IndyCar doctors respond to Brad Keselowski’s pointed concussion criticism

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When Will Power was held out of the St. Petersburg Grand Prix with an apparent concussion Sunday, his cross-series teammate at Team Penske offered an opinion 2,000 miles away.

Brad Keselowski, who was racing at Phoenix International Raceway later the same day, cast his doubts on the ability of doctors to diagnose concussions and the wisdom of sports leagues putting their faith in the decisions.

The IndyCar Series announced Wednesday that Power had been misdiagnosed and didn’t have a concussion at St. Pete. During a news media conference call with Power and two doctors, Bob Pockrass of ESPN.com asked whether Keselowski might have a point.

“That’s really a very good question,” said Dr. Stephen Olvey, a former doctor with the circuit and the retired former director of the Neurocritical Care Unit at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. “The problem (is), as you all know, 12, 15 years ago, we used to say if a driver had a particularly bad crash and maybe he was unconscious for a minute or two and then felt fine or it was getting better, we’d say, ‘Oh, good, he just had a concussion.’ Well, as you all know now, we understand the concussion is very serious. Too many concussions can be really bad, and too many too soon can lead to CTE and all of that stuff that everyone has read about in papers.

“The problem is the medical profession has lagged behind this. I went to a neurology conference two years ago, and there were a couple of neurologists that were rather well-known who were kind of scoffing at the idea of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE, which has been found in NFL players) and having too many concussions.

“The situation is still present — especially at lower levels, lower than IndyCar, NASCAR, Formula 1 and all — where you have, maybe, physicians at the racetrack, but they’re not really tuned in on diagnosing the concussion. There’s still people that think you have to be knocked out. There’s still people that think you had to have hit your head. None of that’s true. You can have a very significant concussion and not hit your head at all.

“Imagine what it’s like in Pee Wee football leagues and things like that where you may have no physician there at all or no medical person at all — and the coach says, ‘Oh, you know, you’re all right, kid, you’re awake, you’re talking, and put them back in the game,’ and they get into trouble.”

Olvey said the goal is raising awareness and said that diagnosing a concussion is harder now because doctors have become more attuned to a broader spectrum of symptoms that might indicate it.

“We’re trying to spread the word to different organizations in motorsports as well as to sports medicine, and the American College of Sports Medicine has a task force on this,” he said. “We’ve got special education in South Florida with all the high schools and grade schools, and it’s recognizing concussions.

“It has to be a conscious thing and a conscious awareness around team members. I mean, even in motorsports, if a crew member or the car owner or the chief principal thinks the driver is not acting quite right after an incident or is just a little bit strange, you need to err on the side of being conservative, and they need to be brought in and given an exam. And if it leads to what happened with Will, even though the symptoms were due to something other than a concussion, you still have to go through that process because concussion is very serious.”

Power was held out of Sunday’s race after failing a sports concussion assessment test (SCAT). In a Wednesday release, IndyCar said Power might have been suffering symptoms related to an inner-ear infection that caused nausea.

Dr. Terry Trammell, a safety consultant with IndyCar, said standardized instruments such as the SCAT test were a key to evaluating drivers.

“Because that doesn’t have much room for the bias of an individual examiner,” Trammell said. “And that’s been the drift, to try and get doctors to buy into these various sideline tests or acute concussion inventories that you can do on the spot.

“And that is, first of all, something that we’ve mandated with IndyCar, and since we have the same physicians available at the racetrack all the time, they’re able to do that consistently and do away with any personal bias that might come into it if you’re just doing a ‘Well, you look OK,’ kind of exam.”

Trammell said erring on the side of caution in diagnosing a concussion was important.

“First and foremost, it’s for the driver’s own benefit so that he doesn’t end up with a chronic condition or a worsened injury, having a second concussion before the first one is resolved,” Trammell said. “And then, of course, when you’re in the middle of 22-plus other drivers, you certainly don’t want to not be performing at your peak where you endanger all of them.

“Our goal is to protect all of our drivers, both from themselves and others.”

Team Penske president Tim Cindric said Power likely wouldn’t have driven Sunday morning even without the concussion diagnosis because he was feeling so ill despite winning the pole position Saturday. Oriol Servia drove the No. 12 Chevrolet in a morning warmup and then the race.

“There was never a point where there was any disagreement about racing or not racing,” Cindric said. “I think the only discussion on Sunday morning was whether or not he should do one or two laps just to see how he feels in the car vs. having a real run.

“I think it’s fair to say that with or without the diagnosis or whatever or any of the doctors’ orders on Sunday, he wasn’t going to drive.”

Power said he was feeling better Wednesday and would be testing at Barber Motorsports Park next week.

Keselowski has been outspoken about concussions in NASCAR, criticizing the sanctioning body when a new policy was announced in October 2013 that mandated ImPACT testing to create a baseline for drivers.

Power’s misdiagnosis was discovered after he underwent ImPACT testing Wednesday at the University of Miami, determining he hadn’t suffered a concussion in his Friday crash on the streets of St. Pete.

Drivers to watch in Clash at the Coliseum

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The 2023 NASCAR season will begin with Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum, the second race on a purpose-built track inside Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Although a non-points race, last year’s Clash generated intense interest as NASCAR moved the event from its long-time home at Daytona International Speedway to Los Angeles. The race was rated a success and opened doors for the possibility of future races in stadium environments.

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Year Two will find drivers competing on a familiar landscape but still with a track freshly paved. Last year’s racing surface was removed after the Clash.

Drivers to watch Sunday at Los Angeles:

FRONTRUNNERS

Joey Logano

  • Points position: Finished 2022 as Cup champion
  • Last three races: Won at Phoenix, 6th at Martinsville, 18th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: Won in 2022

Logano put bookends on 2022 by winning the first Clash at the Coliseum and the season’s final race at Phoenix to win the Cup championship. He’ll be among the favorites Sunday.

Ross Chastain

  • Points position: 2nd in 2022
  • Last three races: 3rd at Phoenix, 4th at Martinsville, 2nd at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: Did not qualify last year

Chastain was the breakout star of 2022, winning a pair of races and generally putting himself front and center across much of the year. Can he start 2023 on a big note? If so, he will have to do so without replicating his Hail Melon move at Martinsville after NASCAR outlawed the move Tuesday.

Kevin Harvick

  • Points position: 15th in 2022
  • Last three races: 5th at Phoenix, 16th at Martinsville, 8th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: 10th in 2022

Sunday will begin the final roundup for Harvick, who has said this season will be his last as a full-time Cup driver. He is likely to come out of the gate with fire in his eyes.

QUESTIONS TO ANSWER

Kyle Busch

  • Points position: 13th in 2022
  • Last three races: 7th at Phoenix, 29th at Martinsville, 9th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: 2nd in 2022

Welcome to Kyle Busch’s Brave New World. After 15 seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing, he begins a new segment of his career with Richard Childress Racing. He led 64 laps at last year’s Clash but couldn’t catch Joey Logano at the end.

Tyler Reddick

  • Points position: 14th in 2022
  • Last three races: 23rd at Phoenix, 35th at Martinsville, 35th at Homestead
  • Past at Clash: 21st in 2022

Reddick ran surprisingly strong in last year’s Clash, leading 51 laps before parking with drivetrain issues. He starts the new year with a new ride — at 23XI Racing.

Ty Gibbs

  • Points position: Won Xfinity Series championship in 2022
  • Last three (Cup) races: 19th at Martinsville, 22nd at Homestead, 22nd at Las Vegas
  • Past at Clash: Did not compete in 2022

After a successful — and controversial — Xfinity season, Gibbs moves up to Cup full-time with his grandfather’s team. Will he be the brash young kid of 2022 or a steadier driver in Season One in Cup?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Interstate Batteries extends sponsorship with Joe Gibbs Racing

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Interstate Batteries, which has been a Joe Gibbs Racing sponsor since the team’s first race, has expanded its involvement with the team for 2023.

Interstate, based in Dallas, will be a primary JGR sponsor for 13 races, up from six races, the number it typically sponsored each year since 2008.

Christopher Bell and Ty Gibbs will run the majority of Interstate’s sponsorship races, but Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. also will carry the sponsor colors.

MORE: NASCAR outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move

“We’re extremely proud of our partnership with our founding sponsor, Interstate Batteries,” said team owner Joe Gibbs in a statement released by the team. “They have been such an important part of our team for over three decades now, and it’s exciting to have them on board all four of our cars this season. The best part of our partnership is the relationships we’ve built with everyone there over the years.”

Bell will carry Interstate sponsorship in Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum, the All-Star Race May 21, the Coca-Cola 600 May 28, at Texas Motor Speedway Sept. 24 and at Martinsville Oct. 29.

Gibbs, in his first full season in Cup racing, will be sponsored by Interstate at Daytona Feb. 19, Bristol April 9, Nashville June 25, Chicago July 2, Texas Sept. 24 and Charlotte Oct. 8.

Hamlin will ride with Interstate sponsorship March 26 at Circuit of the Americas, and Truex will be sponsored by Interstate July 23 at Pocono.

Interstate was a key JGR sponsor in the team’s first season in 1992.

NASCAR announces rule changes for 2023 season

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CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR announced a series of rule changes for the 2023 season that includes outlawing the move Ross Chastain made at Martinsville and eliminating stage breaks at all six Cup road course events.

NASCAR announced the changes in a session with reporters Tuesday at the NASCAR R&D Center.

Among new things for this season:

  • Updated penalty for a wheel coming off a car.
  • Change to the amount of time teams have to repair cars on pit road via the Damaged Vehicle Policy.
  • Change to playoff eligibility for drivers.
  • Cars could run in wet weather conditions on short ovals.
  • Expansion of the restart zone on a trial basis.
  • Choose rule will be in place for more races.

MORE: Ranking top 10 moments at the Clash

NASCAR updated its policy on a loose wheel. Previously, if a wheel came off a car during an event, it would be a four-race suspension for the crew chief and two pit crew members. That has changed this year.

If a wheel comes off a car while the vehicle is still on pit road, the vehicle restarts at the tail end of the field. If a wheel comes off a vehicle while it is on pit road under green-flag conditions, it is a pass-thru penalty.

The rule changes once a vehicle has left pit road and loses a wheel.

Any vehicle that loses a wheel on the track will be penalized two laps and have two pit crew members suspended for two races. The suspensions will go to those most responsible for the wheel coming off. This change takes away a suspension to the crew chief. The policy is the same for Cup, Xfinity and Trucks.

With some pit crew members working multiple series, the suspension is only for that series. So, if a pit crew member is suspended two races in the Xfinity Series for a wheel coming off, they can still work the Cup race the following day.

The Damaged Vehicle Policy clock will be 7 minutes this season. It had been six minutes last year and was increased to 10 minutes during the playoffs. After talking with teams, NASCAR has settled on seven minutes for teams to make repairs on pit road or be eliminated. Teams can replace toe links on pit road but not control arms. Teams also are not permitted to have specialized repair tools in the pits.

NASCAR will have a wet weather package for select oval tracks: the Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Lucas Oil Raceway Park, Martinsville, Milwaukee, New Hampshire, North Wilkesboro, Phoenix and Richmond.

Elton Sawyer, senior vice president of competition for NASCAR, said that teams have been told to show up at these events prepared for wet weather conditions as they would at a road course. That includes having a windshield wiper. Wet weather tires will be available. 

“Our goal here is to get back to racing as soon as possible,” Swayer said. “… If there’s an opportunity for us to get some cars or trucks on the racetrack and speed up that (track-drying) process and we can get back to racing, that’s what our goal is. We don’t want to be racing in full-blown rain (at those tracks) and we’ve got spray like we would on a road course.”

NASCAR stated that it is removing the requirement that a winning driver be in the top 30 in points in Cup or top 20 in Xfinity or Trucks to become eligible for the playoffs. As long as a driver is competing full-time — or has a waiver for the races they missed, a win will make them playoff eligible.

With the consultation of drivers, NASCAR is expanding the restart zone to give the leader more room to take off. NASCAR said it will evaluate if to keep this in place after the Atlanta race in March.

NASCAR stated the choose rule will be in effect for superspeedways and dirt races.

NASCAR eliminates stage breaks for Cup road course events

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CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR will do away with stage breaks in all six Cup road course races and select Xfinity and Truck races this season, but teams will continue to score stage points. 

NASCAR announced the change Tuesday in a session with reporters at the NASCAR R&D Center. 

MORE: NASCAR outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move

NASCAR stated there will be no stage breaks in the Cup road course events at Circuit of the Americas (March 26), Sonoma (June 11), Chicago street course (July 2), Indianapolis road course (Aug. 13), Watkins Glen (Aug. 20) and Charlotte Roval (Oct. 8).

There will be no stage breaks for Xfinity races at Circuit of the Americas (March 25), Sonoma (June 10), Chicago street course (July 1), Indianapolis road course (Aug. 12), Watkins Glen (Aug. 19) and Charlotte Roval (Oct. 7).

There will be no stage breaks for the Craftsman Truck Series race at Circuit of the Americas (March 25).

In those races, stage points will be awarded on a designated lap, but there will be no green-and-checkered flag and the racing will continue.

The only road course events that will have stage breaks will be Xfinity standalone races at Portland (June 3) and Road America (July 29) and the Truck standalone race at Mid-Ohio (July 8). Those events will keep stage breaks because they have non-live pit stops — where the field comes down pit road together and positions cannot be gained or lost provided the stop is completed in the prescribed time by NASCAR.

NASCAR has faced questions from fans and competitors about stage breaks during road course races because those breaks alter strategy in a more defined manner than on most ovals.

Elton Sawyer, senior vice president of competition for NASCAR, said the move away from stage breaks at road courses was made in collaboration with teams and response from fans.

“When we introduced stage racing … we took an element of strategy away from the event,” Sawyer. “Felt this (change) would bring some new storylines (in an event).”

NASCAR instituted stage breaks and stage points for the 2017 season and has kept the system in place since. NASCAR awards a playoff point to the stage winner along with 10 points. The top 10 at the end of a stage score points.

It wasn’t uncommon for many teams to elect to pit before the first stage in a road course race and eschew points to put themselves in better track position for the final two stages. By pitting early, they would be behind those who stayed out to collect the stage points. At the stage break, those who had yet to pit would do so, allowing those who stopped before the break to leapfrog back to the front.