Is NASCAR Sending Message On Head Injuries?
By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
KANSAS CITY, Kan, – Officially, not much has changed with NASCAR’s policy on driver injuries in the wake of what happened to Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Talladega two weeks ago. Officially, a driver who can navigate his damaged car back to the garages after a wreck still will not be required to visit the infield care center.
But unofficially, it appears that NASCAR is taking a more cautious approach. That became apparent Thursday at Kansas Speedway after Denny Hamlin slammed the wall during the morning Sprint Cup open test session.
Hamlin, who lost control of his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota coming out of Turn 1 at the 1.5-mile oval, drove his car away from the wreck. But after a NASCAR official inspected the car in the garages, Hamlin was asked to voluntarily pay a visit to the track’s medical facility.
After his initial visit, Hamlin was asked to report back to the care center after an hour for another evaluation.
“I can’t remember that happening before,” Hamlin said when asked about being asked to visit doctors.
Hamlin was clocked at 202 mph before impact.
Asked what happened, he said, “Third lap on sticker tires and a little treacherous. I just clipped the right rear on the outside wall going on corner entry and when I did it just shot the car to the apron. Then, I tried to correct and over-corrected and got into the outside fence.”
Michael Waltrip Racing driver Clint Bowyer, who was behind Hamlin, said, “He hit hard; real hard.”
Hamlin, who is third in points heading into the Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 – 15 behind leader Jimmie Johnson – described how hard.
“Just (had his) bell rung,” he said. “Just a typical hard hit, ring your bell type thing. You get jarred around. You feel a little bit out of it for a second, but everything came back.”
After getting to the garages, series officials came a calling.
“There were a couple NASCAR officials that analyzed the car after a wreck,” Hamlin said. “I’m not sure what her name is, but anyway, she looked ath the car and said it would probably be wise to go (to the care center) after looking at the car. The car is destroyed pretty good and so I think that, and even though you can drive it back, the hit still didn’t matter. It was pretty hard.”
So Hamlin didn’t argue.
“First time for me,” he said when pressed about being asked to see medical personnel after driving away from a wreck. “It was the first time that I really had some dizziness after a hit. Usually I’m sore or your jaw hurts from clinching your jaw, things like that, but this was the first time I really got dizzy.”
The practice of not automatically sending drivers to care centers after a wreck if they can drive away after impact came under scrutiny two weeks ago. Earnhardt wrecked hard late in the Talladega race and drove back to the garages.
Still feeling effects of the wreck a couple days later, Earnhardt went to a doctor. The doctor, a neurosurgeon, told Earnhardt he had a concussion and said he should not get back in the car until symptoms had passed. Earnhardt, a Chase driver, sat out last weekend’s race and will not be in the car at Kansas.
Earnhardt was able to drive away from his wreck and, hence, was not required to report to the care center and he didn’t.
NASCAR has not said that it would change its policy.
Hamlin was asked if he thought that he was asked to visit the care center because of what happened to Earnhardt, who said that a crash during testing at Kansas over the summer rung his bell but that he continued to drive inspite of not feeling right.
“I don’t think so,” Hamlin said. “It talked to them (NASCAR officials) yesterday and they said they have re-evaluations all the time.”
The policy of not ordering drivers to the care center if they are able to drive back to the garage has come under scrutiny since the Earnhardt’s incident.
Hamlin, who will be back on the track this weekend in a backup car, said he offered no argument when he was asked to report to the care center Thursday.
“It was hard enough where you want to get checked out,” he said. “I felt the need to just make sure that I was OK because, honestly, I don’t want to be endangering myself or anyone else on the track.”
From the look of it, NASCAR doesn’t want any driver involved in a hard wreck endangering themselves or anyone else on the track either. Especially after what happened to the biggest star in the sport.
– Jim Pedley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.orgOne Comment