Brad Keselowski raises questions about concussion diagnosis

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FORT WORTH, Texas — Brad Keselowski continued to raise questions about concussion diagnosis after Matt DiBenedetto was ruled out of Sunday’s Sprint Cup race and put into concussion protocol.

DiBenedetto was not cleared by doctors after he crashed in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Texas Motor Speedway. DiBenedetto tweeted Saturday night that “I’m feeling totally fine … just having to follow the concussion protocol.’’

In an exchange of tweets, Keselowski and DiBenedetto expressed frustration about the process.

Keselowski spoke briefly with Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, and Mike Helton, NASCAR’s vice chairman, before the drivers meeting.

After the meeting, Keselowski said of the situation: “It cements my opinion with an actual example.”

During Sunday’s rain delay, Keselowsk talked more about the issue with NBC Sports’ Mike Massaro.

Keselowski said: “It’s an evolving science. That’s what concussions are. I don’t know if there is anyone who can sit here and honestly tell you they have a complete answer and a complete understanding of what is going on. What’s unfortunate is that as the science has evolved, our sport, really all sports are trying to deal with it.

“What’s happened to Dale Jr. this year is a big wake-up call for everyone. Of course, there is a natural tendency to want to err on the side of caution. Also, there’s real people’s lives that are being affected and I’m very fortunate to make a living as a driver in this sport, so are a lot of others, and that can be very easily taken away from you by someone who wants to make a conservative decision. I think it’s really such a gray area. I really appreciate the tough position that NASCAR is put in, but we have to move forward and we have to look after guys like Matt, who feels like he doesn’t have a concussion and is being sat out.

“As a sport we’ll work on that together. I’m excited about the commitment that NASCAR has put into working through it together with all the different things we’ve done, but I don’t think we have it perfect  and I think everyone can agree to that.”

Keselowski’s question stirred debate on social media, and he answered some questions about his stance and worries. He also was asked about Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is out the rest of the season because of symptoms he suffered after a concussion. He has not raced since July 9. Earnhardt said he’s feeling better and expects to be cleared to race next season, beginning at Daytona.

For several years, Keselowski has questioned whether a doctor should be allowed to keep an athlete out of competition based on suspicion of a concussion diagnosis.

After NASCAR announced in October 2013 that it would require mandatory baseline testing for drivers beginning with the 2014 season, Keselowski stated his concerns.

“Doctors don’t understand our sport,” Keselowski told reporters a few days after NASCAR’s announcement. “They never have and they never will. Doctors aren’t risk-takers. We are. That’s what makes our sport what it is, and when you get doctors involved, it waters down our sport.

“I’m trying to be open-minded to the possibility they can help us, but past experience says no.”

Keselowski’s concerns with doctors making drivers miss races dates to 2010. He nearly missed an Xfinity race after being involved in a crash in the Sprint Cup event earlier in the day. Doctors in the infield care center had concerns about his carbon monoxide level and would not clear him to drive immediately. They did shortly before the Xfinity race, and he won the event.

He also raised concerns about doctors diagnosing concussions in 2012 when Dale Earnhardt Jr. sat out two races after suffering concussion symptoms from two crashes within two months.

“It’s a very difficult situation to explain, and for all of the middle ground, which is where you feel sick but you can’t prove anything medically, that’s where it becomes tough,’’ Keselowski said in 2012. “And yes, I’ve had situations where I’ve been in that middle ground, and you’re left going off of your gut. 

“I feel like the drivers in this sport are smart enough to know the line, and usually if you have an injury like that, that prevents you from being focused and racing at a hundred percent, it should also prevent you from going fast enough to be in the way. The sport almost naturally clears itself of people like that.”

Keselowski also raised concerns earlier in March when Team Penske teammate Will Power was not allowed to compete in the IndyCar season opener in St. Petersburg, Florida, after he was diagnosed with a concussion.

IndyCar issued a statement three days after the race that results of an extensive evaluation revealed “no definitive evidence” of a recent concussion. Power finished second to teammate Simon Pagenaud for the championship even with missing the one race.

NASCAR America: A Matt Kenseth return to Roush Fenway Racing would mean …

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Roush Fenway Racing will make what it is calling a major partner announcement at 10 a.m. Wednesday, and a report states that it will include details on Matt Kenseth returning to drive for the team.

NASCAR on NBC’s Nate Ryan reported Tuesday that Roush Fenway Racing declined comment on SB Nation’s report that Kenseth would run select races for Trevor Bayne beginning May 12 at Kansas Speedway. Ryan reported that multiple principles, including a former Roush Fenway Racing driver will be at Wednesday’s announcement.

Kenseth, who turned 46 in March, won Cup Rookie of the Year honors with Roush Fenway Racing in 2000 and remained there through the 2012 season.

Kenseth left for Joe Gibbs Racing and raced there from 2013-17. He was replaced after last season in the No. 20 car by Erik Jones, leaving Kenseth without a full-time ride for this season.

NASCAR on NBC’s Kyle Petty said on NASCAR America that should the report of Kenseth’s return to Roush Fenway Racing be true, it would provide a nice homecoming.

“He knows the players,’’ Petty said of Kenseth. “He knows everything about the place. He grew up there. He came of age there. He won (a) championship. He won races there. So from all those pieces, it makes sense for a guy like Matt Kenseth to go back there just as it would if Jeff Gordon said I want to go back to Hendrick. It makes perfect sense. But only Matt can answer that question (of why).’’

Ryan noted it is not unusual for teams to put another driver in a car to benchmark that car’s performance.

Bayne is 26th in the points. The 2011 Daytona 500 winner has not finished better than 12th (Texas) this season. Every driver ahead of him in the points has at least one top-10 finish this season.

“Even in a part-time basis, what could he bring?’’ Petty said of Kenseth. “He brings so much. It’s an intangible. I think we saw it when he went to Joe Gibbs Racing. What did he bring there? That team just, all of a sudden, just took off. Was it all Matt Kenseth? No, but it’s part Matt Kenseth, it’s part that knowledge, it’s part that experience, it’s part that desire to run up front, win races and build something and I think Matt felt he had built something that first go around.’’

Kenseth scored the 39th Cup win of his career in November at Phoenix. A week before that win, Kenseth talked to Ryan on the NASCAR on NBC podcast about realizing the end of his career seemed near.

“But like I said, I feel like the way things have gone that for whatever reason — reasons I don’t understand that I think will become really, really clear in the future — that it’s just not meant for me to race next year,” Kenseth said. “I think it’s that simple. Everything lined up this way because I wasn’t going to make the decision myself, so someone made it for me. It’s just not supposed to happen.”

Car owner Joe Gibbs said Tuesday on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that he would look forward to a return by Kenseth to Cup.

“I’ve got to tell you I would love it,’’ Gibbs said. “What a great guy, a great person, a great representative for the sport and for sponsors and extremely competitive. I would love that, and I hope that is going to be the case. I hope he can be there on a steady basis.

“It would be a thrill for us to have Matt back. I think he’s a real credit to the NASCAR Series and love the family. I think that would be great for us. I hope that’s going to be the case. I hope he gets to run a bunch of races.’’

For more, watch the video above.

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Deontay Wilder named Geico 500 honorary pace car driver

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Talladega SuperSpeedway has a reputation for delivering blows to the competition, so it is only fitting that the honorary pace car driver for the Geico 500 will be a man known to deliver knockouts to his opponents. Reigning World Boxing Council (WBC) World Heavyweight Champion and Tuscaloosa, Alabama, native Deontay Wilder will pace the field before the initial green flag Sunday.

Wilder, 32, has a record of 40-0 with 39 of his wins by knockout.

Known as the “Bronze Bomber” because of the 2008 Bronze medal he won in the Beijing Olympics, Wilder found boxing as a way to provide for a daughter diagnosed with spina bifida. He immediately found that he was a natural by scoring a technical knockout over Ethan Cox in November, 2008.

Wilder has held the title since January 2015 after defeating Bermane Stiverne in his only bout that was not decided by a knockout. Wilder scored a unanimous decision and has defended his belt seven times since.

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Update on Matt Kenseth report, Matt DiBenedetto visits

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and features Matt DiBenedetto, who is coming off a 16th-place finish at Richmond Raceway.

Marty Snider hosts and will be joined at the Big Oak Table by Kyle Petty, Nate Ryan and DiBenedetto.

On today’ show:
  • NBCSports.com’s Nate Ryan joins the show with the latest news following last night’s report from SB Nation that said Matt Kenseth is returning to the Monster Energy Series in a part-time role with Roush Fenway Racing.
  • Go Fas Racing driver Matt DiBenedetto will be our special guest! The leader of ‘DiBurrito Nation’ will discuss his solid run last weekend at Richmond and reveal his throwback scheme for this year’s Southern 500 at Darlington. But one question remains – will Matt bring fresh-baked treats from his Mom’s kitchen to the Big Oak Table?
  • We’ll have footage from the latest Dale Jr. Download, as Junior sits down with Kasey Kahne’s crew chief, Travis Mack – who tells the incredible story of how he unexpectedly delivered his own baby at home!
  • And our Tuesday tradition continues … We’ll listen in on all the action from drivers, crew chiefs and spotters on a Saturday night under the lights in Scan All Richmond!
If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Preliminary entry lists for Cup, Xfinity at Talladega

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Forty cars are entered for Sunday’s Geico 500 Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway.

Joey Gase will be in the No. 00 car for StarCom Racing.

Brendan Gaughan is back in the No. 62 this weekend for Beard Motorsports.

Timothy Peters is set to make his Cup debut in the No. 92 for RBR Enterprises.

Cole Custer is listed in the No. 51 car for Rick Ware Racing but a team spokesperson told NBC Sports that Custer will not be driving the car.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won this race a year ago in overtime, beating Jamie McMurray and Kyle Busch.

Click here for Cup entry list

Xfinity Series

There are 41 cars entered for the Sparks Energy 300 Xfinity race.

The race is a Dash 4 Cash event, so no drivers who earn points in the Cup Series are permitted to race in this event.

Noah Gragson, who finished second in his series debut last weekend at Richmond, is back in the No. 18 for Joe Gibbs Racing this weekend.

Shane Lee, who finished 14th in his series debut two weeks ago at Bristol, is back in the No. 3 for Richard Childress Racing.

Aric Almirola won this race a year ago, finishing ahead of Elliott Sadler and Joey Logano.

Click here for Xfinity entry list