SBD/October 18, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NASCAR Exploring Expanded Concussion Testing Program On Heels Of Earnhardt Injury

Earnhardt's concussion triggered NASCAR to review its policies on head injuries
NASCAR is "reviewing with its medical experts all aspects of how it deals with concussions, including baseline testing that the IndyCar Series and other contact sports use," according to David Newton of ESPN.com. NASCAR "does not perform baseline testing as a regular part of its preseason physical but plans to consult with its medical staff to see whether it should be added after what has happened to its most popular driver" Dale Earnhardt Jr. now sidelined for at least two races. NASCAR Senior Dir of Communications for Competition Kerry Tharp said, "We will continue to work closely and review our policies with the medical experts that advise NASCAR on baseline testing and other medical issues." Newton wrote baseline testing "gives physicians a starting point" to learn if there is a loss of function after a head injury, and "enables them to determine if a concussion has occurred and the severity of it." NASCAR driver Danica Patrick said, "We need to do whatever it takes to know more about injuries for sure." Newton noted one of the arguments "against baseline testing is athletes can manipulate the test with slow reaction times." Then, in case of a head injury, drivers "run a lower risk of being parked as Earnhardt was" (ESPN.com, 10/16).

PEER PRESSURE: SPORTING NEWS' Bob Pockrass noted IndyCar drivers must complete the ImPACT test, developed by Univ. of Pittsburgh Medical Center Concussion Program Clinical & Exec Dir Michael Collins, "before they compete in the series and then at least once every two years." IndyCar said that the 20-minute test "measures a range of neurocognitive functions, including memory, reaction time, attention span, and other cognitive abilities." If a driver suffers a head injury, doctors "perform the test again to determine the severity." NASCAR driver Kevin Harvick said that Richard Childress Racing "started having its drivers take a baseline test a couple of years ago." Harvick: "It's just a matter of what the team does, how it's supposed to be structured, how far you want to take it. It's a fine balance. I think, obviously, when Dale Jr. has a situation like this, everybody's looking at it a little bit differently than they have in the past.” Pockrass wrote some drivers "believe such testing should be left up to the individual drivers and teams and not required by NASCAR." After Harvick made his statement, driver Brad Keselowski tweeted, “Good, let the teams handle this. The sport is plenty regulated as is.” IndyCar Medical Services Dir Mike Olinger said that while baseline testing is regulated in the series, "it's not like it can be done weekly." Olinger added that the series "must rely on drivers to let IndyCar officials know if they're suffering symptoms." Pockrass noted IndyCar "also uses the NFL Sideline Concussion Assessment Tool, a cognitive test that takes up to eight minutes" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 10/17).

TALKING POINTS: ESPN.com's Ed Hinton wrote while NFL QBs "aren't required to play seriously hurt," NASCAR drivers "are, if they want to contend for the Cup." Hinton: "They shouldn't be." NASCAR, "now more than ever, is clearly a team sport." Given that, "why not allow coach Steve Letarte to put in backup quarterback [Regan] Smith, and still collect points for the team that essentially is known by one name, 'Dale Earnhardt Jr.?'" NASCAR VP/Competition Robin Pemberton said, "When a driver is out, the team does continue to get points toward the championship." But Hinton wrote Pemberton's comments were said with "a bit of artful omission," as he "wasn't referring to 'the' championship that we all think of as THE championship." Pemberton: "That's why there's two separate point systems, one for the driver and one for the team itself" (ESPN.com, 10/17).
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