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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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Here’s your primer heading into second half of NASCAR Cup playoffs

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If you thought the first five races of the NASCAR Cup playoffs were intense, you haven’t seen nothing yet.

As the 10-race playoffs move into their second half, the final five races will likely be more competitive than the first five.

That’s particularly true in Sunday’s cut-off race at Kansas, where the current field of 12 remaining playoff contenders will be cut to eight after the checkered flag falls.

And then there will be the Round of 8 cut-off race at Phoenix in four weeks that will set the four-driver field for the championship race in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Thanks to our friends at RacingInsights.com, here’s some of the top playoff insights that will help fans better understand where we are in the playoffs heading into Kansas:

  • Playoff drivers have won all five races in the 2017 playoffs.
  • The last time a driver who didn’t make it into the playoffs won a playoff race was Denny Hamlin at Homestead in 2013.
  • The last playoff race won by a playoff driver who was previously eliminated from the playoffs was Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Phoenix in 2015.
  • Tony Stewart in 2005 is the only driver to go on to win the championship without winning a race during the playoffs.
  • Four of five playoff races so far this season have been won from a qualifying position of sixth or better.
  • Brad Keselowski won at Talladega driving a Ford, ending a four-race playoff winning streak by Toyotas. Also, prior to Talladega, Toyota drivers had won all four poles and all four races in the 2017 playoffs. Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the pole at Talladega, but finished seventh.
  • Brad Keselowski won at Talladega with a last lap pass for the win, it was the eighth playoff race won with a last lap pass and the only one in the last 29 races.
  • There were 11 cautions at Talladega, the most cautions in the last 18 playoff races.
  • There were a combined 21 cautions in the last two playoff races, the same number as the previous four playoff races combined.
  • Talladega last week: 14 cars running at the finish, 26 total DNFs (including 24 DNFs due to wrecks), three red flags and only two playoff drivers finished in the top 10 – all records for a playoff race.
  • A Chevrolet driver has finished runner-up in each of this season’s first five playoff races.
  • Chase Elliott has finished runner-up three times so far in the playoffs. The record for most runner-up finishes in the playoffs in a season was four by Jeff Gordon in 2014 and Jimmie Johnson in 2006. Elliott has also finished runner-up at both 1.5-mile tracks so far, with three more 1.5-mile tracks still left in the final five races (Kansas, Texas and Homestead-Miami).
  • Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch are the only drivers still playoff-eligible that have scored stage points in every playoff race.
  • The best average finish by a driver in all 10 races of the playoffs is 4.9 by Carl Edwards in 2011. Edwards tied Tony Stewart for the championship, but Stewart won on the first tiebreaker – more wins (five to Edwards’ one).
  • Martin Truex Jr. has led the playoff standings through the first five races of the playoffs, tying Matt Kenseth in 2013 for the most races led by a driver to start the playoffs. Truex also won at Kansas in May.
  • Three drivers have won races during the playoffs in all three years of the elimination format entering 2017: Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Jimmie Johnson all three drivers have yet to win in 2017.
  • Only two of the 135 playoff races were won by drivers getting their first NASCAR Cup win: Clint Bowyer in 2007 at New Hampshire and Brian Vickers in 2006 at Talladega.
  • Jimmie Johnson is the only driver to win a race in every season of the playoffs entering 2017. Entering Kansas, Johnson remains winless in the 2017 playoffs.

Long: Lack of stage points could end Jimmie Johnson’s bid for 8th title

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Jimmie Johnson’s spotter says he’ll be “crossing my fingers” this weekend at Kansas that the mistake he made at Talladega doesn’t keep Johnson from advancing in the playoffs.

Should the seven-time series champion fail to move on to the Round of 8 — he holds the final transfer spot entering Sunday’s race at Kansas Speedway — it won’t be because spotter Earl Barban told the team it could work on Johnson’s car before NASCAR had withdrawn the red flag at Talladega, incurring a penalty that ended the team’s race.

No, Johnson, crew chief Chad Knaus and the rest of the team can look at their failure to collect as many Stage 1 points as their competitors. Even if Johnson advances, his lack of stage points could keep him from racing for a championship if he doesn’t win a race in the Round of 8.

Johnson goes to Kansas with a seven-point lead on Kyle Busch for the final transfer spot. Matt Kenseth trails Johnson by eight points.

Before the playoffs began, Johnson was asked if there would be more of a penalty for his summer slump that cost him stage points.

“I really think so,’’ he said. “We know our qualifying average doesn’t lead to a Stage 1 opportunity.’’ 

Johnson’s struggles in qualifying have put him in a mid-pack spot and made it difficult to score many points in the opening stage. His average starting spot of 17.0 this season is worst among the remaining playoff contenders

The result is that Johnson has scored 59 Stage 1 points in 31 races this season — fewest among all but one of the remaining playoff contenders. Johnson has scored only 35.8 percent of his 165 total stage points in the opening stage. To compare, Kyle Busch, who has an average starting spot of 7.1, scored 58.7 percent of his 315 total stage points in the opening stage. 

Johnson’s difficulties in the playoffs have been as pronounced.

Johnson’s average starting spot of 15.2 in the postseason is only better than Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (16.2 average starting spot in playoffs) and Jamie McMurray (18.2).

Johnson’s 27 stage points are more than only Stenhouse (14) and McMurray (13) in the playoffs.

Johnson also has scored 37 percent of his total stage points in the opening stage — the lowest percentage among the remaining title contenders in the playoffs. 

To compare with Busch, he has an average starting spot of 4.8 in the playoffs. That’s allowed Busch to score 63.5 percent of his 52 total stage points in the opening stage.

Add it together and Johnson could face quite a challenge to stay in title contention.

Having to hold off Busch won’t be easy, provided Busch doesn’t run into problems.

In four of the first five playoff races, Busch has scored five or more stage points than Johnson in the opening stage. If Busch does that Sunday, he will be in position to pass Johnson for a spot in the next round over the final 187 laps of the 267-lap event.

That’s a likely scenario. Busch has outscored Johnson 80-41 in stage points in the season’s eight races on 1.5-mile tracks.

If Busch moves into a transfer spot, Johnson likely will have to beat Ryan Blaney to have a chance to break his tie with Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt in championships. Blaney has a two-point lead on Johnson.

Blaney has scored 108 Stage 1 points compared to Johnson’s 59 for the entire season. Blaney has outscored Johnson 196-165 in total stage points this season. In the playoffs, Blaney has a 10.2 average starting spot (compared to Johnson’s 15.2). Blaney has outscored Johnson 28-27 in total stage points in the postseason.

The challenges could be difficult for Johnson this weekend.

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NASCAR video: A.J. Allmendinger could be spoiler at Kansas

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It’s admittedly been a rough season for A.J. Allmendinger.

In the first 31 races, Allmendinger has one top-five finish and five top 10s.

He’s 26th in the NASCAR Cup point standings, which is on pace to be the worst full-time season of Allmendinger’s Cup career.

But there’s a bright spot for Allmendinger in this weekend’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.

Allmendinger has recorded two top-10 finishes in the last three races at the 1.5-mile track.

And he’s ready to go for another top-10 Sunday.

“In the last few races, the track has widened out for three-wide racing,” Allmendinger said. “It’s a fun race track, run the bottom, middle or top. It’s a place we’ve had success at, we’re ready to go do it again.”

NASCAR America: Dale Jr. on last run at ‘Dega, thoughts on rising new stars (videos)

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In a way, Sunday’s Alabama 500 at Talladega Superspeedway was another example of the changing of the guard in NASCAR.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. took his last ride around the place, starting from the pole and finishing a respectable seventh.

As a special guest on Tuesday’s edition of NASCAR America on NBCSN, Junior recalled the thrill of his final Cup race at the sport’s longest racetrack, the emotion that went with it and how he felt his day went overall. Check out the video above for his thoughts.

At the same time, Earnhardt also said Sunday’s race was a good example of how some of NASCAR’s young up-and-coming stars like Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney are really starting to make their presence felt in the sport.

When Earnhardt retires at season’s end, it’ll be up to drivers like Elliott, Blaney, Daniel Suarez, Erik Jones, Austin and Ty Dillon, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and others to keep the sport advancing and growing.

Earnhardt also revealed on the show that he had a “passing the baton” moment at Talladega with both Elliott and Blaney.

He also noticed that in addition to the sell-out crowd cheering him on as it has for the last 18 years, a large number of fans cheered loudly and noticeably when Elliott took the lead.

Will many of Junior’s fans ultimately gravitate to start following drivers like Elliott and others as he closes in on retirement at season’s end?

Check out his thoughts in the following video, as well.