Dale Earnhardt Jr. claims he will take a different approach next time he has health worries after an accident, following the concussion diagnosis that forced him to sit out two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Chase events.
The Hendrick Motorsports driver returned to action at Martinsville this weekend after being cleared by doctors following driving and neurological tests performed earlier this week.
Earnhardt was diagnosed with concussion after he experienced headaches in the aftermath of a last-lap crash at Talladega, which had taken place nearly six weeks after a testing accident at Kansas Speedway. Before missing the Charlotte Chase event, Earnhardt revealed that he did not seek medical assistance following his first incident, despite not feeling 100 percent for a number of days after the crash.
During his layoff, he said he learned that he risked a more serious injury by continuing to race.
"It changes the way I feel about it to where if I know I've suffered another concussion, or if I have symptoms after an accident, I'm definitely going to be a lot more responsible about it," said Earnhardt. "I can understand people's opinions that they would try to push through it, or they would ignore it to stay in the car, because I did the same thing in the past.
"Some concussions are kind of light, and the symptoms are real light. If you don't have another incident, you feel like you can get through it. Some concussions are really bad, and I don't care how tough you think you are, if your mind is not working the way it is supposed to, it scares the s*** out of you.
"You are not going to think about racecars. You aren't going to think about trophies. You are not going to think about your job. You're going to be thinking about 'what do I have to do to get my brain working the way it was before?'
"That's going to jump right to the top of the priority list, I promise you. I definitely take it more seriously now after everything I've learned."
Earnhardt says he feels fortunate to have recovered so quickly, and admitted that trying to push through the symptoms after the Talladega crash would have probably placed him in a very dangerous situation.
"I want to be able to live a full life and not have any issues down the road, but I feel pretty fortunate to have recovered from this concussion rather quickly," said Earnhardt. "I feel lucky that I made the choices that I did to give myself that opportunity. I think that had I tried to push through this second one I would have really put myself in a lot of danger.
"I think we can just hope that I don't have any more big hits for a while and race another five, 10 years and have some fun."
The 38-year-old was second fastest on Friday at Martinsville in his first official practice session since his Cup return, but was only 20th in qualifying.