CONCORD, N.C. — Dale Earnhardt Jr. was praised by his competitors for having the guts to seek medical attention that led to him being sidelined for Saturday night’s race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
But, at least one driver wasn’t sure he’d do the same with a championship on the line.
“Honestly, I hate to say this, but no, I wouldn’t,” four-time champion Jeff Gordon said. “If I have a shot at the championship, there’s two races to go, my head is hurting, and I just came through a wreck, and I am feeling signs of it, but I’m still leading the points, or second in the points, I’m not going to say anything. I’m sorry.
“You know, that’s the competitor in me, and probably many other guys. And, that’s to a fault. That’s not the way it should be. It’s something that most of us, I think, would do. I think that’s what gets a lot of us in trouble.”
Earnhardt was diagnosed this week with two concussions sustained over a six-week span. He was first injured in an Aug. 29 crash during a tire test at Kansas, but he didn’t seek an evaluation for what he knew was a concussion after he left the track.
Then, he had a lingering headache following Sunday’s 25-car accident at Talladega. Hendrick Motorsports tabbed Regan Smith to replace him in the No. 88 Chevrolet on Saturday night and next week at Kansas.
NOT IMPRESSED: NASCAR asked three drivers at this week’s tire test at Texas to run in a pack so officials could get a look at the 2013 car in traffic.
Nobody loved what they saw.
“We feel like we’ve got a little more work to do with the car and the mechanical grip,” said Greg Biffle, who ran some laps in traffic with Kyle Busch and Paul Menard.
NASCAR has been working all year on a plan to improve the racing, and the launch of the 2013 car is supposed to create a clean slate for changes. The hope is to make passing easier, but Biffle didn’t believe that was the case Wednesday at Texas.
“They seem to be pretty aero-tight, similar to our cars now, maybe a tick more, but we don’t know that because we didn’t have any 2012 cars there to compare that to,” he said. “So it would be unfair to say they’re worse than the 2012 car right now before we make additional changes to them. They were pretty tight behind each other.”
But there’s more testing planned, and Goodyear is working in conjunction with NASCAR to develop a tire that can improve the overall on-track product.
“I think they’ve got a lot of ideas to try,” Biffle said.
“Goodyear is working hard at trying to come up with a tire that complements that so we can get the racing a little more side-by-side.”
FORMULA ONE: In Yeongam, South Korea, Mark Webber took the pole position for the Korean Grand Prix, upstaging Red Bull teammate Sebastian Vettel and McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton.
The Australian stormed to pole on the last lap of qualifying, finishing 0.074 seconds ahead of Vettel. Hamilton was third followed by championship leader Fernando Alonso of Ferrari.
Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen qualified fifth, meaning the top five in the Formula One standings fill the top five grid slots, raising the prospects of a shootout today.
“I was happy with my lap there, it was solid and it’s good to get pole,” Webber said. “It’s a great place to start the race from. I’m looking to get off the first corner very well, that’s important as there are two long straights after that.”
Vettel has won the past two races, in Singapore and Japan, and would overtake Alonso in the standings with a third consecutive win Sunday. The German dominated the practice sessions and topped the times in the first two sessions of qualifying, but when it mattered, he could not match the time set by his teammate.
“On the last run, I had to back off starting the lap as (Felipe) Massa was there, it wasn’t his fault, but I had to back off,” Vettel said. “Nevertheless, the second lap in Q3 wasn’t good enough.”
Webber, who recorded only his second pole of the season after Monaco, improved his lap time by a half-second on his final run.
Vettel can take some comfort in the fact that neither pole-sitter in the first two editions of the Korean Grand Prix had gone on to win on Sunday.
It was an encouraging result for Hamilton, who almost failed to advance to the second session of qualifying, making it through by just a quarter-second. The Briton said he expects it will be a challenge to overtake the Red Bulls on Sunday.
“It will be very tough to get ahead of them but we’ve put ourselves in as good a position as we could,” Hamilton said. “It was very tough this weekend. These guys have clearly made quite a big step within the last two races so we’ve just got to keep pushing.”
McLaren driver Jenson Button made an error and then was forced to slow for a late yellow flag in the second qualifying session and finished a disappointing 11th.
Raikkonen, who is third in the standings despite not having won a race in his comeback season, qualified fifth, ahead of Ferrari’s Felipe Massa.