Five questions related to Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s absence that bear watching


LOUDON, N.H. — The most revelatory nugget from Hendrick Motorsports’ first news conference since the bombshell that Dale Earnhardt Jr. will miss Sunday’s race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway with concussion symptoms didnt’t involve Earnhardt.

Hendrick general manager Doug Duchardt said if Earnhardt couldn’t return for the July 24 race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, four-time champion Jeff Gordon would interrupt his retirement to return to Hendrick and drive Earnhardt’s No. 88 Chevrolet.

With medical issues and doctor-patient confidentiality in play, other information that could be provided about Earnhardt’s health was limited. Though Duchardt, No. 88 crew chief Greg Ives and substitute driver Alex Bowman shed some light on what’s ahead for the team this weekend at the 1.058-mile oval, there still are lingering questions.

Namely, when will NASCAR’s 13-time most popular driver return? Duchardt said Hendrick could wait as late as Wednesday to decide whether Earnhardt can return for the Brickyard 400.

Here are five questions that bear watching related to Earnhardt’s absence:

— How will imPACT play a role in NASCAR’s concussion protocol? NASCAR implemented mandatory baseline concussion testing (imPACT) before the 2014 season, requiring drivers to take tests measuring their cognitive and reactive ability that could be compared with results from the same test after a heavy impact. The comparative data can help in diagnosing and treating concussions.

Earnhardt will represent the most high-profile case of a possible concussion since the change in policy. While a board-certified neurologist or neurosurgeon with at least five years of experience has been necessary to clear a driver’s return from a head injury for several seasons, the imPACT data should provide another layer of insight for NASCAR.

Used to pinpoint areas of the brain that might be most affected, baseline testing also can be useful in ruling out concussions. After he was held out of the IndyCar opener March 13 at St. Petersburg, Florida, with a concussion, Will Power underwent a battery of tests for several hours at the University of Miami that revealed he was misdiagnosed. That prompted Jimmie Johnson to challenge racing series to improve their at-track testing capabilities.

— Where will Earnhardt be treated? One would expect it probably will be the same as four years ago when his recovery from a concussion was overseen by Charlotte neurosurgeon Dr. Jerry Petty.

Earnhardt also spent time in treatment at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Sports Medicine Concussion Program. Dr. Micky Collins, the director of the program, consulted with Petty on Earnhardt’s progress.

Duchardt said Friday that Earnhardt already had seen a “team of neurologists,” and Earnhardt tweeted late Thursday night that he was “working with some great doctors to get well.”

— How will history impact the approval process? Earnhardt raced with a concussion for about three months after a heavy impact April 28, 2002 at Fontana, California. He kept driving for six weeks after sustaining a concussion in an Aug. 29, 2012 wreck during a tire test at Kansas Speedway. He also was airlifted out of Dover International Speedway in September 2003 after briefly losing consciousness in a wreck (there was no concussion diagnosis).

Earnhardt is fond of noting that concussions “are like snowflakes. There’s no two concussions that are the same,” so it might be irrelevant in weighing the impact of crashes that happened years ago. But the record is certain to be considered as a factor in determining fitness for racing.

— Is a Chase for the Sprint Cup waiver a foregone conclusion? It should be based on precedent. NASCAR has granted the wish of virtually every driver who has requested an exemption from the stipulation that a driver must start every regular-season race to be playoff-eligible. Earnhardt apparently could have been injured on track, and he was proactive in addressing his health. There’d be no reason to withhold a waiver.

The real unknown is whether a waiver still could get him in the playoffs despite missing at least one race. With his 33-point cushion over the cut line in serious jeopardy, it might be win or bust for Earnhardt to make the playoffs in 2016.

Hendrick Motorsports has confirmed it will seek a waiver, but NASCAR said it can’t be submitted for consideration until Earnhardt returns to the car.

— Does NASCAR need to re-examine its method of evaluating drivers after crashes? Earnhardt didn’t go the care center after crashes at Michigan International Speedway and Daytona International Speedway that he cited in a team release as possible sources for his symptoms. Recently, John Wes Townley didn’t visit the Gateway International Raceway care center after the first of two wrecks in the Camping World Truck series race on June 25. He missed last week’s race at Kentucky Speedway because of possible concussion symptoms.

Neither driver was required to visit the care center, because both drove away from the crash scene, negating the need for an immediate evaluation. There certainly is no guarantee a concussion diagnosis would have been made in either instance, but it’s worth raising the possibility and whether it’s worthy of a policy change.

Alpha Prime Racing’s road woes don’t keep team from competing


SONOMA, Calif. — Alpha Prime Racing owner Tommy Joe Martins laughs. He can. His Xfinity Series cars all are here at Sonoma Raceway.

At one point last week, it was not certain if his team’s cars would make it to Portland International Raceway.

“It was probably the toughest professional week I’ve had of my NASCAR career,” Martins told NBC Sports on Friday at Sonoma.

MORE: Kyle Larson leads Xfinity practice at Sonoma

The Alpha Prime Racing team had both its trucks break down and one of its haulers have mechanical issues last week on the way to the Pacific Northwest.

“We basically sent four pieces of equipment on the road and three of them broke,” Martins said.

For a time, the car Sage Karam is driving this weekend at Sonoma was left in a hauler in Kansas City because there wasn’t room in the dually Martins sent. It had room only for the car that was needed at Portland and other equipment. Karam’s car, which was to be a backup at Portland, was left behind.

“It’s a very helpless feeling when you feel like your stuff is stuck on the side of the road,” Martins said.

He still has one truck still in St. Louis and another in Oregon. Martins estimates the mechanical issues will cost his team about $50,000 when everything is totaled.

Trouble started well before the team left its Mooresville, North Carolina, race shop for Portland.

The Xfinity Series race at Charlotte was scheduled to run May 27. Rain forced that event to be rescheduled to May 29. Martins said the team had planned to send its trucks to Portland on May 28. With the race pushed back to the 29th, the travel schedule tightened.

It got worse.

After the Xfinity race started, rain came. With the Coca-Cola 600 scheduled for 3 p.m. ET that day – after being delayed by rain from Sunday – the rest of the Xfinity race was pushed back until after the 600. That further tightened the window on Xfinity teams to make it to Portland.

The Xfinity race ended around 11:30 p.m. ET on May 29. Alpha Prime Racing’s haulers left the shop around 6 a.m. ET on May 30.

The two trucks traveled together until issues in St. Louis.

The truck hauling the Nos. 44 and 45 cars had engine issues in St. Louis. The other truck kept going until it had mechanical issues with its hauler in Kansas City. The air bags on the hauler failed.

So, Alpha Prime Racing had a truck that worked in Kansas City with a hauler that didn’t and a truck that didn’t work in St. Louis with a hauler that did.

The truck in Kansas City went back to St. Louis to attach to the hauler and take those cars and equipment to Portland. Martins then had to find something to haul the stranded equipment in Kansas City and a driver. He eventually did. A dually left North Carolina for Kansas City. Once there, what fit in the dually was taken to Portland and what didn’t, including Karam’s Sonoma car stayed behind.

Yet, more trouble was headed for Martins and his team.

The truck that had gone back from Kansas City to St. Louis to take hauler that worked then broke down about 200 miles from Portland.

“I laugh knowing that we’re on the other side of it,” Martins said Friday of all the issues his team had transporting cars and equipment across the country.

“We’ve started to make plans and corrections for it not happening again,” he said.

That hauler that was left in Kansas City? It was repaired and transported to Sonoma, arriving earlier this week.

“Our guys are troopers,” Martins said. “Both of our (truck) drivers were just awesome about the whole thing. … They went through hell week as far as driving somewhere, fly back and pick something up, drive again and now are going to have to do the same thing getting back.”

When the garage opened Friday at Sonoma, Alpha Prime Racing had all its cars.

“I don’t think we had any major issues here, so that was good,” Martins said.

The focus is back on the track. Karam was 24th on the speed chart in Friday’s practice, leading Alpha Prime Racing’s effort. Dylan Lupton was 32nd. Jeffrey Earnhardt was last among 41 cars.

After Saturday night’s race, the team heads back to North Carolina for a well-earned weekend off.

Kyle Larson leads Xfinity practice at Sonoma


SONOMA, Calif. — Kyle Larson posted the fastest lap in Friday’s Xfinity Series practice at Sonoma Raceway.

This is the first time the series has raced at the 1.99-mile road course in Northern California. Teams got 50 minutes of practice Friday.

Larson led the way with a lap of 90.392 mph. He was more than a second faster than the rest of the field.

MORE: Xfinity practice results Sonoma

Sheldon Creed was second on the speed chart with a lap of 89.066 mph. He was followed by AJ Allmendinger (89.052 mph), Cole Custer (89.020) and Ty Gibbs (88.989).

Larson, Allmendinger and Gibbs are among seven Cup drivers are entered in the Xfinity race. Aric Almirola was seventh on the speed chart with a lap of 88.750 mph. Ross Chastain was ninth with a lap of 88.625 mph. Daniel Suarez was 16th with a lap of 88.300 mph. Ty Dillon was 33rd with a lap of 86.828 mph.

Anthony Alfredo will go to a backup car after a crash in practice. He was uninjured in the incident that damaged the right side of his car.

Qualifying is scheduled for 3 p.m. ET Saturday. The race is scheduled to begin at 8:20 p.m. ET Saturday.

Anthony Alfredo’s car after a crash in Xfinity practice Friday at Sonoma Raceway. He was uninjured. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Saturday Sonoma Xfinity race: Start time, TV info, weather


The Xfinity Series will compete for the first time at Sonoma Raceway this weekend. This is one of eight road course events on the Xfinity schedule this season.

Seven Cup drivers are scheduled to compete in Saturday’s race, including AJ Allmendinger, Kyle Larson and Daniel Suarez, who won last year’s Cup race at this track Allmendinger has won 11 of 25 career road course starts in the Xfinity Series.

Details for Saturday’s Xfinity race at Sonoma Raceway

(All times Eastern)

START: Golden State Warrior Patrick Baldwin Jr. will give the command to start engines at 8:08 p.m. … The green flag is scheduled to wave at 8:20 p.m.

PRERACE: Xfinity garage opens at 1 p.m. … Qualifying begins at 3 p.m. … Driver introductions begin at 7:35 p.m. … The invocation will be given by Earl Smith, team pastor for the Golden State Warriors and San Francisco 49ers, at 8 p.m. … The national anthem will be performed by 9-year-old Isis Mikayle Castillo at 8:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 79 laps (156.95 miles) on the 1.99-mile road course.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 20. Stage 2 ends at Lap 45.

STARTING LINEUP: Qualifying begins at 3 p.m. Saturday

TV/RADIO: FS1 will broadcast the race at 8 p.m. ... Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. … Performance Racing Network coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. and can be heard on … SiriusXN NASCAR Radio will carry the PRN broadcast.

FORECAST: Weather Underground — Mostly cloudy with a high of 72 degrees and a zero percent chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: This is the first time the Xfinity Series has raced at Sonoma.


NASCAR Friday schedule at Sonoma Raceway


The Xfinity Series makes its first appearance Friday at Sonoma Raceway.

Xfinity teams, coming off last weekend’s race at Portland International Raceway, get 50 minutes of practice Friday because Sonoma is a new venue for the series.

Seven Cup drivers, including Kyle Larson and Daniel Suarez, are among those entered in the Xfinity race. Suarez won the Cup race at Sonoma last year.

Xfinity teams will qualify and race Saturday at the 1.99-mile road course.

Sonoma Raceway


Friday: Mostly cloudy with a high of 69 degrees.

Friday, June 9

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. — ARCA Menards Series West
  • 1 – 10 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 2 – 3 p.m. — ARCA West practice
  • 3:10 – 3:30 p.m. — ARCA West qualifying
  • 4:05 – 4:55 p.m. — Xfinity practice (FS1)
  • 6:30 p.m. — ARCA West race (64 laps, 127.36 miles; live on FloRacing, will air on CNBC at 11:30 a.m. ET on June 18)