Dale Jr: ‘Culture’ view of concussions has changed ‘tremendously’

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. didn’t want to be the face of concussions in NASCAR or sports at large.

But a seemingly innocuous crash at Michigan International Speedway on June 12 followed by the delayed emergence of concussion symptoms four weeks later led to Earnhardt slipping into that role.

“It is not something that I intentionally wanted to spearhead,” Earnhardt said in a Friday teleconference with reporters. “But I have seen a culture change tremendously.”

While sports like football have received intense scrutiny in recent years due to concussions and the danger of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) in players in years later, increased concerns have come to NASCAR after the 14-time most popular driver missed the final 18 races of 2016.

MORE: Earnhardt defends return to racing despite danger of concussions

MORE: Darlington test “recharged” Dale Jr.

Earnhardt, who has had at least five concussion in his career, was treated for his most recent case by Dr. Micky Collins, medical director of the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program in Pittsburgh. It was there that Earnhardt saw the many forms that concussions can come in and the different ways they impact people.

“Mickey sees two dozen patients a day with various types of injuries,” Earnhardt said. “And every day he learns something new; obviously he has seen a million people with the same thing that I had, but every day they learn something new. Every day as a patient I think you learn something new. It’s incredible the progress that is being made, but it is happening right now. It is happening right in front of us. It is being taken more seriously, and I think that is great.”

Earnhardt wasn’t the only NASCAR driver to fall victim to a concussion this season.

John Wes Townley, a driver in the Camping World Truck Series, missed two races this season after incurring concussion symptoms in a race where he crashed multiple times.

In November at Texas Motor Speedway, Matt DiBenedetto was forced to sit out the Sprint Cup race for what was believed to be a concussion received in the Xfinity Series race a day earlier. DiBenedetto believes he was completely fine and that NASCAR was being cautious in its decision.

DiBenedetto’s case led to 2012 series champion Brad Keselowski once again raising questions about the relationship of doctors to the sport.

But it was the absence of Earnhardt from the track that drove the conversation about concussions while he traveled back and forth between North Carolina and Pennsylvania, working his way back to the cockpit.

“I obviously don’t want anyone to go through the injury, much less the rehabilitation,” Earnhardt said. “It’s been great to have the opportunity to go to Pittsburgh; to meet Mickey and his whole staff and have exposure to everything that they are doing and get to understand how much they have learned and what they are capable of doing.

“It’s given me so much confidence to be able to come back and race again knowing that those guys are there, and they are able to patch you up and get you stronger. What they have been able to do is incredible for people like me. They are doing that every day with dozens and dozens of folks.”

Kurt Busch fastest in final Cup practice at Sonoma

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Kurt Busch posted the fastest single lap in the final practice for the Toyota/SaveMart 350 at Sonoma Raceway with a speed of 94.061 mph.

He beat second-place Denny Hamlin (94.012 mph) by .040 seconds.

Martin Truex Jr. (93.718) had the third fastest lap, but the team will have some work to do before Saturday’s qualification. With nine minutes remaining on the clock, he ran into the back of Bubba Wallace in the esses and did significant damage to his nose. Wallace landed 34th on the chart with a speed of 91.641 mph.

Jamie McMurray (93.549) and Kevin Harvick (93.441) rounded out the top five.

Harvick (91.468) had the quickest 10-lap average – leading a sweep of the top three by Stewart Haas Racing. Busch was second quickest at 91.452 mph with Clint Bowyer third quick at 91.443 mph.

William Byron broke an axle seal in final practice, but the team was able to get him back on track with 24 minutes remaining in the session. His speed of 92.279 mph was 25th fastest.

Click here for the full report from final practice.

Friday Truck Series practice report from Gateway

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Second practice

Last week’s winner, Brett Moffitt topped the speed chart in Friday evening’s practice session for the Eaton 200 with a speed of 137.191 mph.

He beat second-place Myatt Snider (136.658 mph) by .128 seconds.

Johnny Sauter (136.608), Riley Herbst (136.355), and Ben Rhodes (136.219) round out the top five.

Herbst is making his Truck Series debut this week.

Also making his Truck debut is Zane Smith, who posted a lap of 136.120 mph to land sixth on the chart.

Christian Eckes (135.906) failed to back up his series-leading speed from the first practice session and was only ninth fastest, but he had the quickest 10-lap average of 135.039 mph.

Click here for complete results from practice 2.

First practice

Rain canceled the practice session at Gateway that was scheduled to run from 3:35 – 4:25 p.m. Eastern time.

When they finally got on track, Eckes posted the fastest single lap in the first practice session with a speed of 134.360 mph. He is making his Truck series debut this week.

Eckes’ speed was .009 seconds faster than Noah Gragon (134.324), who landed second on the speed chart.

Rhodes (134.120), Moffitt (133.817) and Matt Crafton (133.706) rounded out the top five.

Rhodes had the quickest 10-lap average of 133.466 mph.

With the first practice canceled at Gateway, NASCAR added a final practice session scheduled for Noon – 1 p.m.

Click here for complete results from practice one.

Denny Hamlin offers advice on how to deal with critics on social media

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Denny Hamlin, who has been fined by NASCAR for comments on Twitter, and was vocal toward critics after this year’s Daytona 500, says he’s found peace on how to deal with those on social media who don’t agree with him.

“I’ve been very good this year about not replying to mean people, and you all should do the same,’’ Hamlin said Friday at Sonoma Raceway.

“I’m making a (request) right now to every driver, every team owner, every NASCAR executive and every media member, stop replying to people who make nonsense comments. They have 16 followers. Don’t give them your 100,000. Do not give them your 100,000 as their stage. No one will ever see their comment, just brush it by, talk about the positives and I’m not a positive person.”

Asked how does one ignore such divisive comments, Hamlin said: “You just scroll by it. Forget it. That person doesn’t exit. They’re an admirer that has lost their way.’’

Hamlin has been better at doing so since the Daytona 500. He faced negative reaction on social media to the contact he and Bubba Wallace had at the end of the Daytona 500.

They engaged in a brief shouting match in the garage area after Hamlin learned that Wallace had taken a dig at him on national TV about a recent comment about drivers using Adderall.

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Clint Bowyer leads opening Cup practice at Sonoma

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Clint Bowyer was the fastest in the first of two Cup practices Friday at Sonoma Raceway.

Bowyer, the winner of the most recent Cup race two weeks ago at Michigan, posted a lap of 93.590 mph. He was followed by Ryan Blaney (93.546 mph), Joey Logano (93.172), Jamie McMurray (93.049) and Daniel Suarez (92.746).

Sixth was Jimmie Johnson (92.661). He was followed by Michael McDowell (92.650), Martin Truex Jr. (92.614), AJ Allmendinger (92.596) and Ryan Newman (92.595).

Click here for full practice report

Final Cup practice will be from 5:40 – 6:55 p.m. ET. Qualifying will take place Saturday.

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