On Sunday afternoon, with the smoke of a two-dozen-car wreck still lingering in the air above Talladega, Dale Earnhardt Jr. sat on the bumper at the end of his hauler, clearly dazed. He shook off questions about his health and proceeded to give a lucid, if pointed, interview about the state of racing at Talladega. He clearly was not in the best condition, but observers attributed it to the shock of being involved in such a major wreck.
The truth, as it turned out, was much worse. On Wednesday, Earnhardt was diagnosed with a concussion. And now, according to Hendrick Motorsports, Earnhardt will sit out the races at Charlotte and Kansas. Regan Smith will drive the #88 in his stead.
This, of course, ends Earnhardt's championship hopes, but that's not the real issue. The issue is that Earnhardt suffered a brain injury despite all the safety improvements now in place in NASCAR. This puts a lie to the idea that drivers are perfectly safe encased in their 21st-century cars, and shines an even harsher light on the true effects of wrecks such as Talladega's "Big Ones."
Here, for reference, is Earnhardt's Talladega interview, immediately post-concussion: