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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Sarah Cornett-Ching Making Racing Comeback After Concussion

Sarah Cornett-Ching, a popular driver who has been competing in the ARCA Racing Series, is ready to get back to racing after being sidelined with a concussion back in September.

Cornett-Ching, 25, from the British Columbia province in Canada, was involved in an accident on Lap 22 in the Crosley 150 ARCA Racing Series event at Kentucky Speedway last September.  The symptoms of her concussion caused her to remain sidelined, but now she has been cleared to compete again.

Cornett-Ching was set to make her return in a Pro All Stars Series (PASS) Super Late Model race at Dillon Motor Speedway in South Carolina earlier this month, but mechanical problems in practice forced her and car owner Tony Blanchard to pack up.  Since then, she’s tested a Super Late Model at Southern National Motorsports Park in preparation for a PASS race on March 4th.

“We didn’t get to race at Dillon which was unfortunate because I was looking forward to seeing how I felt in a group of cars where you have to make quick reactions and things like that which is different than just practicing,” Cornett-Ching remarked.  “Obviously, a longer race, it was going to be 200 laps.  Bummed we didn’t get to run that race but I’m better every day.”

The journey back has been a long one and sometimes frustrating for the 25-year-old who feels she’s mentally ready to race again.

“It’s been pretty frustrating,” Cornett-Ching said.  “Just a long process, really, really slow, little bit better every day but never really noticeably better.  It was just frustrating.  I mean, it’s good to be back testing now.  We’ve tested a few times now.  The most frustrating part is that, when you’re trying to make progress and build as a driver and then you have to take so much time off, it’s just heartbreaking.”

Cornett-Ching recalled the Kentucky accident and how she felt in the days after.

“It sucked,” she commented.  “I mean, we were going around a couple lapped cars and the spotter just didn’t key up quick enough to say the leader was on the outside.  The leader did not decide to lift so he turned us around.  It was a hard hit.  Hit the outside wall and then the inside wall.  I don’t remember too much about the wreck and that.  I was pretty sick for a while, just out of it.  Sleeping, headaches, nausea, just really sick.  Memory and all that stuff was really affected.”

Now, a little over four months later, Cornett-Ching has been cleared to compete, but she still isn’t back to where she was physically before the accident.

“It’s been a long time getting back and it’s still not, I still don’t feel like I am as a driver where I was before it happened,” Cornett-Ching explained.  “I’ve been cleared though by the doctor and everything else with all the tests they do to get back in the racecar and be racing again so I’d like to run some Super Late Model races, get out there and see how I feel in those situations.”

Concussions in sports have been a hot topic in recent years, and auto racing has not been exempt.  Last July, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. stepped out of the car with concussion-like symptoms before a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Loudon, New Hampshire – the second time NASCAR’s most popular driver has had to do so due to concussion symptoms.  He has not been in the car since but is set to return at Daytona Speedweeks.

While there has been more talk about concussions since Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s abrupt decision to step aside, Cornett-Ching says his decision had no influence on her decision.

“For me, I was so sick that it wasn’t even a choice,” Cornett-Ching elaborated.  “Everybody brings that up because Dale Jr had a concussion at the same time and they ask.  You can say that it was, I don’t know, whatever.  It definitely did not make my decision.  My decision was made purely on how I felt, which was terrible.  It was around the same time and I’m glad he’s back and hopefully we can be back soon too.”

While Cornett-Ching isn’t where she was before, she feels she is ready to return and at least compete in a Super Late Model event.  The main issue for her has been recurring headaches later in the day, something that hydration plays a role in.

“Most times, when we run laps like this, right now I feel fine,” Cornett-Ching said.  “Towards the end of the day, I get a headache just as things are winding down and the doctor says hydration plays a role in that so I try to stay hydrated.  I feel fine.  Like I said, when you’re testing, it’s one thing but I do want to get back into a race situation where you make split second decisions and have to react to things happening on the track and that’s something we haven’t really been able to do yet.”

Cornett-Ching had planned to compete in the ARCA Racing Series event at Daytona International Speedway on February 18th, but is still unsure of her plans after the setback at Dillon Motor Speedway.  While her plans for the season have not been finalized, she intends to compete in more short track races this year – something she enjoys doing.

“The short track stuff is so much fun.  I guess it’s just more exciting.  The big tracks are so cool when you first go there but it’s really hard to do any door-to-door racing and it’s all just about running the perfect lap every time and trying to be as fast as you can be so you’re not losing time to the leaders.  Out here on the short tracks, you’re just beating and banging and really racing so it’s definitely a lot of fun.  I’m glad to be back at it and hopefully we can run more big races too.

“We haven’t set our schedule as far as that goes and I don’t want to rule anything out but I am excited to get back to the short track scene.”


The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.