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Dale Earnhardt Jr. has shown drivers it’s OK to admit being hurt

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. wasn’t looking to become an influential voice when he began opening up about his concussion.

But Earnhardt’s forwardness has resulted in other drivers following his ways. Something both Ryan Ellis and Sarah Cornett-Ching admit they wouldn’t have previously done.

“I don’t think I would have gotten checked out honestly,” Ellis told NBC Sports. “It’s not because I didn’t think I had (a concussion) or anything, it just kind of has that negative connotation when you take a hit. Like, ‘Oh that guy can’t take a hit.’ You don’t want to feel like a wuss out there.”

Ellis blew a right front tire in the Oct. 2 Xfinity Series race at Dover International Speedway and his car slammed the wall. He was checked and released from the infield care center but returned when he started to get a headache, felt dizzy, and become nauseous in the garage. Ellis then headed to a local hospital.

“When one of the leaders of the sport (Earnhardt) goes out there and takes the extra steps to get back and make sure he’s right when he comes back, that really gives you the feeling of comfort that you can go and get that checked out,” Ellis said. “No one is going to look at you differently the next week.”

Cornett-Ching had similar thoughts. She hit the outside and inside walls during the Sept. 23 ARCA race at Kentucky Speedway and suffered a headache. Cornett-Ching said it wasn’t until the next day “when everything started falling apart for me.” She said her brain couldn’t keep up with her surroundings and that night she became nauseous and had ringing in her ears.

Cornett-Ching spent the next few days laying in the dark before NASCAR called to check on her. They recommended she see Dr. Jerry Petty, one of the top neurologists in the Charlotte area.

“The decision to open up about what I was going through was influenced by Dale Jr. because initially, I thought it would make me feel weak,” Cornett-Ching told NBC Sports. “I didn’t really want people to know I had a concussion because if there was an opportunity to run a car or do something and advance my career, I didn’t want it to be hindered by the fact that I have a concussion right now.”

That Earnhardt has been a trendsetter in this area is something he didn’t anticipate nor takes the credit. Although he suspected a few individuals might be affected by watching his injury unfold, Earnhardt is glad to see drivers getting the necessary treatment.

“You’ve only got one brain,” Earnhardt told NBC Sports. “When that’s not working right you get scared into wanting to get fixed. When you get hurt, and you can’t see the way you want to see, or you can’t think straight, or your balance is off, that right there is enough to drive you to make the right decisions. So I can’t take much credit for it.

“I think that these folks when they hear somebody talking about it, and they hear about the symptoms, and then they experience it themselves, they realize this is serious, this is scaring me, this is what he did, and I know this path to take to get right. So, I’m glad they’re making good decisions.”

Earnhardt hopes more drivers continue to follow suit. As he’s learned, there are many educated doctors ready to help, in addition to exercises set to specific injuries. And it’s important, Earnhardt agrees, that drivers know it’s OK to come out and say they are hurt and need the help.

“That’s the smartest thing to do and especially when you’re dealing with your head,” Earnhardt said. “Trying to kind of soldier through it on your own is an easy choice to try to make but a lot of times you can get yourself in trouble if you happen to have another incident shortly after that. When you start to layer concussions and get two or three back-to-back is when you really get into the danger zone.”

Ellis had the chance to speak with Earnhardt last week at Charlotte Motor Speedway during an event for Earnhardt’s foundation. They discussed their symptoms and experiences.

“We had the same feelings of fogginess and stuff like that after the initial hit,” Ellis said. “He did help quite a bit. It’s really cool to have the leader of our sport there to kind of lean on.”

The most important thing Earnhardt told Ellis was to listen to his doctor.

“You can’t have any doubt in your mind about what you’re doing as far as whether it’s going to work or whether it’s not going to work,” Earnhardt said he told Ellis. “You’re going to get people coming from all over the place out of all kinds of corners saying, ‘Hey, this is what you need to do. Hey, this is what you need to do. You know, my buddy had that. I bet you have inner ear infection or your rocks are loose’ or what the hell ever.

“Everybody thinks that they know what is wrong with you and what to do. You just need to listen to one person, and that’s your doctor, and you gotta be completely transparent when you go to your doctor and you’re hurt.”

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Martin Truex Jr. wins at Kansas; Kenseth, Larson, McMurray, Stenhouse Jr. eliminated

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Given he already was locked into the upcoming Round of 8 in the NASCAR Cup playoffs, Martin Truex Jr. had nothing to lose in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 — so he went out and won his third race of the playoffs and seventh race of the season.

Truex led 89 laps to capture the win at Kansas Speedway, his second win there this season and an uncanny sixth win on a 1.5-mile track this season. His seventh win was on the road course at Watkins Glen.

Daytona 500 winner Kurt Busch, who was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, finished second, followed by Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin.

Sunday’s race was a cut-off race for the Round of 12. The four drivers that were eliminated from advancing to the Round 8 semifinal round were Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Kyle Larson.

Those advancing to the Round of 8 are Truex, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch.

STAGE WINNERS: Kyle Busch won Stage 1, Denny Hamlin won Stage 2.

Among incidents in the scheduled 167 laps of the final stage:

* Jimmie Johnson spun coming out of Turn 4 on Lap 187. He tore up a good chunk of the frontstretch grass but did not hit any other cars. He brought his car to pit road to fix some damage to the hood, strapped on four new tires and fuel and returned to the track. Shortly after the restart on Lap 192, Johnson spun again, clipping the Turn 3 wall and flatspotted all four of his tires.

* A big wreck on the restart on Lap 197 involved a number of cars, including playoff contenders Matt Kenseth and Jamie McMurray. The incident brought out a red flag race stoppage. The wreck occurred when Erik Jones got loose, turned right and head-on into the wall, and collected a number of other drivers including Daniel Suarez, Joey Logano, Ryan Newman, Danica Patrick, Kasey Kahne, Aric Almirola and Clint Bowyer.

* Kenseth suffered a huge penalty on the ensuing pit stop. Because he had seven crew men over the wall, violating the damaged vehicle policy, NASCAR ruled Kenseth was out of the race. As a result, he will not advance to the Round of 8 and has been eliminated from the playoffs in his final season with Joe Gibbs Racing.

* As for McMurray, his car could not be repaired and his championship hopes are done. “We just unfortunately had two bad races in a row and couldn’t do nothing about it,” McMurray told NBCSN. “You race all day to the end and we didn’t make it today.”

We’ll have more information, including full results and updated standings, shortly. Please check back soon.

Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray eliminated from race after massive Lap 198 crash

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Matt Kenseth and fellow playoff driver Jamie McMurray were involved in a 10-car crash on Lap 198 of the elimination race at Kansas Speedway.

The crash began when Erik Jones got loose, spun and began collecting cars.

The crash caused a red flag.

Kenseth was ruled out of the race after too many crew members went over the wall to repair his No. 20 Toyota. That effectively eliminates the Joe Gibbs Racing driver from contending for the championship. McMurray is also eliminated from contention.

“I don’t know what any of the rules are,” Kenseth told NBCSN. “It seems like we’ve got a lot of stuff that kind of gets changed so often I honestly can’t keep up with it. My head kind of spins, from putting lug nuts on out of pit boxes to one too many guys over the wall, you’re not allowed to race anymore. I just don’t get it to be honest with you. I really don’t have a lot good to say right now. I’m more than disappointed.”

The crash involved Jones, Kenseth, McMurray, Daniel Suarez, Joey Logano, Ryan Newman, Aric Almirola, Danica Patrick, Clint Bowyer and Kasey Kahne.

Kenseth’s crew chief, Jason Ratcliffe, blamed the mistake on miscommunication and simply not counting the number of crew members who were over the wall.

“We missed a head count there. It’s a shame that that’s a rule that takes competitors out of an opportunity for the championship,” Ratcliffe said. “Somebody just missed the call there or I didn’t communicate properly. Typically it boils down to communication and I think that’s what happened there.”

Said McMurray: “I was really looking forward to just getting to the end of the race. Like I said earlier, we just needed the pit stops to go our way or the strategy to get shook up, and it was kind of happening right there. You just hope that you’re going to be on the right end of the strategy. And then if the race would have gone long, we had one of the best cars on the long runs. But, you just don’t know. You race all day to the end, and we just didn’t make it today.”

Jimmie Johnson spins twice early in final stage of Kansas elimination race

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In danger of not advancing to the third round of the playoffs, Jimmie Johnson spun on the front stretch on Lap 189 of the elimination race at Kansas Speedway.

The No. 48 slid down the track and into the infield grass, which had been drenched in rain overnight.

“I got loose,” Johnson told his team over the radio.

After undergoing repairs on pit road, Johnson returned to the track. But his misfortune continued on the ensuing restart when he again spun, this time in Turn 3 while running in the high lane.

Johnson pitted again and returned to the track before a large, multi-car wreck unfolded on the restart, which Johnson was able to avoid.

Johnson entered the race in the last transfer spot, seven points above ninth.

Denny Hamlin stays out on old tires in one-lap shootout, captures Stage 2 at Kansas

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In a one-lap shootout to wrap up Stage 2, Denny Hamlin on old tires held off the rest of the field to win the middle stage of Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kentucky Speedway.

Kevin Harvick (on new tires) was second, followed by Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch (also on new tires).

The younger Busch brother has dominated the race thus far, winning Stage 1, leading 57 laps in Stage 2 and a total of 94 laps of the first 180 laps in the scheduled 267-lap event.

Hamlin and Keselowski were both penalized for speeding on pit road after the stage ended.

Among incidents during Stage 2:

* Martin Truex Jr. came off Turn 4 and made an abrupt entry onto pit road on Lap 92 after complaining of a vibration in his Toyota, potentially from a loose wheel. Truex took four tires and fuel and returned to the track.

* Denny Hamlin misunderstood a command from crew chief Mike Wheeler on pit road during his stop on Lap 128. After the jack dropped, Hamlin hesitated because he thought he heard Wheeler say “hold up” on the team radio. Wheeler actually said “Hard out.” The miscue cost Hamlin a couple of seconds and returned to the track in 17th position.

* Brett Moffitt hit the outside wall for the second time in the race on Lap 156, bringing out the caution in the waning moments of Stage 2 to set up the one-lap shootout. He also hit the wall on Lap 46 in Stage 1.