When NASCAR announced Thursday it would require drivers to undergo baseline neurological testing starting in 2014, it seemed liked a slam-dunk decision by the sanctioning body.
Not everyone, however, agrees with NASCAR's mandate aimed at curbing drivers returning too quickly after sustaining a concussion. Among those skeptical of the new policy is defending Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski.
"This is not the field for doctors. Let them play in their arena and I'll play in mine," Keselowski said Friday at Martinsville Speedway.
Beginning next season all drivers in NASCAR's three national series (Cup, Nationwide and Trucks) will be required to submit to the ImPACT (Immediate Post-Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Testing) test, which measures verbal and visual memory, processing speed and reaction time.
At the beginning of each year, drivers will undergo the ImPACT test. This will be used as a baseline if they suffer a concussion during the season to determine when it might be safe to return to competition.
Keselowski's fear is that doctors will be reluctant to clear a driver to get back behind the wheel.
"Doctors don't understand our sport," Keselowski said, who has never undergone a baseline test himself. "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."
One driver who disagrees with Keselowski and strongly supports NASCAR's new policy is Dale Earnhardt Jr., who a year ago suffered two concussions within a span of six weeks and sat out two races.
His first concussion occurred during a testing accident at Kansas Speedway. In the midst of a strong season and not wanting to miss a race and risk not qualifying for the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Earnhardt continued to drive. He would suffer a second concussion Oct. 7 at Talladega Superspeedway and after an evaluation it was determined he needed to step out of his car.
"I think it's a great move by NASCAR to have another tool in the tool box to sort of help diagnosis, but as equally as important help treat the concussion," Earnhardt said. "It's a great tool not only to help diagnosis but really to understand the type of injury and the style of injury that you have and how to treat that particular injury with the information that you get from the baseline test.
"It's just valuable information. If you care about your wellbeing and your health and quality of life it's a smart move to embrace."
From Keselowski's perspective, he believes there is too much subjectivity in judging when a driver should or shouldn't be given the OK to return.
"My biggest question is, ‘What's the number?'" Keselowski 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? ... 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."