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Volume 24 No. 134

Leagues and Governing Bodies

NASCAR Senior VP/Racing Operations Steve O'Donnell yesterday said that the organization has launched a "far-reaching investigation into track fencing and the circumstances that led to the injuries of at least 28 fans" during Saturday's Nationwide Series race at Daytona Int'l Speedway, according to a front-page piece by Ames Alexander of the CHARLOTTE OBSERVER. O’Donnell: “This was a rare instance but certainly it’s something we’ve got to look at and fix. ... If this is something we can improve, we certainly want to do that.” O’Donnell added that while it is "still early in NASCAR’s investigation, it appears so far that all of the debris came through the fence rather than over it.” Experts at NASCAR’s R&D center in Concord, N.C., have been “asked to help conduct that review.” O’Donnell: “We’ll pull in experts on fencing, and we’ll look at what new technologies may be available. If there’s something out there, we’ll find it.” Purdue Univ. Motorsports Dir and racing safety expert Danny White said that he “has been asked to examine a new Plexiglass-like material that is said to have enormous strength.” O’Donnell said that he “expects NASCAR’s investigation will be similar in scope to the extensive review that went into the development of so-called ‘soft walls,’ track walls that are designed to protect drivers by absorbing the impact from crashes, such as the one that killed Dale Earnhardt at Daytona in 2001.” O’Donnell: “At every one of our tracks, fan safety is first and foremost. We want to get it right. Without our fans, we don’t have a sport" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 2/27).

GOING TO GREAT HEIGHTS? SPORTING NEWS’ Bob Pockrass noted it will be up to NASCAR, DIS officials and their insurance companies to “decide to what to do next” in their investigation into Saturday’s crash. The Wheeler Co. Chair & former SMI President & CEO Humpy Wheeler said that with no governmental oversight of how tracks keep fans safe, NASCAR and the insurance companies “dictate the standards for fencing for NASCAR races.” He said, “It’s what the insurance company dictates. And there is an unwritten group of laws among the speedways. If (a track) opened and I saw their wheel fence was six feet high, I would take it upon myself to go see the owners and say, ‘What are you doing? You’re going to put us all out of business.’ While that sounds like a crude, loose form of regulation, it really isn’t. It’s really powerful, as a matter of fact." Pockrass noted most of the debris flew through the fence, not over it. Wheeler said that this is a “good thing in the sense that tracks likely won’t feel compelled to add to the height of the fencing.” He added, “If it had gone over the fence, in all likelihood they’d be working on Phoenix right now as we speak in an all-out rush to try to get it (higher for this weekend)” (, 2/26).

ANOTHER LOOK: An ORLANDO SENTINEL editorial states, “Despite the bravado expressed by some attendees, fan safety needs to be as big a priority as driver safety.” NASCAR should “examine whether safer, more high-tech solutions are available to replace the chain-link fencing and cables that protect fans from cars.” It also should examine “whether fan seating is too close to the track.” The editorial: “We’re not pretending to be experts in auto-racing safety, but after what happened last week, we’re certain it needs another look” (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 2/27).

Defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski said that he "wouldn't alter his outspoken style after meeting last week with NASCAR brass who were unhappy" with his recent comments regarding the state of the sport, according to Nate Ryan of USA TODAY. Keselowski: "I think that I will still have the same approach to doing everything I can to push the sport forward as I see fit. It's just a matter of balancing it with the interest of everything else." NASCAR Chair & CEO Brian France and ISC Vice Chair & CEO Lesa France Kennedy on Friday "met with Keselowski separately" for at least 30 minutes each. In his first extensive remarks since the meeting, Keselowski said some of his original comments were "definitely on the edge." He added, "I'm not going to run from that. But I'm also not going to run away from some of the validity of some of the things I said either." Keselowski has "embraced the ambassadorial role of being a champion and has said he wants to help unify the sport's factions for the better good." He reiterated that yesterday, even if it "meant voicing opinions that might be unpopular." Keselowski: "If I have to be the bad guy in this garage or in this sport, so that the series and American motorsports can move forward, that doesn't bother me one bit. I would rather be maybe a less popular champion of a series that's very, very successful, than a popular champion of a series that's not" (USA TODAY, 2/27).

BRUTON'S BONUS:'s David Newton noted SMI Chair & CEO Bruton Smith has "sweetened the pot" for winning the May 18 NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race by offering an additional $1M "if a driver can win all five segments of the non-points event." The new incentive is called "Bruton's Big Bonus." The format for the race "includes five segments with the best average finish for the first four segments determining how the field comes down pit road for a mandatory four-time pit stop before the final segment." The order of the cars returning to the track will "determine the starting order for the final segment" in which the winner receives $1M. Keselowski yesterday at CMS unveiled a "special car built out of one million $1 bills" (, 2/26).

The NHL yesterday officially notified teams of its "latest re-alignment proposal" and the previous plan to break the league into four conferences is "a goner, which means four divisions in two conferences," according to Elliotte Friedman of the CBC. The realignment plan would mean it is "no longer the top eight teams per conference that qualify" for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Instead, the "top three teams in each division are automatic qualifiers," and they will be "seeded 1, 2 and 3." The No. 4 seeds will be "given to the next two teams with the highest point total." The club with "fewer points would play the higher-seeded No. 1." That is on a "conference, not a league-wide, basis, which prevents a cross-continent matchup." This is "probably the biggest concession the league made to the union," and explains why the Blue Jackets and Red Wings "were moved to the East." Not only is it "better for their fans' television viewing, but the Red Wings really wanted assurances they wouldn't have to travel west in the first two rounds of the playoffs." The league-wide memo indicates that the NHL and the NHLPA will meet after the '15-16 season to assess the new divisions, "or earlier if circumstances warrant." Barring expansion or relocation, "both sides are committing to this for three years" (, 2/26).'s Pierre LeBrun noted under the NHL's new plan, each team will "play teams in the other conference both home and away." The NHLPA "blocked the December 2011 plan, citing travel concerns for its players plus playoff inequity," so these changes "come as a result of those concerns." The two sides have been "negotiating for the past three weeks on finding a better solution for realignment." However, the NHLPA wants to "further address it with its players before consenting to it" (, 2/26).

PROS VS. CONS: USA TODAY's Kevin Allen writes of the NHL's proposed realignment, "The plus of this plan is it places Winnipeg in the West where it belongs and let's Detroit and Columbus join other Eastern time zone teams." But the "minus is the Eastern Conference has eight-team divisions and the Western Conference has seven-team divisions, and the idea that players wouldn't have an equal mathematical chance of making the playoffs is troublesome to the NHLPA." A divisional-based playoff with an unequal number of teams "is not unprecedented in NHL history." The league from '81-82 to '92-93 had "four playoff qualifiers coming out of both five- and six-team divisions." One reason the NHLPA "might be open to allowing the uneven numbers between the two conferences is that this might be the only way to get Columbus and Detroit in the East" (USA TODAY, 2/27).’s Craig Custance said of the proposed playoff format, “It’s still an advantage to be in the West.”
But the new plan still “doesn’t necessarily alleviate the concerns the players have” ("Hockey Today," ESPN2, 2/26). The GLOBE & MAIL's Sean Gordon writes, "It's hard to imagine some big-revenue teams won’t kick up a fuss at the competitive imbalance, and on the face of it, the plan makes no allowances for eventual franchise relocation or expansion to Quebec City and Southern Ontario." But at the same time, the new divisional line-up "would be a boon to prime-time television viewers -- a calculation that is top-of-mind for the NHL" (GLOBE & MAIL, 2/27).

TURNING UP THE DRAMA: The NATIONAL POST's Bruce Arthur writes the proposed playoff format would "create more annual blood feuds," which can be "a double-edged sword: on the one hand, seeing the same teams over and over could eventually dull the mouth-foaming hatred that certain fans harbour for other teams, but on the other hand the blood feuds could eventually reach the point where someone pulls out an actual double-edged sword, which based on the universal in-arena reaction to fights would be a big hit." But whenever the NHL talks realignment "you have to treat it like a shell game, waiting to be solved" (NATIONAL POST, 2/27).

The NFL’s mandatory post-injury sideline concussion assessment tool instituted for the '12 season "will now be used in app form by all 32 teams,” according to Judy Battista of the N.Y. TIMES. The league's “hope is that being able to compare the results of a baseline test and a postinjury test side by side in real time will speed diagnosis and help doctors and trainers recognize when a player should be removed from a game.” The post-injury test is “quick -- it takes about six to eight minutes -- and shares many elements with the baseline test to allow a comparison that might indicate a decline in function.” Both include a “section on the players' concussion history and a 24-symptom checklist.” On the post-injury tests, there is “one different element: a series of five questions designed to test orientation and glean how confused a player might be at that moment.” The tests are “far from perfect.” Some doctors are “concerned the NFL tests are trying to reduce concussion evaluation to ticking items off a checklist.” Princeton Univ. Health Services Athletic Medicine Dir Margot Putukian, a member of the NFL’s Head, Neck & Spine Committee, “acknowledged” the problem, “emphasizing the importance of having doctors familiar with the players evaluate them.” Putukian said, “I think we have to be careful. The tool, it’s not the be-all, end-all. There are going to be athletes who have concussions that this tool does not pick up. It’s not a perfect test.” The NFL also “plans to have independent neurological consultants on the sideline during each game to assist the team physician in diagnosing and treating players" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/27).

THE HGH DEBATE: Redskins LB London Fletcher joined NFL Network’s Darren Sharper and Heath Evans yesterday to discuss the effort by the NFL and the NFLPA to implement HGH testing. Fletcher noted he wants a “clean game," saying, "I want to compete against guys that are doing it the right way.” Fletcher initially thought 10% of the league was using HGH, but said, “I'm thinking my number is extremely conservative.” Sharper claimed over 50% of players were using HGH. Fletcher said that percentage “seems far-fetched, but if it's 1%, that's too many.” Fletcher: “Let's go out here, get the testing done. Let's go out and just play the game the way it's supposed to be played.” Evans added, “You need to get testing done. Posturing or not, call it what you will, the bottom line is we all want a level playing field, except for the ones that are cheating." He added, "They need to get this worked out ... for the betterment of the game. We talked about protecting the shield. I think this goes further to protect the shield” (“NFL Total Access,” NFL Network, 2/26).