would be hard not to hang it up.
“This is the last year of my deal. I would like to race more, but if I won the championship I’d have to consider going out on top.”