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Brad Keselowski says more needs to be done to diagnose mild concussions

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Brad Keselowski says all sports face a challenge in diagnosing mild concussions and until such a tool is available to do so, “all of sports are playing from behind.’’

Keselowski’s comments come less than a week after NASCAR upgraded its concussion protocol and on a day where Danica Patrick said the number of concussions she could have suffered in her racing career is “thought-provoking.’’

Keselowski said Wednesday at Daytona International Speedway that the next key area for all sports is to “find a definitive way to diagnose a mild concussion. Until we can definitively define a mild concussion, we’re going to have one or two end results.

“We’re either going to have drivers sit out when they don’t really have a concussion, or we’re going to have the long-term effect of drivers that have faced multiple concussions and developed CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, all the things that go with it. We need a definitive tool to diagnose a mild concussion.’’

As part of its updated concussion protocol, NASCAR announced Feb. 17 that it will require infield care center physicians to incorporate the SCAT-3 diagnostic tool in screening for head injuries. A SCAT test is used by IndyCar and the NFL in diagnosing concussions.

Keselowski’s issue is with hits defined as subconcussive. Enough of those can impact an athlete.

“A race car driver does have, over the course of a long career, repetitive head injuries,’’ Dr. Robert Cantu, clinical professor Neurology/Neurosurgery at the Boston University School of Medicine, told NBC Sports’ Nate Ryan in August. “It’s not just concussions. It’s the subconcussive violent shaking that can contribute as well. So I think it’s very important that we have the opportunity to study the brains in someone involved in racing.’’

Asked about drawing a line from concussions to CTE, a progressive degenerative disease found in those with a history of repetitive brain trauma, Cantu said:

“I think it’s fair to draw the line from repeated head injury, both at the subconcussive and concussive level, with the risk of developing CTE, and it goes up the more trauma you’ve taken.’’

Patrick, 34, says she believes she’s had her share of concussions in a racing career that began when she was 10 years old.

“Every time you crash, you have a concussion of a varying degree,’’ she said Wednesday at Daytona International Speedway. “(Dale Earnhardt Jr.) said something about having 12 concussions, I was like, ‘Oh, I’m sure I’ve had 12 concussions.’ It is a little bit thought-provoking is what I would say for sure.’’

Earnhardt has never revealed how many concussions he has had, although he has sustained at least five concussions during his 17 seasons in NASCAR’s premier series.

Patrick has not suffered a concussion since racing in NASCAR in 2010.

“While we’re not football players, we don’t get the repeated hits in succession over a short amount of time, but it’s rough in the car and the hits are probably singularly bigger, maybe,’’ Patrick said. “I’m just assuming going 200 miles an hour, going 150 miles an hour, has got to be a fairly big hit compared to running.’’

Patrick noted that SAFER barriers and collapsible items on NASCAR vehicles have better protected drivers. Still, Earnhardt missed the final 18 races of last season because of concussion symptoms that stemmed from a crash at Michigan International Speedway in June. It marked the second time in his career that Earnhardt has missed races because of concussion symptoms.

He wasn’t the only driver to sit out last year for similar issues. Matt DiBenedetto was forced to miss a Cup race last season although he questioned if he had been diagnosed correctly after an incident in November at Texas. John Wes Townley missed two Camping World Truck Series races last year because of concussion-like symptoms suffered after two crashes in a June race at Gateway Motorsports Park.

Earnhardt’s openness about his symptoms and recovery is viewed by many in the sport as trendsetting and raised the profile of the issue.

I was very, very sick,’’ Earnhardt said Wednesday.“I had no business being in a car. I just did everything my doctors were telling me to do.

“If it helps somebody, that’s important. But I was just looking out for myself, listening to my doctors. If it taught someone a lesson or helped someone, that’s awesome. I definitely became more educated through the process.’’

A day before Earnhardt returned to the car last weekend at Daytona International Speedway, NASCAR updated its concussion protocol for competitors. The policy states:

#As part of the new rule regarding damaged vehicles, a driver whose car sustains damage from an accident or contact of any kind and goes behind the pit wall or to the garage is required to visit the Infield Care Center to be evaluated.

#The medical portion of NASCAR’s Event Standards now require that Infield Care Center physicians incorporate the SCAT-3 diagnostic tool in screening for head injuries.

#AMR will provide on-site neurological consultative support at select NASCAR events during the 2017 season and will work directly with NASCAR in the continued development of concussion protocol.

Martin Truex Jr. and Jimmie Johnson each said they had no issues after their separate incidents in Sunday’s Clash.

“They just evaluated me,’’ Johnson said after his visit to the infield care center. “It seemed like a normal routine, so I don’t think I was in question to go into protocol mode.’’

With a doctor and paramedic in an emergency vehicle that responds to crashes, it allows medical officials to view drivers more closely after the incident instead of waiting until the drivers arrive to the infield care center. If the doctor or paramedic see something that raises a concern, it can trigger the concussion protocol program.

For as much as is being done, Patrick recognizes the dangers associated with concussions.

“It’s our life, and if there was someone that told me, and I would hope that any other driver that if you had another wreck you could have a serious problems (that) they would be out,’’ she said. “I would be out. 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.’’

So with the emphasis on concussions, what more can be done?

“No. 1 for me is taking note of symptoms, being really aware, which I feel that I’m pretty good at that,’’ Patrick said. “I would almost call myself hyper-sensitive just because of how much I take care of myself with food and working out. I feel very, very perceptive to any little change to my body.

“Hopefully, it puts NASCAR in a position and the safety team into a position where they start to address it differently from a recording information standpoint or a data or testing of some sort. There are some different protocols. The question is what can we do really? Just be aware of your symptoms and be honest.’’

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What drivers said after Richmond Cup race

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Kyle Busch — Winner: “I think the difference for us tonight was just the adjustments. Trying to stay with the racetrack all night long. Adam Stevens (crew chief) and my guys did a phenomenal job. I think one of the other keys to the night was just my guys – my pit crew – they got us out front when it mattered the most those last two pit stops. They were awesome tonight on pit road.”

Chase Elliott — Finished 2nd: “Just very fortunate circumstances there at the end for us with the way the restarts went. Having a short run there at the end was definitely in our favor. So it was nice to be on the good end of things for the first time in a while. Looking forward, we have to be realistic about how we ran tonight. I think the result shouldn’t weigh into how hard we worked this week because we have some work to do. I think that we have to keep that in mind.”

Denny Hamlin — Finished 3rd: “We just got better as the race went on. We were 13th, 15th, something like that in the first half of the race. Just weren’t very strong. We just made some really good adjustments that got us rolling towards the front, especially on long runs. We got to the top five, then we had some pit stops there. We gained a few spots there. But, you know, restarting on that outside line, it was a huge deficit. I just couldn’t get the grip that I needed to try to run with (Kyle Busch) side‑by‑side into Turn 1. That’s all I wanted, to be within one car length getting into turn one, and I just couldn’t get it.’’

Joey Logano — Finished 4th: “We had a really good Shell Pennzoil Ford early in the race and got a couple stage wins early, which was great. We maxed out those points, which is awesome. We just lost the handle on the car and fell back to sixth or so. We had a bad pit stop and lost a bunch of spots and then had a really good pit stop and got them all right back and were able to come home with a top five. I wish I could rerun that. I feel like we can do better if we tried again. I am sure the whole field would say that. I am proud of the speed we showed at Richmond. Just want to be a little better.”

Kevin Harvick — Finished 5th: “No more restarts. We were terrible on the restarts there compared to three or four of those guys. I was spinning the tires getting going there on the restarts. All of the night taken into consideration we were way better than we have been in the past and that is an important race for us to figure out where we need to be with all of the things that didn’t go right tonight and be ready for when we come back here for the playoff race.”  

Jimmie Johnson — Finished 6th: “We had to start the race on the tires we qualified with, and as soon as we got those tires off the car, we were a very competitive car and were able to stay on the lead lap. And with the long green-flag runs, we were able to still stay on the lead lap and work our way up through the field. I don’t know what we’re missing on scuff tires, but that’s something we’ve got to figure out.”

Kyle Larson — Finished 7th: “We weren’t very good all race long. And then I ended up getting the Lucky Dog there and then lost a lap … so that was kind of a hiccup on our part. I was able to get the Lucky Dog again and then charge from wherever we were to seventh the last laps. So, we salvaged a really good finish, which was good.”

Clint Bowyer — Finished 9th: “We had a really good car. It’s just frustrating there at the end. All hell breaks loose. We lost a couple of spots on pit road, and that gets you back, and then you get on the outside and get stuck behind somebody that spun their tires, and you knock the front fender in on the 24 because he spun his tires. The next thing you know, you’re 10th thinking, ‘Boy, how did this night go to ruin so fast?’ Then it’s just beating and banging and everybody dive-bombing on the bottom. Those cars that are a lap down you’re lapping, and all of a sudden sticking it in three-wide with nothing to lose at the end. It’s a shame that a good, positive night ends up being like that, but that’s racing at this place.”

William Byron — Finished 12th: “I sped on pit road, and I guess I was just pushing the last segment there in the corner, and we were a little bit too fast coming onto the straightaway. Overall, a really good night. We got stage points, I think we finished fifth in both stages, and I think we finished 12th, but overall learned a lot and can just really build on this.  I love racing at short tracks. It’s a blast and definitely learned a lot from this.” 

Erik Jones — Finished 13th: “Just a really tough day. We really just didn’t have the right car from the start. I wasn’t too sure about it during practice, but once we fired off we realized it was going to be a pretty big struggle all day. We hung with it and fought hard and came home with an OK finish, but just need to get a lot better for the next one.”

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 14th: “Pretty disappointed that we didn’t get at least a chance. It’s unfortunate, but I don’t know what we have to do to win one of these short-tracks and get everything to go the way we need it to. Tonight we beat ourselves, so that’s unfortunate. The guys did a really good job with the race car. We were awful at the start of the race, and I thought we were really in trouble. Just fought all night long and tried to stick with it and make good adjustments, and put ourselves in position to try to win another one and just came up short. Frustrated, but proud of everyone for the effort and hopefully we get them next week.”

Austin Dillon — Finished 15th: “Richmond Raceway has always been what I consider the hardest track on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series circuit, so I was really proud of our efforts in Stage 1. Our AAA Camaro ZL1 was really good. We were the fastest car on the track for most of the run and were able to race our way from 23rd to eighth and earn a few stage points. Once the race transitioned to night, we lost some of the magic. We just weren’t as strong. I put us in a bit of a hole by earning a commitment line violation coming to pit road, but we worked hard and had a good shot at the end. It was just hard to find a line that made moves.” 

Matt DiBenedetto — Finished 16th: “A 16th for us at Go Fas Racing is a heck of a run. We outran some really, really good cars all day. Our car had crazy-good long run speed and of all days for us to have really good long-run speed, today was definitely the day. But even at the end when we had the green-white-checker, we were able to pass a couple of good cars and pick up a spot or two. The team did a really good job. You know how great of a run that is for us.”

Daniel Hemric – Finished 32nd: “Obviously the results and the finish isn’t at all what we came here to do, but we started the race too far off and we lost so many laps there the first run and that put us behind for the rest of the night. With it going green like it did, I didn’t get to show how much better we got our Camaro ZL1 there throughout the race. I thought we could take off in top-15 speed after we got to work on it for the first time. It just took us getting to pit road to give us that opportunity.”

Ryan Newman – Finished 37th: “Richmond Raceway is one of my favorite tracks and to run just outside the top five, get assessed a pit-road penalty and then battle back onto the lead lap says a lot about this No. 31 Childress Vineyards Camaro ZL1 team. It’s unfortunate on the restart with 30 to go that we got into the back of a car. Everyone started checking up, and I just hit him square in the back. I did all I could, but the damage cost us our race. I’m just so disappointed right now. We had a good car and a finish that doesn’t reflect it.” 

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Late cautions help Chase Elliott to yet another runner-up finish

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Chase Elliott‘s Cup career will always be measured against Bill Elliott’s, his Hall of Fame father.

Saturday night at Richmond Raceway, the third-year driver matched his father in a stat both impressive and underwhelming.

Elliott, who remains winless, finished second for the eighth time in 86 Cup starts.

Bill Elliott was a runner-up eight times before visiting Victory Lane.

But Chase Elliott, whose result was aided by a series of late-race cautions, was the first to admit it wasn’t a product of the team having turned the corner completely in a mostly disappointing season.

“A very fortunate (set of) circumstances there at the end for us with the way the restarts went and having a short run there at the end, definitely in our favor,” the Hendrick Motorsports driver said. “It’s nice to be on the good end of things for the first time in a while. We have to be realistic about how we ran tonight. The result shouldn’t weigh in to how hard we worked this week because we have some work to do.”

Though he started a season-best second in the Toyota Owners 400, Elliott wasn’t a factor in the race’s outcome until he restarted in the top five for two restarts during final 11 laps. He finished seventh in Stage 1.

The second place was his second top five of the season (third at Phoenix) and just the fourth for HMS overall.

The No. 9 Chevrolet pulled off the feat despite not having crew chief Alan Gustafson, who was completing a two-race suspension for an L1 penalty after the Texas race.

In the first race without him, Elliott was involved in a Lap 3 crash at Bristol and finished 29th, 27 laps off the lead.

“I think we’ve been getting better, for sure, over the course of the past handful of weeks,” Elliott said. “I thought last week was really probably our best effort as a company. Obviously we crashed at the beginning. I felt like our car was solid throughout the whole weekend. Obviously, our teammates ran well.”

But Elliott said the team needs to be “realistic” about how the first night race of the season went.

“I think anybody amongst our team would say the same thing,” he said.  “I’m not knocking anyone, anybody on my team or whoever, but we all know we need to do better.”

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Points after Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway

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With his third consecutive win this season, Kyle Busch padded his points lead over Joey Logano with a victory in the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway. He now has a 56-point lead and 17 playoff points.

Logano won both stages of the 400-lap affair, his first stage wins of the season.

Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Clint Bowyer and Kevin Harvick finished third and fourth, respectively.

Brad Keselowski rounded out the top-five.

Earning 39 points for his second-place finish, Chase Elliott is 25 points behind 16th and a playoff berth in the standings.

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Results, stats for Cup race at Richmond Raceway

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Kyle Busch won his third consecutive race of the season after starting 32nd in the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway, the deepest he’s began a Cup race and won.

Busch’s previous worst starting position in a win was 30th at Sonoma Raceway in 2008.

For the eighth time in his career, Chase Elliott finished second. That matches the number of runner-up finishes his Hall of Fame father Bill Elliott earned before winning his first Cup race.

Denny Hamlin finished third at his hometown track. Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top five.

Martin Truex Jr. was leading until a slow pit stop late in the race put him back in the pack. He finished 14th.

Click here for full results.