Dale Jr: ‘Culture’ view of concussions has changed ‘tremendously’

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. didn’t want to be the face of concussions in NASCAR or sports at large.

But a seemingly innocuous crash at Michigan International Speedway on June 12 followed by the delayed emergence of concussion symptoms four weeks later led to Earnhardt slipping into that role.

“It is not something that I intentionally wanted to spearhead,” Earnhardt said in a Friday teleconference with reporters. “But I have seen a culture change tremendously.”

While sports like football have received intense scrutiny in recent years due to concussions and the danger of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in players in years later, increased concerns have come to NASCAR after the 14-time most popular driver missed the final 18 races of 2016.

MORE: Earnhardt defends return to racing despite danger of concussions

MORE: Darlington test “recharged” Dale Jr.

Earnhardt, who has had at least five concussion in his career, was treated for his most recent case by Dr. Micky Collins, medical director of the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program in Pittsburgh. It was there that Earnhardt saw the many forms that concussions can come in and the different ways they impact people.

“Mickey sees two dozen patients a day with various types of injuries,” Earnhardt said. “And every day he learns something new; obviously he has seen a million people with the same thing that I had, but every day they learn something new. Every day as a patient I think you learn something new. It’s incredible the progress that is being made, but it is happening right now. It is happening right in front of us. It is being taken more seriously, and I think that is great.”

Earnhardt wasn’t the only NASCAR driver to fall victim to a concussion this season.

John Wes Townley, a driver in the Camping World Truck Series, missed two races this season after incurring concussion symptoms in a race where he crashed multiple times.

In November at Texas Motor Speedway, Matt DiBenedetto was forced to sit out the Sprint Cup race for what was believed to be a concussion received in the Xfinity Series race a day earlier. DiBenedetto believes he was completely fine and that NASCAR was being cautious in its decision.

DiBenedetto’s case led to 2012 series champion Brad Keselowski once again raising questions about the relationship of doctors to the sport.

But it was the absence of Earnhardt from the track that drove the conversation about concussions while he traveled back and forth between North Carolina and Pennsylvania, working his way back to the cockpit.

“I obviously don’t want anyone to go through the injury, much less the rehabilitation,” Earnhardt said. “It’s been great to have the opportunity to go to Pittsburgh; to meet Mickey and his whole staff and have exposure to everything that they are doing and get to understand how much they have learned and what they are capable of doing.

“It’s given me so much confidence to be able to come back and race again knowing that those guys are there, and they are able to patch you up and get you stronger. What they have been able to do is incredible for people like me. They are doing that every day with dozens and dozens of folks.”

Despite crash, Elliott Sadler maintains lead in Xfinity points standings after Charlotte

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Despite finishing 35th because of a late crash, Elliott Sadler maintained his Xfinity Series points lead Saturday after the Hisense 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Sadler remained six points ahead of JR Motorsports teammate Justin Allgaier. Teammate William Byron is ranked third.

With Allgaier and Ryan Reed qualified for the playoffs via victories, provisional playoff spots basesd off points currently belong to Sadler, Byron, Daniel Hemric, Darrell Wallace Jr., Brennan Poole, Matt Tifft, Michael Annett, Blake Koch, Cole Custer and Dakoda Armstrong.

Click here for the Xfinity points standings after Charlotte.

Xfinity Series results and statistics from Charlotte Motor Speedway

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Ryan Blaney scored the fifth Xfinity Series victory of his career and first since September 2015, winning the Hisense 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Blaney seized the lead from runner-up Kevin Harvick on a restart with three laps remaining.

Austin Dillon, Christopher Bell and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top five.

Blaney led a race-high 107 of 200 laps.

Click here for full results from Saturday’s Xfinity race at Charlotte.

Ryan Blaney wins Charlotte Xfinity race for first victory in series since September 2015

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CONCORD, N.C. — Ryan Blaney won Saturday’s Hisense 4K TV 300 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Blaney took the lead from Kevin Harvick on a restart with three laps to go.

It’s his fifth Xfinity Series win and the first for Team Penske in 2017. It’s Blaney’s first Xfinity victory since Sept. 26, 2015 at Kentucky Speedway.

Blaney was followed by Harvick, Austin Dillon, Christopher Bell and Denny Hamlin.

“I thought we were going to run out of laps to make it happen,” Blaney said, who was aided by a series of rapid cautions in the closing laps.

“We got a good restart and I was able to barely stay on (Harvick’s) quarter (panel) off of (Turn) 2 and dragged him back into (Turn) 3,” Blaney told Fox Sports 1. “I’m very proud, but you’re going to feel really bad if you mess up and don’t win. That’s what I thought was going to happen. I didn’t know if we were going to get our shot to get back to the lead. I don’t want to say the caution went our way because we kind of needed long runs. But they worked out so we could put ourselves in a position to  capitalize on it.”

Driving the No. 12 Ford, Blaney led four times for 107 laps on the way to the victory. Blaney raced to the front after starting from the rear for unapproved adjustments. He is the first driver to win after going to the rear since Marcos Ambrose at Montreal in 2011.

Blaney’s win comes 11 year after his father, Dave Blaney, won the fall Xfinity race at Charlotte. They are the first father-son duo to win at Charlotte in the Xfinity Series.

Stage 1 winner: Kevin Harvick

Stage 2 winner: Ryan Blaney

MORE: Race results

MORE: Points standings

WHO HAD A GOOD DAY: On the third lap of his Xfinity career, Christopher Bell was turned by Ryan Reed on the frontstretch and slid through the grass. He continued on and battled back to finish fourth. …. Brennan Poole brought out a caution with 42 to go after he got into the frontstretch wall, but managed to finish eighth. … Brad Keselowski finished sixth after starting 39th. He started there after multiple trips through inspection kept him from making a qualifying run. … Brendan Gaughan finished ninth after he spun exiting Turn 4 late in the race.

WHO HAD A BAD DAY: Michael Annett’s day ended with 25 to go when he got into the wall on a restart and went to the garage. He finished 36th …. On the next restart, points leader Elliott Sadler spun in Turn 4 and hit the inside wall hard. He was uninjured and finished 35th … Darrell Wallace Jr. was having his best race of the year, including leading three laps in the final stage, when it came unraveled. He brushed the Turn 4 wall with seven laps to go. He then lost a tire and spun in Turn 2. He finished 28th.

NOTABLE: Not counting the end of each stage, the race was slowed by 10 cautions.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Give him a sponsor, man. He passed me on a restart and drove away from me. It was awesome.” – Ryan Blaney on his battle for the lead with Darrell Wallace Jr. at the start of the final stage.

WHAT’S NEXT: OneMain Financial 200 at Dover International Speedway at 1 p.m. ET on June 2 on Fox Sports 1.

Kyle Larson fastest in final practice for Coca-Cola 600

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CONCORD, N.C. — Kyle Larson topped the final practice session for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 with a speed at 186.400 mph.

The Cup points leader, Larson will start 39th in the race because his No. 42 Chevrolet didn’t clear inspection in time to qualify.

Ryan Blaney (185.861), Matt Kenseth (185.046), Kurt Busch (184.856) and Erik Jones (184.818) rounded out the top five.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was seventh fastest at 184.433 mph. Pole-sitter Kevin Harvick was 20th fastest at 182.648 mph.

Jimmie Johnson recorded the most laps in the session with 47.

Jamie McMurray had the best 10-lap average at 180.914 mph.

The session was stopped for a caution once after Brad Keselowski spun exiting Turn 4.

Click here for the full practice report.