Keselowski Questions NASCAR Mandate

Brad Keselowski

About NASCAR mandating baseline concussion testing, Brad Keselowski says "I don't like doctors in our sport.'' (Photo: Getty Images)

MARTINSVILLE, Va. - Defending series champion Brad Keselowski questions NASCAR’s decision to mandate baseline testing for concussions next year, saying “doctors don’t understand our sport. They never have and never will.’’

Dale Earnhardt Jr. said Friday at Martinsville Speedway that he’s puzzled by anybody who would question the effectiveness of baseline testing after going through it last year when he missed two races because of concussions symptoms.

“We get a year down the road, everybody understands how the test works, especially when all the drivers are forced to take it, it’s no sweat,’’ Earnhardt said. “I don’t think they’ll be too worried about it.’’

NASCAR’s decision to mandate the testing is not a surprise. Drivers were encouraged to get baseline testing this year with the indication that it likely would become mandatory in 2014.

NASCAR announced this week that drivers in its national series must have preseason neurocognitive baseline testing. The testing performed will use the ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing) test. Test results, according to NASCAR, will be among the factors a doctor uses to diagnose and treat concussions.

The ImPACT test evaluates a person’s verbal and visual memory, processing speed and reaction time. By having a baseline test, a doctor can compare a driver suspected of having a concussion to better evaluate their condition.

Keselowski suggests drivers can better evaluate if they should race.   

“Doctors aren’t risk takers,’’ he said. “We are. That’s what makes our sport what it is, and when doctors get involved, you water down the sport.

"I don't like doctors in our sport.'' 

Among Keselowski's biggest concerns is how a doctor, using the test, determines if a driver has a concussion and should be prohibited from racing.

“What’s the number?’‘ he said. “It’s no different than the race cars. If you have a test and you come back later and you score five percent worse is that OK? Is it 10? Is it 11? Is it one? There’s a tolerance to everything we do in this world. 

“There’s not a part on our race car that isn’t built to a tolerance. There’s not a part on the space shuttle that isn’t built to a tolerance. The same thing could be said for this particular field. What’s good? What’s bad? What’s the number? That’s really what’s relevant to the conversation, but if there isn’t a number that’s good or bad with this style of testing, then it’s a waste of time.’’

Keselowski says he’s trying to be open-minded about NASCAR’s decision “but past experience says no.’’

He nearly missed a Nationwide race at Talladega in 2010 after being involved in a Cup crash earlier in the day. Doctors in the infield care center had concerns about his carbon monoxide level and didn’t immediately release him for the Nationwide race. Eventually they did and Keselowski won the race.

“I had a carbon monoxide rating of five parts per whatever ... and I was allowed to get back in the car at the very last minute,’’ he said. “The interesting thing was we tested some of our crew guys throughout the remainder of that season in 2010 and we saw eights and 10s with guys that just walked through the garage, so where does it stop? Does that mean we have to test all the crew guys? This is not the field for doctors. Let them play in their arena and I’ll play in mine.”

Keselowski’s opposition is not new. He raised concerns last year when Earnhardt sat out because of concussion symptoms after two crashes within about six weeks.

Keselowski questioned then how a doctor could determine if a driver had a concussion.

“It’s a very difficult situation to explain and, for all of the middle ground, which is where you feel sick but you can’t prove anything medically, that’s where it becomes tough,’’ Keselowski said last year. “And yes I’ve had situations where I’ve been in that middle ground and you’re left going off of your gut. 

“I feel like the drivers in this sport are smart enough to know the line and usually, if you have an injury like that, that prevents you from being focused and racing at a hundred percent, it should also prevent you from going fast enough to be in the way.  The sport almost naturally clears itself of people like that.”

Earnhardt said his experience last year showed him how valuable the test is.

“You have to know how the test is taken and how the test is scored and how you are evaluated in the re-test,’’ he said. “It’s not two plus two equals four and you chose three and you’re out. There’s no right or wrong answers. It’s a test that really gives you an image of how someone thinks and how quickly they make decisions and how they make decisions. It’s not really a test of what’s the capitol of North Carolina.

“When I was concussed, my grade was dramatically lowered. It’s not a guess for a doctor when they see an individual that’s concussed on the test results because there is no gray area.’’

Some could argue that it was easy with Earnhardt because he didn’t feel good, prompting him to see a doctor last year.

“I don’t know if you would feel good if you were concussed,’’ Earnhardt said. “I understand that drivers are going to be concerned that things could go wrong for them and they could get incorrectly diagnosed. I don’t feel more worried about getting a concussion and getting held out, going through the whole process and understanding how the tests work and how they verify the test.’’

Motor Racing Network – “The Voice of NASCAR” – will have live coverage of Sunday's Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 from Martinsville Speedway at 12:30 p.m. (ET), with live streaming at MotorRacingNetwork.com.

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