Danica Patrick: Would retire if at risk with next crash

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Danica Patrick figures she has had at least a dozen concussions in her career and says she would retire if a doctor diagnosed her as being at risk with another crash.

The way Dale Earnhardt Jr. stepped out of the car for half a season last year to battle symptoms from a concussion was admirable and a lesson for other drivers, Patrick said Wednesday during Daytona 500 media day at Daytona International Speedway. Earnhardt will start the Daytona 500 on Sunday from the front row in his return to racing.

"I think that we'd like to sweep it all under the rug as drivers like we feel fine and nothing is wrong," said Patrick, 34. "But it's our life. If there was someone that told me or, I would hope any other driver, if you have another wreck, you could have a serious problem, then they would [choose to] be out.

"I would be out because I love what I do but I love lots of other things and I also love life. I'm too young to have it be over. It was a good lesson for a lot of people and a good education."

Patrick said she did not know if the hits she takes are comparable to the hits football players or other athletes absorb when it comes to concussions.

"I've had concussions. Every time you crash, you have a concussion on a varying degree," Patrick said. "When [Earnhardt] said something about having 12 concussions, I'm like, 'I'm sure I've had 12 concussions.' ... It makes you think for sure.

"It makes you pay attention to yourself, and there's nothing better than having somebody like Dale Jr. going as far as getting out of the car as long as he did, saying, 'Hey, I have a problem,' because it makes it more available to everyone else."

Earnhardt said he doesn't compare his issues much with athletes in other sports. His physician, Dr. Micky Collins, is among those at the forefront of treating athletes with concussions in the NFL and other sports.

"I don't really worry too much about it," Earnhardt said. "The sports are a little bit different how they are [with] the frequency of contact and impacts; they're a little bit different. I don't want to minimize this or that.

"It's just apples and oranges as far as how they experience and I've experienced it. ... I'm not an expert. My doctor is, and when I have concerns or questions, I go to him."

The 42-year-old driver said he has asked his doctor the blunt questions.

"I say, 'What's going on? What do you think about this? Am I in danger? I'm 42 years old. If you want me to quit racing, I'll quit racing today,'" Earnhardt said he tells his doctors. "I'd like to keep racing if I'm able to keep racing. He gives me that confidence in our conversations."