Jimmie Johnson wants stronger concussion protocols in NASCAR, IndyCar

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MARTINSVILLE, Va. – The misdiagnosis of a concussion that contributed to sidelining Will Power happened in the IndyCar Series, but six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson wants it to effect change in NASCAR.

Power was diagnosed with a concussion and held out of the March 13 season opener at St. Petersburg, Fla., after experiencing severe nausea and failing a Sports Concussion Assessment Tool test on race morning.

But a battery of concussion tests administered at the University of Miami three days later revealed that the Penske driver had been misdiagnosed with a concussion, which series officials thought had occurred in a Friday practice crash.

Johnson said Power’s case illustrates the need for stronger concussion protocols in racing, noting that “at some point, someone has to make the call, it just sucks that it wasn’t the right one.

“Whatever they have in Miami needs to be at every racetrack to make a better decision,” Johnson said Friday morning at Martinsville Speedway in an interview with reporters from NBC Sports.com and USA TODAY Sports. “Whatever that stuff is. That’s the bottom line. You’re dealing with someone’s career, someone’s life, in a couple of ways, good or bad.

“If somebody does get cleared to race, and they did have a concussion, if they did pass that first test, I think it’s important to get whatever they have in Miami at every racetrack following our series (and) the IndyCar Series.”

Brad Keselowski has been the most outspoken among NASCAR drivers on the concussion issue, challenging doctors’ ability to make an accurate diagnosis and the wisdom of professional sports leagues that put stock in the medical community’s advice.

Johnson said he can appreciate Keselowski’s view because “I’m thankful that Brad is so by the letter of the law. It’s not a bad position to be in, and obviously being at Penske, he’s seen it up close and asked direct questions to everybody, I’d imagine. It’s tough when someone else is making decisions for you. So I get it.”

“The bottom line there is concern for the athlete, for the driver,” Johnson added. “I think it all stems from a good place. Unfortunately, mistakes are made. We’re trying with the baseline concussion tests we now take. That’s hopefully a tool to help make a better decision.

“It’s not directly impacted me. I’m sure it’s not easy for the sanctioning body to make the call, and it’s not easy for the driver to be in his situation. It’s just not easy. But it’s coming from a place of concern. We’ve made so many advances in safety and have made racing safer worldwide. I commend the effort. We just have to figure out how to make better decisions. Make the right decision. And I know that’s not easy.”

Johnson recently suffered a hard impact after leaving his steering wheel loose in qualifying at Phoenix International Raceway three weeks ago. He said he was fine after that wreck but admitted that heavy impacts can make drivers worried they might get diagnosed.

“If you’re not feeling right, and people are questioning you, ‘Hey, we need to go take the concussion test,’ then the ‘oh (crap)’ factor hits you,” he said. “It never got to that point (at Phoenix). I guess my signs didn’t show that. If they start asking questions, I’m sure the nervousness is going to go quick.”

Power was replaced at St. Petersburg by Oriol Servia, and his team said the 2014 series champ was feeling poorly enough that it’s possible Power still might have withdrawn from the race even if he hadn’t been misdiagnosed or if he had been given clearance.

But Keselowski believes a driver should be given the option to gut it out regardless, which Johnson supported.

“Yeah, if you’re cleared to race,” Johnson said. “Someone’s got to make a call at some point. If they give you the green light to race, I’m getting in. Yeah.”

Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. has a differing view.

Speaking Friday afternoon at Martinsville, Earnhardt also was asked about Keselowski’s view on concussions and whether he agreed with Johnson that protocols could be strengthened. Earnhardt admitted to hiding concussions twice before missing two races with a concussion sustained in a last-lap wreck at Talladega Superspeedway in October 2012.

“I see the argument in reverse,” he said. “Whereas most concussions are self-diagnosed, and as a driver, the real purpose of the conversation should be to help people and drivers and football players understand that it’s OK to self-diagnose and go get help.

“I feel very good about the protocols that are in place. They’ve stepped up. I believe in the IMPACT test and what it’s used for and how it’s used. I think it’s a great tool not only for understanding a concussion or diagnosing, but it’s also a great tool to treat the concussion once you’ve been diagnosed and understand that you have the concussion, how to treat it. Because concussions are like snowflakes: There’s no two concussions that are the same. Each one deals with certain parts of the body.”

Earnhardt, who extensively has studied concussions since his injury four years ago, said NASCAR has “really taken this head on and are talking to the right people. They’re involving themselves with the right folks to get the best information to be able to protect the drivers the best way they can.”

He compared the development of concussion education and research with the ongoing development of NASCAR safety, which has accelerated in the 15 years since his father’s death.

“It’ll continue to get better the same way anything in the sport progresses,” he said. “Look at the interior of the car for example and how it’s changed. The more information we get from the doctors, the better equipped we are to protect ourselves.

“I feel good about it. I understand some of the drivers’ concerns, but going through the process myself really helped me understand exactly what everything is there for and how to use it.”

Las Vegas race results, driver points

Las Vegas race results
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Kurt Busch scored his first career Cup victory at his hometown track, Las Vegas Motor Speedway, and is the first driver to advance to third round of the playoffs.

Busch led the final 26 laps, taking advantage when a caution came out in the middle of a green-flag pit cycle. Busch was the only playoff driver who had yet to pit before the caution.

Matt DiBenedetto finished second and was followed by Denny Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. and Alex Bowman.

Click here for Cup race results

DRIVER POINTS

Alex Bowman holds the final transfer spot to the next round. Kyle Busch trails Bowman by nine points. Clint Bowyer trails Bowman by 20 points. Aric Almirola trails Bowman by 27 points. Austin Dillon trails Bowman by 32 points.

Click here for driver points

Kurt Busch wins Las Vegas Cup race in overtime

Kurt Busch
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After entering the Round of 12 last in the playoff standings, Kurt Busch won Sunday’s Cup playoff race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in an overtime finish, claiming his first win of the season and advancing him into the Round of 8.

Busch held off Matt DiBenedetto and Denny Hamlin to also claim his first Cup win at his home track.

Busch led 29 of the last 34 laps. His time at the front of the pack was a result of leading when a caution came out during green flag pit stops late in the final stage. DiBenedetto was on pit road when the caution came out with 33 laps to go and restarted first with Busch second.

“This is what kids dream of,” an emotional Busch told NBCSN in Victory Lane. “When they grow up racing you dream of winning at your hometown track and for two decades it’s kicked my butt. And tonight with this Monster Energy Chevy, I’m in awe. I knew the race would come to us, we needed to get to nightfall. One of those quirky (crew chief) Matt McCall pit sequences finally unfolded. We got lucky.

“You got to be lucky. And you have to be lucky in any race. But we did it tonight with teamwork and pulling through and not giving up. But this is Vegas, I miss the fans. I miss them so much. … My hometown is special. This Vegas place is special.”

The top five was completed by Martin Truex Jr. and Alex Bowman.

More: Race results, point standings

The two-lap dash to the finish was caused by an incident involving William Byron, Christopher Bell and Corey LaJoie with seven laps to go. Bell cut a tire from contact with the wall and as he slowed Byron ran into the back of his car before going into a spin.

Hamlin was among a large group of drivers who pit for fresh tires following a caution with 18 laps to go, but was unable to complete his charge through the field.

“(Hamlin) had a ton of speed, I was wide open,” Busch said. “You have to manipulate the draft. I pulled out some old drag racing skills on the restarts. I knew that that was our strong suit. I knew that was the Ford’s (DiBenedetto) weak suit. We just put ourselves in position and we held off.”

 

STAGE 1 WINNER: Denny Hamlin

STAGE 2 WINNER: Chase Elliott

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Joey Logano finished 14th after he had to pit on Lap 91 to fix a left rear tire rub, a result of contact with Kyle Busch following Denny Hamlin’s three-wide pass for the lead on Lap 88Tyler Reddick finished 38th after he tagged the wall late in Stage 2 and went to the garage ending his day … After finishing sixth in the first two stages, Austin Dillon finished 32nd after an overheating problem forced him to pit road for repairs with 50 laps to go.

WHAT’S NEXT: Race at Talladega Superspeedway, 2 p.m. ET Oct. 4 on NBC

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Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas: Start time, TV channel

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The second round of the Cup playoffs begins with the Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The 1.5-mile track kicks off the Round of 12. Winning the race and stage points are a premium for playoff drivers before the races at Talladega and the Charlotte Roval.

Kevin Harvick, who won at Bristol, starts from the pole.

Here is all the info for the Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas:

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given by Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis at 7:07 p.m. The green flag waves at 7:17 p.m.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at Noon. Drivers report to their cars at 6:50 p.m. The invocation will be given at 7 p.m. by Motor Racing Outreach Chaplain, Billy Mauldin. The national anthem will be performed by Sierra Black at 7:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 267 laps (400.5 miles) around the 1.5-mile track.

COMPETITION CAUTION: Lap 25

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 80. Stage 2 ends on Lap 160

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will televise the race. Coverage begins at 6 p.m with NASCAR America, followed by Countdown to Green at 6:30 p.m. Race coverage begins at 7 p.m. Performance Racing Network’s radio coverage will begin at 6 p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the broadcast.

STREAMING: Watch the race on the NBC Sports App

FORECAST: The wunderground.com forecast calls for sunny skies with a high of 96 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST RACE: Kevin Harvick beat Kyle Busch to win at Bristol and claim his ninth win of the season.

LAST POINTS RACE AT LAS VEGAS: Joey Logano beat Matt DiBenedetto and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in February.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the lineup.

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Kurt Busch seeks first Las Vegas win, but without hometown fans

Kurt Busch
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A win by Kurt Busch in tonight’s Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN) couldn’t come under more bittersweet circumstances for the Chip Ganassi Racing driver.

Should Busch claim the victory on the 1.5-mile track, he’d go from being the last driver on the playoff grid (3,001 points entering the race) to the first driver to advance to the Round of 8.

While it would be his first victory of the year, it would also be his first NASCAR win at his home track in 23 starts across the Cup and Xfinity Series.

More: Stage points critical at Vegas

“The Vegas track has definitely been one of the tough ones for me over the years with results and finishes not where I would have expected them to be,” Busch said this week. “And the teams that I’ve raced for just have never quite found that right magic set-up or combination. And then for me, it’s a track that I just have that trouble with.

“There are a few tracks like Indianapolis and Martinsville; those are a few places where I struggle. And so with Vegas, I always put that little extra hometown pressure on myself and I would love to win there.”

The 42-year-old Las Vegas-native rolls off ninth on the 1.5-mile track. It’s his fourth while driving for Ganassi.

In his 21 Cup starts in Las Vegas, Busch’s best result is third in 2005 when he competed for Roush Fenway Racing. He has just one other top five. That came in last year’s spring race when he drove a throwback paint scheme to his 1999 NASCAR Southwest Series championship.

That day he led 23 laps. It was only the seventh time he’d led laps there and just the third time he’d totaled more than six laps led.

In February, Busch finished 25th.

If Busch were to finally make it to Vegas’ Victory Lane, the celebration would be somewhat muted.

It was announced last weekend that fans would not be allowed to attend the races at Las Vegas due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I would love to win through the spirit of the camera and everything on NBC Sports; and I know the fans there, local, will be watching and cheering on the Busch brothers,” Busch said. “So, that’s where I would connect. And hopefully do it through the TV side of it. We’ll get fans back one day and we’ll come back and race.”

Busch enters the Round of 12 having earned just one top 10 in the first round, an eighth-place finish at Darlington. He finished 13th at Richmond and 15th at Bristol.

“What I like is we have had better lap times at all three races so far compared to maybe the five or six races leading into the playoffs,” Busch said. “We know that our cushion is gone. We ended Bristol with 33 points to the good. And now we start Vegas minus four (points behind Austin Dillon in the cutoff spot). So that’s just part of the system and now we have to be perfect. We have to get every point possible that we’re able to get on our own at Vegas, Talladega, and the Roval. And, that should help us advance.”