WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (AP) — Dale Earnhardt Jr. is thankful for one thing — he's not just starting his racing career.

After missing three straight Sprint Cup races because of lingering effects of a concussion suffered at Kansas in June, NASCAR's most popular driver on Friday made his first public appearance to speak about his decision to get out of the No. 88 Chevrolet he drives for Hendrick Motorsports.

"Man, your quality of life is so important," said Earnhardt, who is engaged to Amy Reimann. "Your health beyond your driving career is so important. If you plan on having a family, or have a family already, those things are going to be a priority. There are so many reasons to do the right thing and go ahead and get the help you need and get back in the car — when you're healthy."

Soon to be 42 and at the forefront of research into concussion issues in NASCAR, Earnhardt sympathized with young drivers trying to secure a ride who might make the wrong decision when confronted with health issues.

"I've learned a lot through this experience in the last three or four years and feel like it's a hard decision to make (to get out of the car)," he said. "And I feel like it would be even harder, the younger you are. When you're trying to get a career going and just trying to make a living driving cars, it would be tougher. If I was 21 and just getting started or very young, it would be so hard to make that decision."

Earnhardt won't drive at Watkins Glen on Sunday and also will miss the Cup race at Bristol on Aug. 20. Four-time series champion Jeff Gordon, who came out of retirement to fill in for Earnhardt the last two races, will remain behind the wheel in the No. 88.

There remains no timetable for Earnhardt's return. That decision will be left to his doctors.

The decision to sit was a difficult one, to be sure.

"I've been pretty fortunate in my career as far as careers and everything. I can't remember having one that really scared me," said Carl Edwards, who drives for Joe Gibbs Racing. "I think that it takes a lot of guts to be able to do that, to say, 'Hey, I need to do this.' I think it speaks to him as a human being, and I think it sets a good example to young drivers, guys that might feel like they are at a point in their career where they can actually speak up and say they have a problem. I think it's a great example of doing the right thing."


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