News & Media

Race without an Earnhardt a rarity in NASCAR

October 13, 2012, David Caraviello,

First time since 1979 that neither Dale Jr. or his father will be competing

CONCORD, N.C. -- Saturday night's event at Charlotte Motor Speedway brings a rarity in NASCAR -- a premier-series race without a driver named Earnhardt in the starting field.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is sitting out this weekend's event at Charlotte, and will also skip next Sunday's race at Kansas Speedway, as he deals with the effects of two concussions suffered within six weeks of one another. The Bank of America 500 will be the first event in what's now known as the Sprint Cup circuit without an Earnhardt in the field since September 3, 1979, and the last of four races Dale Earnhardt missed because of injuries suffered in a crash.

* Video: Earnhardt news conference

Junior's head injury

Three days after the Talladega wreck, Dale Earnhardt Jr. went to see a neurologist, who diagnosed him with a concussion.

"It's incredibly sad anytime you have something like this," said veteran driver Mark Martin, making his 850th career start Saturday. "Especially with Dale Jr., how hard he has worked to get back in the Chase and become a contender. I saw it firsthand, his commitment to get there, and I feel real bad for him. And obviously, there were Earnhardts in races before I got here, and have been ever since. That's a tough one for our sport, but on the positive side, he'll be back in two weeks, and it could be worse."

Prior to Saturday, the last Cup-level race without an Earnhardt was at Darlington on Labor Day weekend in 1979. The elder Earnhardt was in his first full-time season and running for Rookie of the Year in Rod Osterlund's No. 2 car when he blew a tire and hit the wall while leading at Pocono. He was airlifted to an area hospital, where he was diagnosed with a fracture of both collarbones.

"Dale was in extreme pain," a crew member told The Charlotte Observer in a story that ran the day after Earnhardt's Pocono accident. "... The seat and steering wheel were wrenched a good bit to the left. He took quite a lick." The newspaper also reported that Earnhardt's then-girlfriend, Teresa Houston, said the driver remembered the tire blowing but not hitting the wall.

Earnhardt missed ensuing races at Talladega, Michigan, Bristol and Darlington before returning at Richmond, where he finished fourth. Those four events were the only ones the elder Earnhardt, who died in a crash in the 2001 Daytona 500, missed over the course of his 22-year full-time Cup Series career. Saturday night's race was the first Earnhardt Jr. has missed since he embarked upon his full-time Sprint Cup career in 2000. The younger Earnhardt did not skip a NASCAR start after he suffered burns in crash of a Corvette he was driving in a sports-car race at Sonoma, Calif., in 2004.

* Video: Earnhardt caught in the Big One in 'Dega

Regan Smith will pilot Earnhardt's usual No. 88 car in Saturday night's race. The Charlotte race weekend hasn't been completely without an Earnhardt presence, however. Earnhardt Jr.'s nightclub chain, Whisky River, opened a temporary location near one grandstand complete with a mechanical bull. And Jeffrey Earnhardt, son of Dale Jr.'s brother Kerry, competed in Friday night's Nationwide Series event at the track and finished 27th in a car owned by Archie St. Hilaire.