Concussion Protocol Expanded Across NASCAR

As the world continues to learn more about concussions and after Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s time away from the sport last season, NASCAR has updated their concussion protocol procedures for all competitors across their three national series.

“NASCAR has worked very closely with the industry to ensure our concussion protocol reflects emerging best practices in this rapidly developing area of sports medicine,” said Jim Cassidy, NASCAR senior vice president of racing operations. “We will continue to utilize relationships we’ve had for years with leaders in the neurological research field who helped to shape these updates.”

As per usual, any driver who is involved in a wreck must make a trip to the Infield Car Center to be looked over. The rule has been updated to reflect the new “damaged car policy”, now stating “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”.

As part of NASCAR’s event standards, each care center physicians must use the SCAT-3 diagnostic tool in screening for head injuries, and NASCAR’s new medical partner AMR will provide on-site neurological consultative support at events to work with NASCAR.

Per the company’s guidelines, SCAT-3 is “a standardized tool for evaluating injured athletes for concussion”. Their guide breaks down the assessment in which athletes must follow, which can be looked at by clicking here.

Last season, Earnhardt Jr. missed the second half of the year following Kentucky Speedway in July due to recovering from a concussion sustained in a crash at Michigan International Speedway in June. The 42-year-old spent past five months under the care of Dr. Micky Collins, medical director of the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program in Pittsburgh, through his recovery. Collins, along with Charlotte neurosurgeon Dr. Jerry Petty, cleared Earnhardt following a 185-lap test at Darlington Raceway over the course of five hours.

The discussion of concussions and clearance of drivers was a touchy subject throughout the course of 2016.

Notably, Matt DiBendetto was forced to sit out of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series event at Texas Motor Speedway in October, due to a crash in the XFINITY Series race the day before. Driving the No. 14 entry for TriStar Motorsports in the XFINITY race, DiBenedetto made heavy contact with the outside wall on Lap 134 of the 200 lap event. After being checked over, DiBenedetto was not cleared to drive by physicians and entered NASCAR’s concussion protocol. It was determined following testing that he did not have a concussion.

In the Verizon IndyCar Series, Will Power sat out the season opener at St. Petersburg due to symptoms following a crash in practice. It was determined later they were caused as a result of an “inner ear infection”. The resulting discussion saw many opinions shared from different sides, including a discussion between Brad Keselowski and Popular Open Wheel’s Tony Johns.

On the flip side, Sarah Cornett-Ching sustained a concussion in the ARCA Racing Series and sat out the end of the season, before returning to racing this February. She spoke about the experience recently with Popular Speed’s Andy Marquis.


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By Ashley McCubbin

Currently the Executive Editor for Popular Speed, Ashley McCubbin also runs Short Track Musings, while handling media relations for OSCAAR. Currently living in Bradford, Ontario, she spends her weekend at the local short tracks in the area taking photos.