Keselowski concerned about doctors’ input for concussion testing

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2012 Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski doesn’t seem to be entirely thrilled with NASCAR’s mandate of baseline concussion testing for all of its national series competitors starting next year.

After qualifying this afternoon at Martinsville Speedway, the Penske Racing driver insisted that he’s “trying really hard to keep an open mind” about NASCAR’s new policy but also fretted over the potential input from doctors in determining when an injured driver can return to race.

“Doctors don’t understand our sport,” Keselowski said. “They never have and they never will. Doctors aren’t risk takers. We are. That’s what makes our sport what it is and when you get doctors involved, you water down our sport.

“I’m trying to be open-minded to the possibility that they can help us, but past experience says no.”

NASCAR announced this week that it would implement mandatory baseline testing via the ImPACT test, so doctors can have data on hand in the event they must evaluate a driver that may have sustained a concussion in an incident.

Keselowski appears to be particularly worried about what kind of score on the ImPACT test would be enough to get the OK from doctors to climb back in a car.

“If you have a test and you come back later and you score five percent worse, is that OK?,” he said. “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. It’s just another subjective field for doctors that don’t understand our sport.”

Tonight, Keselowski took to his Twitter page to state his case even further in a series of Tweets (listed here in chronological order, with the most recent at the end):

However, one of his peers had a more positive opinion on the concussion testing.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. missed two Chase for the Sprint Cup events last year after suffering a concussion in a massive crash at Talladega. And for his part, he doesn’t understand the concerns regarding the ImPACT test.

“It’s not two plus two equals four and ‘Oh well, you chose three, you are out,'” said Earnhardt. “There is no right or wrong answers. It’s a test that really gives you an image of how someone thinks, how quickly they make decisions and how they make decisions, how they rationale.”

Noting that his ImPACT score was much lower after he was concussed than when he was recovering, Earnhardt supported the new policy and believes that the worries will eventually subside.

“I think it’s a really good move and it’s really smart,” he said. “I think once people understand, I encourage you to go take the test. It takes 30 minutes and you will know what the test means, how it’s scored, how your graded, if you will. It’s a really loose term. Then you will see a bit more of the doctors point of view and you will understand there is not a big need for concern on the driver’s point of view.”

Schmidt Peterson aiming high with Hinchcliffe, Wickens

Photo: IndyCar
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The new Schmidt Peterson Motorsports duo of James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens expressed a high amount of confidence during Wednesday’s confirmation of Hinchcliffe’s return and Wickens’ signing, as the pair looks to return the Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson co-owned team to prominent status within the Verizon IndyCar Series.

“We’re hoping to give Toronto and Ontario and Canadian sports fans in general something to cheer about over the next season,” Hinchcliffe quipped during a teleconference on Wednesday.

Granted, there are likely to be several challenges to overcome, notably for Wickens, who returns to single-seater competition for the first time since 2011, when he was a champion of the Formula Renault 3.5 series and served as test driver for the now defunct Manor Racing (then known as Marussia Virgin Racing).

Having spent every year since then in DTM, where he won a total of six races and finished as high as fourth in the championship (2016), Wickens knows returning to open wheel competition will be an adjustment. However, he explained that the history of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, specifically its Indy Lights history, speaks to their ability to help a driver adapt, and he rates the program they’re putting together very highly.

“I think Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have a fantastic driver development program. They showed that in their multiple Indy Lights championships along the way. I think we will have a strong program in place. I have a feeling that the simulator will be my new best friend,” Wickens said when asked about getting reacquainted with an open-wheel car.

Of course, having an experienced teammate like Hinchcliffe to lean on will undoubtedly help the transition, something Wickens readily admitted.

“I’m very fortunate that I have James as my teammate because he’s so experienced, I can learn off him. Because we already have such a good off-track relationship, I feel like you can just take his word, trust him, kind of move forward with it,” he revealed.

They’ve been teammates before, both in karting where they first met in 2001, and then in the now-defunct A1 Grand Prix series in 2007-2008, a series that pitted nations against each other in spec open-wheel cars. Funnily, that A1GP type of vibe returns as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports now has that with its “Team Canada” mantra while all four of Andretti Autosport’s full-season drivers are American.

For Hinchcliffe, Wickens’ background, even if it hasn’t been in the single-seater realm since 2011, was a big selling point in adding him to the team.

“In Robby, we have a proven winner at a very high level. The level of technical expertise that he comes with from his time in DTM is very impressive,” he said of Wickens’ technical background.

Hinchcliffe added that Wickens’ ability to analyze the car and its setup was evidenced in two outings: one at Sebing International Raceway in March, in part of a “ride swap” between the two longtime friends, and a second at Road America, when he subbed on Friday practice for Mikhail Aleshin.

Wickens sampled Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda earlier this year. Photo: IndyCar

Hinchcliffe revealed that Wickens’ feedback to the team and his ability to quickly adapt to the chassis took everyone somewhat by surprise.

“We did our ride swap. He had two hours in the car, hardly anything even resembling a test day, and his performance was pretty impressive. No doubt the time in Road America helped because that really gave us a better sense of his technical feedback, integrated with the team a little bit more. Everybody was happy to work with him on that day,” said Hinchcliffe.

Further still, Hinchcliffe is firm in his belief that the 2018 aero kit and its reduction in aerodynamic downforce will fall right into Wickens’ wheelhouse, based on Hinchcliffe’s own take after sampling Wickens’ DTM Mercedes earlier this year.

“In all honesty, I was saying earlier today, the 2018 car is probably better suited for him than the 2017 car because of the experience he’s had the last handful of series,” Hinchcliffe asserted.

“The (aero kit) was such high downforce, it would be a big change coming out of DTM. But with the loss of downforce that we’ve seen, the car is moving around a little bit more, brake zones, things like that, it won’t be as big a transition I think. Just based on the experience that I got in our ride swap, I think he’s going to adapt very quickly, be comfortable very quickly, and as a result be competitive very quickly. So it’s going to be exciting.”

As for expectations heading into next year, team co-owner Schmidt did not mince words and expects the team’s performance to resemble what they did in 2012, 2013, and 2014, when they won a total of four races (with driver Simon Pagenaud) and finished in the top five in the championship each year.

“We had a stint in ’12, ’13, ’14 where we finished fifth in the points (or better. I think we want to get back to that level of competition,” Schmidt added. “We felt like we were missing things in having two cars with equal funding and equal drivers and equal capabilities. We think this gets back there.”

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