Brad Keselowski raises questions about concussion diagnosis

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FORT WORTH, Texas — Brad Keselowski continued to raise questions about concussion diagnosis after Matt DiBenedetto was ruled out of Sunday’s Sprint Cup race and put into concussion protocol.

DiBenedetto was not cleared by doctors after he crashed in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Texas Motor Speedway. DiBenedetto tweeted Saturday night that “I’m feeling totally fine … just having to follow the concussion protocol.’’

In an exchange of tweets, Keselowski and DiBenedetto expressed frustration about the process.

Keselowski spoke briefly with Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, and Mike Helton, NASCAR’s vice chairman, before the drivers meeting.

After the meeting, Keselowski said of the situation: “It cements my opinion with an actual example.”

During Sunday’s rain delay, Keselowsk talked more about the issue with NBC Sports’ Mike Massaro.

Keselowski said: “It’s an evolving science. That’s what concussions are. I don’t know if there is anyone who can sit here and honestly tell you they have a complete answer and a complete understanding of what is going on. What’s unfortunate is that as the science has evolved, our sport, really all sports are trying to deal with it.

“What’s happened to Dale Jr. this year is a big wake-up call for everyone. Of course, there is a natural tendency to want to err on the side of caution. Also, there’s real people’s lives that are being affected and I’m very fortunate to make a living as a driver in this sport, so are a lot of others, and that can be very easily taken away from you by someone who wants to make a conservative decision. I think it’s really such a gray area. I really appreciate the tough position that NASCAR is put in, but we have to move forward and we have to look after guys like Matt, who feels like he doesn’t have a concussion and is being sat out.

“As a sport we’ll work on that together. I’m excited about the commitment that NASCAR has put into working through it together with all the different things we’ve done, but I don’t think we have it perfect  and I think everyone can agree to that.”

Keselowski’s question stirred debate on social media, and he answered some questions about his stance and worries. He also was asked about Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is out the rest of the season because of symptoms he suffered after a concussion. He has not raced since July 9. Earnhardt said he’s feeling better and expects to be cleared to race next season, beginning at Daytona.

For several years, Keselowski has questioned whether a doctor should be allowed to keep an athlete out of competition based on suspicion of a concussion diagnosis.

After NASCAR announced in October 2013 that it would require mandatory baseline testing for drivers beginning with the 2014 season, Keselowski stated his concerns.

“Doctors don’t understand our sport,” Keselowski told reporters a few days after NASCAR’s announcement. “They never have and they never will. Doctors aren’t risk-takers. We are. That’s what makes our sport what it is, and when you get doctors involved, it waters down our sport.

“I’m trying to be open-minded to the possibility they can help us, but past experience says no.”

Keselowski’s concerns with doctors making drivers miss races dates to 2010. He nearly missed an Xfinity race after being involved in a crash in the Sprint Cup event earlier in the day. Doctors in the infield care center had concerns about his carbon monoxide level and would not clear him to drive immediately. They did shortly before the Xfinity race, and he won the event.

He also raised concerns about doctors diagnosing concussions in 2012 when Dale Earnhardt Jr. sat out two races after suffering concussion symptoms from two crashes within two months.

“It’s a very difficult situation to explain, and for all of the middle ground, which is where you feel sick but you can’t prove anything medically, that’s where it becomes tough,’’ Keselowski said in 2012. “And yes, I’ve had situations where I’ve been in that middle ground, and you’re left going off of your gut. 

“I feel like the drivers in this sport are smart enough to know the line, and usually if you have an injury like that, that prevents you from being focused and racing at a hundred percent, it should also prevent you from going fast enough to be in the way. The sport almost naturally clears itself of people like that.”

Keselowski also raised concerns earlier in March when Team Penske teammate Will Power was not allowed to compete in the IndyCar season opener in St. Petersburg, Florida, after he was diagnosed with a concussion.

IndyCar issued a statement three days after the race that results of an extensive evaluation revealed “no definitive evidence” of a recent concussion. Power finished second to teammate Simon Pagenaud for the championship even with missing the one race.