John Wes Townley

Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images

Brad Keselowski says more needs to be done to diagnose mild concussions

Leave a comment

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Brad Keselowski says all sports face a challenge in diagnosing mild concussions and until such a tool is available to do so, “all of sports are playing from behind.’’

Keselowski’s comments come less than a week after NASCAR upgraded its concussion protocol and on a day where Danica Patrick said the number of concussions she could have suffered in her racing career is “thought-provoking.’’

Keselowski said Wednesday at Daytona International Speedway that the next key area for all sports is to “find a definitive way to diagnose a mild concussion. Until we can definitively define a mild concussion, we’re going to have one or two end results.

“We’re either going to have drivers sit out when they don’t really have a concussion, or we’re going to have the long-term effect of drivers that have faced multiple concussions and developed CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, all the things that go with it. We need a definitive tool to diagnose a mild concussion.’’

As part of its updated concussion protocol, NASCAR announced Feb. 17 that it will require infield care center physicians to incorporate the SCAT-3 diagnostic tool in screening for head injuries. A SCAT test is used by IndyCar and the NFL in diagnosing concussions.

Keselowski’s issue is with hits defined as subconcussive. Enough of those can impact an athlete.

“A race car driver does have, over the course of a long career, repetitive head injuries,’’ Dr. Robert Cantu, clinical professor Neurology/Neurosurgery at the Boston University School of Medicine, told NBC Sports’ Nate Ryan in August. “It’s not just concussions. It’s the subconcussive violent shaking that can contribute as well. So I think it’s very important that we have the opportunity to study the brains in someone involved in racing.’’

Asked about drawing a line from concussions to CTE, a progressive degenerative disease found in those with a history of repetitive brain trauma, Cantu said:

“I think it’s fair to draw the line from repeated head injury, both at the subconcussive and concussive level, with the risk of developing CTE, and it goes up the more trauma you’ve taken.’’

Patrick, 34, says she believes she’s had her share of concussions in a racing career that began when she was 10 years old.

“Every time you crash, you have a concussion of a varying degree,’’ she said Wednesday at Daytona International Speedway. “(Dale Earnhardt Jr.) said something about having 12 concussions, I was like, ‘Oh, I’m sure I’ve had 12 concussions.’ It is a little bit thought-provoking is what I would say for sure.’’

Earnhardt has never revealed how many concussions he has had, although he has sustained at least five concussions during his 17 seasons in NASCAR’s premier series.

Patrick has not suffered a concussion since racing in NASCAR in 2010.

“While we’re not football players, we don’t get the repeated hits in succession over a short amount of time, but it’s rough in the car and the hits are probably singularly bigger, maybe,’’ Patrick said. “I’m just assuming going 200 miles an hour, going 150 miles an hour, has got to be a fairly big hit compared to running.’’

Patrick noted that SAFER barriers and collapsible items on NASCAR vehicles have better protected drivers. Still, Earnhardt missed the final 18 races of last season because of concussion symptoms that stemmed from a crash at Michigan International Speedway in June. It marked the second time in his career that Earnhardt has missed races because of concussion symptoms.

He wasn’t the only driver to sit out last year for similar issues. Matt DiBenedetto was forced to miss a Cup race last season although he questioned if he had been diagnosed correctly after an incident in November at Texas. John Wes Townley missed two Camping World Truck Series races last year because of concussion-like symptoms suffered after two crashes in a June race at Gateway Motorsports Park.

Earnhardt’s openness about his symptoms and recovery is viewed by many in the sport as trendsetting and raised the profile of the issue.

I was very, very sick,’’ Earnhardt said Wednesday.“I had no business being in a car. I just did everything my doctors were telling me to do.

“If it helps somebody, that’s important. But I was just looking out for myself, listening to my doctors. If it taught someone a lesson or helped someone, that’s awesome. I definitely became more educated through the process.’’

A day before Earnhardt returned to the car last weekend at Daytona International Speedway, NASCAR updated its concussion protocol for competitors. The policy states:

#As part of the new rule regarding damaged vehicles, a driver whose car sustains damage from an accident or contact of any kind and goes behind the pit wall or to the garage is required to visit the Infield Care Center to be evaluated.

#The medical portion of NASCAR’s Event Standards now require that Infield Care Center physicians incorporate the SCAT-3 diagnostic tool in screening for head injuries.

#AMR will provide on-site neurological consultative support at select NASCAR events during the 2017 season and will work directly with NASCAR in the continued development of concussion protocol.

Martin Truex Jr. and Jimmie Johnson each said they had no issues after their separate incidents in Sunday’s Clash.

“They just evaluated me,’’ Johnson said after his visit to the infield care center. “It seemed like a normal routine, so I don’t think I was in question to go into protocol mode.’’

With a doctor and paramedic in an emergency vehicle that responds to crashes, it allows medical officials to view drivers more closely after the incident instead of waiting until the drivers arrive to the infield care center. If the doctor or paramedic see something that raises a concern, it can trigger the concussion protocol program.

For as much as is being done, Patrick recognizes the dangers associated with concussions.

“It’s our life, and if there was someone that told me, and I would hope that any other driver that if you had another wreck you could have a serious problems (that) they would be out,’’ she said. “I would be out. I love what I do, but I love lots of other things, and I also love life. I’m too young to have it be over.’’

So with the emphasis on concussions, what more can be done?

“No. 1 for me is taking note of symptoms, being really aware, which I feel that I’m pretty good at that,’’ Patrick said. “I would almost call myself hyper-sensitive just because of how much I take care of myself with food and working out. I feel very, very perceptive to any little change to my body.

“Hopefully, it puts NASCAR in a position and the safety team into a position where they start to address it differently from a recording information standpoint or a data or testing of some sort. There are some different protocols. The question is what can we do really? Just be aware of your symptoms and be honest.’’

 and on Facebook

Cody Coughlin joins ThortSport Racing in Truck Series

Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images
1 Comment

ThorSport Racing has added 21-year-old Cody Coughlin to its Camping World Truck Series lineup for 2017, joining long-time veteran Matt Crafton.

Coughlin, who has 12 Truck Series starts, will drive the No. 13 JEGS/RIDE TV Toyota in his rookie season. He competed in 10 races last year for Kyle Busch Motorsports. His best result was 12th in the June race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Coughlin is a native of Delaware, Ohio, where the family-owned JEGS Automotive is based, 85 miles north of ThorSport’s shop in Sandusky, Ohio.

“ThorSport Racing is a great team, one I’ve always admired at the race track,” Coughlin said in a press release. “Their professionalism, the speed they display, and their record, speaks for itself. Considering the team and I are both based in Ohio, it makes for a great fit, and I’m proud to be part of this championship-caliber organization.

Earlier this month is was revealed Rico Abreu and Cameron Hayley would not return full-time to ThorSport.

Crafton, a two-time champion, enters his 17th season in the Truck Series.

“Matt Crafton and I became good friends last year,” Coughlin continued. “His insight and help with driving these Toyota Tundra’s at all of the different tracks has been a valuable asset, and to be his teammate this year, takes it to the next level.”

Michael Shelton will serve as Coughlin’s crew chief after most recently working with John Wes Townley. Shelton led James Buescher to his Truck Series title in 2012.

Last year, Coughlin became the first driver to win the ACRA/CRA Super Series and JEGS/CRA All-Stars Tour Championship in the same season.

 and on Facebook

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

Leave a comment

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.”

William Byron sweeps Truck Series practice at Homestead

Jerry Markland/Getty Images
Leave a comment

After posting the quickest lap in opening Truck Series practice Friday morning at Homestead-Miami Speedway, William Byron was also fastest in final practice.

Byron posted a lap of 171.778 mph during the 55-minute session. His Kyle Busch Motorsports teammate, Daniel Suarez, was second fastest at 169.083 mph. Cole Custer (168.797 mph) was third fastest with Brady Boswell, substituting for John Wes Townley, fourth fastest at 168.403.

Chase contender Christopher Bell rounded out the top five at 168.340 mph. Bell was the only Chase driver in the top 10.

Two-time champion Matt Crafton was 15th fastest with a lap of 167.110 mph. Timothy Peters was 18th on the practice board with a lap of 166.631 mph. Johnny Sauter was the slowest of the Chase contenders at 23rd fastest with a lap of 165.042 mph.

Click here to see speeds from final Truck Series practice

Follow @KellyCrandall

Ankle injury will keep John Wes Townley out of Truck Series season finale

Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
Leave a comment

John Wes Townley will miss the Camping World Truck Series season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway due to non-racing injury to his left ankle.

Brady Boswell will drive the No. 05 Chevrolet in his place.

Townley has missed the last two races at Texas Motor Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway because of his injury.

“The good news is I was able to get off the crutches last week,” Townley said in a press release. “The bad news is I’m still limping some. Nothing is broken. But it’s just going to take longer than I thought for it to heal.”

Townley will finish the season having competed in 18 of 23 races. He has two top 10s with a best finish of seventh at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Boswell will make his second Truck series start. He drove for Townley at Eldora Speedway and finished 21st.

“This will be a great opportunity for Brady,” Townley said. “I know he’ll do a solid job for Athenian Motorsports. He drove for us at Eldora this summer. I’m confident he can get us a strong finish at Homestead.”