Kurt Busch to Attempt The Indianapolis-Charlotte Double
posted by Phil Allaway
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Andretti Autosport announced this morning that Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet in the Sprint Cup Series, will attempt the Indianapolis 500 in a fifth entry for the IndyCar Series team. Once the Indianapolis 500 is completed, Busch will fly from Indianapolis to Charlotte, jump in his No. 41 Chevrolet and compete in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Busch considers the opportunity to do the double as an old-school throwback moment.
“This is really to challenge myself within motorsports,” Busch said in Andretti Autosport’s press release. “Perhaps I am a bit of an old-school racer; a throwback, I guess. I enjoyed the era of drivers racing different cars and testing themselves in other series. It is tough to do now for a variety of factors, but when the opportunity is there, I want to do it. While NASCAR is my home, I have been fortunate to compete in Pro Stock on the NHRA circuit a number of years ago and test a V8 Supercar. This opportunity was a talk with Michael [Andretti] over dinner one night, a “What if,” and now it’s becoming a reality for me to drive in the Indy 500 with Andretti Autosport. It’s literally a dream come true. To go to the famous Brickyard with the iconic Andretti name, it doesn’t get much cooler or better than that.”
Busch will be doing the Indianapolis-Charlotte double as a Memorial Day mission to men and women serving in the U.S. Military via the Armed Forces Foundation. Fans can contribute to the cause by texting AFF to 50555 to donate $10.
Busch, who has never raced an IndyCar, passed Rookie Orientation at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year during a test session. At the time, Busch was more or less testing the Dallara DW12 for fun.
Busch will be the fourth driver to attempt the Indianapolis-Charlotte double. John Andretti was the first driver to attempt it in 1994. After finishing four laps down in tenth in Indianapolis, Andretti crashed and had engine problems in the 600. Robby Gordon has attempted the double five times, most recently in 2004. However, Gordon failed to make it to Charlotte on time and did not start the 600 in 2000 (P.J. Jones started Gordon’s No. 13 Ford in that instance). Finally, Tony Stewart has attempted the double twice (most recently in 2001) and is the only driver to ever complete all 1100 miles. Neither of the three drivers has won either leg of the double. The best finishes are Stewart and Gordon’s sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis 500 (although Gordon’s came in 2000, the year he didn’t make it to Charlotte in time to start the Coca-Cola 600), and Stewart’s fourth-place finish in the 2001 Coca-Cola 600.
Danica Patrick, Justin Allgaier Talk About Phoenix Incident
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Tuesday March 4, 2014
A disappointing start to the year for Danica Patrick won’t include continued conflict. Patrick met with rookie Justin Allgaier Sunday, shortly after the Phoenix Cup race after a wreck ruined both drivers’ days. Patrick, who was critical of the No. 51 car on the radio, claiming Allgaier was “driving all over the track” appeared receptive to a conversation that quickly settled differences over what will be a long season.
“She was just upset because she got involved in the crash that we had,’’ said Allgaier to the Motor Racing Network. “She says she’s been through this and that she felt like I needed to settle down at that point. I explained my position on why everything happened. I think she understood where I was coming from. It doesn’t fix either one of our racecars. It doesn’t fix either one of our days. Unfortunately, we were both having pretty decent days.’’
Allgaier wound up 30th due to the incident while Patrick was 36th. The incident, which was caused by Allgaier’s spin also involved the No. 32 team and Travis Kvapil, which wound up 38th after sustaining heavy damage.
Camping World Close to Extending Title Sponsorship of NCWTS
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Marcus Lemonis, CEO of Camping World, Grand Marshal of Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway, and star of CNBC’s “The Profit,” made the announcement over the weekend that the retailer is very close to announcing a deal that would continue its title sponsorship of NASCAR’s Truck Series. The original agreement with NASCAR is scheduled to conclude after the 2015 season.
According to the sanctioning body, no formal contract has been signed, but “the agreement between the two parties has proven to be a beneficial one.”
“In about a month, we’ll be announcing a significant extension to that contract. It’s been great for us,” said Camping World’s Lemonis in a statement. “The NASCAR relationship has worked well for Camping World. When we started, we had 35 stores. Now, we’re up to 120 stores. As we travel the country and we meet new customers in stores, they always are very appreciative of our relationship with NASCAR. It’s been good.”
Gaining a long-term commitment from Camping World to sponsor the Truck Series would be a relief for NASCAR, which is set to lose Nationwide Insurance as title sponsor for the NASCAR Nationwide Series at the end of the 2014 season. The sponsorship of the Cup Series by Sprint runs through 2016.
The NCWTS is back in action on March 29th at 2:30 PM (ET) when the trucks visit Martinsville Speedway in the Kroger 250, which can be seen on Fox Sports 1. Ratings for the season opener were up 11 percent.
Harvick Takes Win At Phoenix In Second Race With New Team
posted by Justin Tucker
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Phoenix International Raceway has become Kevin Harvick’s home away from home. Sunday Afternoon was no exception as Harvick charged to the front early and would dominate for much of the day, leading 224 of the scheduled 312 laps to record his record fifth win on the one mile oval and his third win in the last four races at Phoenix.
Harvick, coming off of a disappointing Speedweeks which was capped by a last lap crash in the Daytona 500 in his debut with Stewart-Haas Racing, set the tone on Saturday by winning both practices while having the best 5 and 10-lap averages in the first practice of the day on Saturday. On Sunday, Harvick and his No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet was nothing short of flawless as he was able to hold Dale Earnhardt, Jr. by .489 seconds after a late race restart to claim his 24th career Sprint Cup Series victory.
“Man, this is awesome,” Harvick said after his dominant victory on Sunday. “Man, this just solidifies so many things and so many decisions. It’s been so much work with all the time and effort that these guys (the crew) have put in—but what a race car.”
Stewart Haas Racing co-owner Gene Haas shared in Harvick’s excitement after the race.
“It took long enough,” Haas joked. “This is phenomenal. I think there was a lot of skepticism last year about what myself and Tony (Stewart) what we were up to, was there a lot of madness to this. Quite frankly, it’s a great team, there’s a lot of synergy at the shop, people working together. I don’t know what we did, but I think we put together a great organization.”
Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. continued his hot start to the 2014 season. Earnhardt Jr. would finish second on Sunday, marking his seventh consecutive top 10 finish since the end of the 2013 season. Earnhardt Jr. was pleased with the effort after a coast-to-coast whirlwind week after winning his second Daytona 500 and also gave great praise to the efforts of Harvick and the No. 4 team.
“I’ve got to congratulate Kevin. Those guys were two-tenths faster than everyone all weekend in practice. They were just phenomenal,” Earnhardt said. “To be able to run with them all day was a big confidence builder for us.”
Joining Harvick and Earnhardt in the top 5 of The Profit on CNBC 500K were Brad Keselowski with his second consecutive top 3 run of 2014 in third. Keselowski’s Team Penske teammate Joey Logano would finish fourth, and Jeff Gordon would come home fifth in his No. 24 Pepsi Max Chevrolet.
Jimmie Johnson finished in sixth, followed by Ryan Newman with a nice rebound after Daytona in seventh. Carl Edwards would carry the banner for Roush Fenway Racing by finishing eighth, Kyle Busch was ninth, and Jamie McMurray would finish tenth.
A look at the Profit on CNBC 500K by the numbers. There were 14 lead changes among eight different drivers, there were eight cautions for 39 laps which slowed the race pace to 109.229 MPH.
Next Sunday, the Sprint Cup Series heads to Sin City and the Las Vegas Motor
Starting Lineup: The Profit On CNBC 500K
posted by Thomas Bowles
Saturday March 1, 2014
Drivers in RED (i) are those ineligible to collect Sprint Cup points
Daytona 500 TV Ratings Down
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Wednesday February 26, 2014
What was the longest weather delay in Daytona 500 history turned out to bring NASCAR lower ratings and TV viewership Sunday night than expected. According to a report Monday from FOX Sports, the 56th running of the Daytona 500 airing at 8 PM (ET) posted a 5.6/10 national household rating/share which averaged 9.3 million viewers. That’s down 44 percent from last year’s 9.9, easily making it the least-watched Daytona 500 of all-time.
Due to the six-hour, twenty-two minute rain delay in Daytona, the race was up against the primetime coverage of the Winter Olympics Closing Ceremony from Sochi, Russia on NBC (15.25 million viewers). FOX also reported that 69% of the pre-rain delay viewers of the race, which began at 1 PM (ET) kept tuning in.
In comparison, the 2013 Daytona 500 on FOX was the most-watched race in five years, posting a 9.9/22 rating/share, commanding 16.7 million viewers. The Daytona 500 in 2012, the first to ever be run on a Monday and in the primetime slot did a 7.7/13 overnight rating/share which resulted in 13.67 million households viewing the race according to Nielsen TV ratings data.
Earnhardt, Jr. Claims Second Daytona 500 Victory
posted by Justin Tucker
Wednesday February 26, 2014
Ten years is a long time. For Dale Earnhardt, Jr., it felt like an eternity. NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver endured many near misses and close calls at the Daytona 500 since his only win in the Great American Race in 2004. Earnhardt had finished second in two of his last three Daytona 500s coming into Sunday’s race. He was also riding the tail of a 55-race winless streak, dating back to Michigan in 2012.
However nothing would stop Dale Jr. on Sunday, not even a 6 hour and 22 minute rain delay from capturing his second Daytona 500 win. Earnhardt Jr. led a race-high 54 laps on the evening and used some timely drafting help from teammates Jimmie Johnson and, on the final restart, Jeff Gordon to separate from the pack and secure the victory.
“Winning this race is the greatest feeling that you could feel in this sport besides accepting the trophy for the championship,” said a jubilant Earnhardt after pulling into Victory Lane. “We could fight off battle after battle. We got a little help at the end there from Jeff to get away on the restart. This is amazing. I can’t believe this is happening. I never take this for granted, man because it doesn’t happen twice, let alone once.”
Aside from the race itself the big story of the race was the 6 hour and 22 minute red flag, which threatened to move the race to Monday evening (had the race been postponed, FOX Sports’ Chris Myers had tweeted that the race would resume at 5:00pm EST). However, Mother Nature would cooperate and would allow the race to be run under different conditions from which they practiced this week. Once the race resumed, the intensity picked up from the changing track conditions. This allowed the pack to race side-by-side and at times 3-wide up to seven rows deep.
Joining Earnhardt Jr. in the top 5 for the 2014 Daytona 500 were: Denny Hamlin who closed out a spectacular Speedweeks in second, Brad Keselowski in third, Jeff Gordon in fourth, and Jimmie Johnson who overcome two wrecks leading up to the 500 in fifth.
Rounding out the top 10 in the Daytona 500 were Matt Kenseth in sixth, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. in seventh and Greg Biffle would bring his No. 16 Ford home in eighth. Austin Dillon would come home ninth in his first Cup Series race in the iconic No. 3 for Richard Childress Racing, while Casey Mears would round out the top 10.
A couple of major contenders for the Daytona 500 win would see their hopes dashed early on as Martin Truex, Jr. would blow up just 30 laps into the race, relegating him to a 43rd-place finish in his debut for Furniture Row Racing. Crew chief Todd Berrier was already in Nashville for a test session before the race was even over. Kyle Busch, meanwhile would have a pit road violation just before halfway and would spend much of the race battling back from that mistake. Busch would eventually finish 19th after leading 19 laps.
Danica Patrick would also be bit by bad luck as she was caught up in a multi-car wreck on lap 145. Patrick would lead her second consecutive Daytona 500, but wouldn’t have the finish to show for it finishing 40th. Tony Stewart would encounter a frustrating evening as well, with a fuel pickup problem derailing his quest for his first Daytona 500 win. Stewart would finish 35th.
A look at the Daytona 500 by the numbers. There were 42 lead changes among 18 drivers, while seven cautions for 39 laps would slow the race pace to 145.290 MPH.
Next week, the Sprint Cup Series heads to the “diamond in the desert,” Phoenix International Raceway for The Profit on CNBC 500K. The Green flag is scheduled for 3:15pm EST.
Nationwide Series Post-Race Quotes: Drive4COPD 300
posted by Thomas Bowles
Tuesday February 25, 2014
Frontstretch Interviews – Courtesy Mike Neff
ELLIOTT SADLER – FINISHED 4th
Thoughts on the race?
It’s definitely a lot different racing than what we’re used to.
Comfortable with it?
Yeah, it’s just different. You’re worried about what you’re doing, but you’re also worried about what everyone else is doing and they’re not doing more than you’re doing. Physically pushing a guy is way better than just riding so you just gotta time it right and push it to the edge.
Happy to start the year with a top 5?
Yeah. Hell, that was the worst we ran all day, I think. I have no idea how they put the 3 car in front of us on that last restart. I hadn’t seen the 3 car hardly all day. When they put us from fifth to sixth, on the outside line, it just really boxed us in. I would have really restarted behind my teammate and given him a good push to the front. Anyways, it is what it is; we’ll take it and move on.
Looked like you were up front all day.
The guys did a good job. We had a fast race car. Great pit stops, just really proud of these guys. The car’s in one piece and we can take it to Talladega now. Great job by my guys. A lot of effort came into coming down here to Daytona and giving ourselves a shot to win. We had that chance to be up front and make some things happen. Fifth is not what we want, but we’ll take it and move on.
Bumping vs Pushing?
It’s way harder. You don’t want to lay on the guy in front of you, so it’s tough racing. A lot different than what we’re used to, ‘cause you gotta go. You gotta drag the brake too ‘cause you don’t want to hit the guys and you don’t want to stay on him. It’s a lot harder mentally than what we’ve done in the past.
Car was strong all day. Pushing vs. Bumping, is that harder to do than just getting on somebody and pushing them?
Yeah, it is a little bit. When you bump ‘em, you jar ‘em, it kinda jacks ‘em a little bit. It’s a little more abrupt, obviously. I thought it was OK there at the end. It was certainly fun and hopefully entertaining. But a little bit of a struggle in the early part of the race and the midpart of the race to see a good race. And that’s unfortunate for the fans. You can’t do that the whole race, you can’t tear up your stuff, knock your grill in, overheat your motor, all that stuff so there’s no sense in doing all that until you get down to the last lap. The 7 and the 6, they did a good job. Man, the 7 really held the 22 and I tight on the bottom. I was rubbing his door and hitting the apron at the same time, no room whatsoever. So it was good; wish we were the ones who could have won but a lot better now than what we were last year.
Going home in one piece makes it a lot better, right?
Yeah. My back feels good. My foot feels good. Past years here, I’ve been going home with pain so I’m alright.
Connect with Mike!
2014 Truck Series Post-Race Quotes: Daytona (Exclusives)
posted by Thomas Bowles
Saturday February 22, 2014
When you’re on the outside like that, how frustrating is it?
It’s so hard. Timothy Peters has won here. Kyle Busch has won everywhere. Ron Hornaday has been running Trucks forever, probably before I was even born. I was surrounded by veterans there, and like I told them I don’t have a rookie stripe but I’m a rookie. This is only my fourth Truck race ever, my fourth superspeedway race, and man, I figured out when the 17 got up in front of me, I pushed him. And as soon as I pushed him, he took off. And I went with him. And I just kept doing it, and before I knew it, he was leading. And I saw Ron in my mirror, backed up to him, and if it wasn’t for him, I don’t know what would have happened. I gotta thank him big time for that. That was a true teammate move right there. I really appreciate that. He just bounced off me and we got to the front. I tried my hardest to sidedraft Kyle. I was probably touching his door.
Top 5 in the No. 30 truck. This deal come together at the last minute, but you had a heck of a truck. Tell us about your night.
Yeah, I’ve got to thank Turner Scott Motorsports. The guys worked so hard on this Rheem Comfort Products Chevrolet. Exciting! Just got hung up on the outside and had to wait for my teammate there to catch up. And then he got to the bottom, so… I got the old 32 and started pushing ol’ Ryan to the front. So, it’s not bad. We’ll take it. You just don’t want to step over that boundary. You don’t know how far to push and shove. We bumped about six times down the straightaway without latching onto them. Hopefully, that was OK and we came home with a top 5.
Connect with Mike!
2014 Budweiser Duels Post Race Quotes
posted by Matt Stallknecht
Friday February 21, 2014
BUDWEISER DUELS POST-RACE QUOTES
They’re saying the wheel bearing burned up in it. I don’t know what caused it, they’re taking it all apart to figure out what the heck happened. Something abnormal that’s for sure I don’t think I’ve ever had that happen at all. Hopefully, we made the race and hopefully we can fix the problem before Sunday.
WHAT WAS THAT LOUD BOOM ONCE YOU TURNED INTO THE GARAGE?
Loud pop was a tire… thankfully, it popped, hopefully it didn’t hurt anybody. All the heat created in the left front that popped was pretty weird.
REALLY GOOD RUN. WHAT DID YOU THINK OF IT?
Yeah, it was good. We have a car we can work with for the 500. Got a good starting spot, so we’re going to rest easy, fluff and buff our car for a couple of days and get ready for Sunday.
ANY DIFFERENCE ON WHETHER THE TOP OR BOTTOM LANE WORKED?
Yeah, I was just moving around, trying to stay with the flow. For me, this car works on all parts of the racetrack. So I’m pretty happy with it.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.
GOT SHUFFLED BACK, AFTER PIT STOPS AND THEN COULDN’T GET BACK UP TO THE FRONT. WHY?
Nah, we were just sitting there waiting until the last few laps to make a move. You didn’t want to pull down and get sent to the back. Seen a couple of guys get sent to the back really quick so we were just kind of waiting for the end. I felt like we had a good situation there with Ambrose behind us — we had a good run off Turn 2 and I went. It was the last lap, time to go do something, nobody went with us but hopefully Sunday is a different story.
We got a great car. We don’t have to work hard. We learned, we got a good race car. Got a car in one piece, ready to go so we’ll try and get through the next couple of practices, deliver it to the starting group this Sunday and we’ll be real happy.
YOU’RE IN THE DAYTONA 500!
Yeah, it’s pretty awesome. This Whitetail Chevrolet was so fast that I knew all I had to do was stick it behind smart, intelligent drafters and we could have a good finish. That’s what we did in the Duels and I’m excited. I’m excited to go do some stuff with the Nationwide car and have some more practice with this. But to know that we’re locked in the Daytona 500’s pretty cool.
YOU WERE OBVIOUSLY IN FRONT OF THAT MELEE AT THE END. WHEN YOU WERE UP FRONT THERE IN THE BEGINNING, WERE YOU HOPING TO JUST STAY IN LINE AND LET YOU FINISH TOP 5?
I was pretty content to ride and luckily I knew a lot of people around us were. It was nice to have a little calm and not really have to be racing hard the whole time. I knew that the pit stop was going to shake everything up and that’s exactly what happened. Fell back a little bit there but made the right moves at the end to get a good finish.
HOW STRONG ARE THESE RCR CARS?
They’re very strong! They definitely have the capabilities to be winning one of these races.
YOU’RE IN THE TOP 5 FOR YOUR HEAT IN THE DAYTONA 500. YOUR PRIMARY CAR IS SITTING RIGHT IN THE GARAGE, KIND OF WADDED UP. DID YOU THINK THIS ONE HAD IT IN IT?
Yeah, it’s a brand new car also. It’s just not quite as good as the primary but still a damned good car. I’m just proud of everybody at RCR for building such fast race cars. All of our cars have been fast, ECR motor’s been strong, even our affiliate teams have been qualifying really good and racing good. So… excited about 2014! It’s going to be a good year.
WELL MAN, YOU STARTED IN THE BACK BUT WORKED YOUR WAY TO THE FRONT WHEN IT COUNTED MOST. WERE YOU JUST BIDING YOUR TIME THROUGHOUT THE RACE?
Eh, you never know if you’re going to get back up there or not. We had to start at the back, we had to make a run early and see what we could do. We drove right to 10th, or something like that and then it got stagnant. We tried to make something happen, and went to the back again. Drove back up to the front. Again, just really proud of my guys. Matt Kruder did a hell of a job on that pit stop getting just enough gas in to gain some spots there.
RCR CARS SEEM PRETTY DARNED STRONG. DO YOU THINK THE RCR CARS HAVE SOMETHING FOR THEM ON SUNDAY — ESPECIALLY THE THREE JOE GIBBS RACING CARS THAT SEEM TO BE THE CLASS OF THE FIELD RIGHT NOW?
Oh yeah. The 20 car was extremely fast. The 11 didn’t qualify that good, but he’s a good drafter. I think he won. We definitely have something for him.
Check in with Matt and Jay on their site at CareyandCoffey.com.
It’s all-too-common knowledge that men hate going to the doctor. The thought of turning heads, coughing, getting shots, and any procedure involving rubber gloves can transform a chronic ailment into a mere nuisance. Men often downplay their health complaints until the pain/illness/swelling/oozing cannot be ignored. If the patient seeks help promptly, his potentially-dangerous problem can be diagnosed and corrected. If the patient waits too long, his minor condition can quickly turn into a major concern.
Lucky for NASCAR Nation that Dale Earnhardt, Jr. paid attention to his symptoms last week following the wreckfest at Talladega. Lingering headaches gave way to concern that something was amiss, especially in the aftermath of a hard impact at Kansas several weeks ago during a tire test. A visit to Dr. Jerry Petty’s office revealed the nature of Junior’s headaches: he was suffering from the effects – yet again – of a concussion.
Concussions have been in the news lately. Most notably, the condition popped up on sports pages following the death of Alex Karras, the all-pro defensive lineman who spent a decade with the Detroit Lions. In the days prior to Karras’ passing, it was widely reported that he suffered from both cancer and dementia, although it was kidney failure that ended his life on October 10th.
Alex Karras had been – according to his widow, actress Susan Clark, in an interview with ESPN.com shortly before his death – “formally diagnosed with dementia several years ago”, and had symptoms for more than a dozen years.” Repeated collisions on the football field were being blamed for Karras’ “long-term decline”, which prompted him to become one of “many former NFL players suing the league regarding the treatment of head injuries”.
Similar tragic stories appear on our sports pages every now and then – the situation of a former NFL player who suddenly attacks his girlfriend or wife, or the report of a football player whose bouts with depression and confusion cause him to take his own life. The same kinds of dementia haunt professional boxing, as well.
So why don’t we read such stories about dementia in NASCAR? Dale Earnhardt, Jr. suffers from a concussion, which is a traumatic injury to the head like those experienced by NFL linemen and professional fighters, yet he’s not out there lurching around his backyard Western town looking to strangle his girlfriend…. A couple weeks off and he’ll be as right as rain, right? I mean…. Junior’s suffered from concussions before – he’s even raced multiple weeks with one – and he’s always bounced back to find Victory Lane; the plight of an NFL defensive lineman is nothing like the safety measures protecting stock car drivers, so what’s the big deal?
What’s the big deal? Try everything.
Public pressure following media coverage of head injuries in professional football and hockey has put everyone in-and-around contact sports on high alert. College and high school sports have done likewise in an effort to reduce incidences of head trauma. Medical research is being conducted (and published) to address all manner of danger, damage, and prevention. “Concussions” have taken their rightful place alongside “steroids” as the latest, most recognized sports taboo.
I’m sure Lance Armstrong would like it if news about concussions bumped news about doping scandals off the sports pages. Maybe these recent events will do just that….
The funny thing is that automobile racing – for all of its high-speed impacts and subsequent wreckage – is often ignored as a viable threat for what the medical community calls “chronic traumatic encephalopathy” or CTE. According to research from 2009, the connection between brain/head injury and dementia can be traced back to the 1920s, the era when boxers were prone to suffer from what was then called “dementia pugilistica”. Today, the condition is known as CTE, and it occurs far more often than most people imagine.
According to researchers, between 1.6 and 3.8 million sports-related concussions occur in the United States each year (from data covering the period of 1998-2006). Developments in assessment, treatment, and prevention have likely (and hopefully) caused this number to shrink, but even one seemingly minor diagnosis of CTE is one diagnosis too many. It might be a good idea, however, to pay closer attention to the sports researchers have singled out as being primary causes of CTE.
As one of these recently-published research articles explained it:
Repetitive closed head injury occurs in a wide variety of contact sports, including football, boxing, wrestling, rugby, hockey, lacrosse, soccer, and skiing. Furthermore, in collision sports such as football and boxing, players may experience thousands of subconcussive hits over the course of a single season…. Although the long-term neurological and neuropathological sequelae associated with repetitive brain injury are best known in boxing, pathologically verified CTE has been reported in professional football players, a professional wrestler and a soccer player…. Other sports associated with a post-concussive syndrome include hockey, rugby, karate, horse riding, and parachuting, although the list is almost certainly more inclusive. (published in “Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in Athletes: Progressive Tauopathy following Repetitive Head Injury”, 2009)
In other words, we should probably add automobile racing and/or motorsports to our catalog of culprits….
To better understand how concussions and their long-term effects have affected NASCAR, we only have to consider the tragic tale of LeeRoy Yarbrough.
LeeRoy Yarbrough, as presented in a Car and Driver article written by Steven Cole Smith back in October of 2008, was the quintessential old-school NASCAR driver. It was as if he’d been born solely to race cars. He grew up in a working class neighborhood in Florida and advanced his career by competing on local short tracks and in NASCAR’s Modified division. His natural ability was discovered at Hickory Speedway by Junior Johnson, who observed LeeRoy behind the wheel and suggested to car owner Ray Fox that he quickly snatch up the young talent, which Fox did.
LeeRoy Yarbrough drove more than stock cars, however. He also raced Can-Am cars, a Mercury Cougar in Trans-Am events for Bud Moore, and USAC Champ Cars in three Indianapolis 500s. Yarbrough competed against the likes of Mark Donohue, Peter Revson, Parnelli Jones, and Dan Gurney, while going fender-to-fender with Richard Petty, David Pearson, and Fred Lorenzen (who appears to be yet another victim of head injury-related dementia, according to a recent column by Tom Higgins).
Yarbrough raced Cup cars for twelve years (mostly during the 1960s) and scored 14 wins in 198 career starts. After winning two events in the years of 1964 and 1968, LeeRoy experienced a stellar season in 1969. During that year, he swept races at Daytona and Darlington while driving Fords and Mercurys for Junior Johnson. He also earned victories at Charlotte (where he lapped the field twice in the World 600), Atlanta (where he drove with a 102-degree fever), and Rockingham (where he lapped the field after problems earlier in the event). By the end of the 54-race, 1969 Grand National season, LeeRoy Yarbrough had won seven times in his thirty starts. He earned Driver of the Year honors, and also won NASCAR’s “Triple Crown” for his collective victories at Daytona and Darlington.
The 1969 season also demonstrated Yarbrough’s checkers-or-wreckers approach to racing. Richard Petty once said that LeeRoy had only one speed, and that was “wide open…. just ran flat-out lap after lap”. For the thirty starts Yarbrough made that year, thirteen wound up DNFs, mostly because of engine failures or accidents. Such on-track experiences may have led to the off-track events that resulted in his eventual downfall.
One of the most significant on-track experiences was a violent accident Yarbrough suffered during a tire test at Texas World Speedway in the spring of 1970. From that time on, LeeRoy seemed different to those who knew him. Yarbrough became absent-minded and confused about even the most basic things, like his friends and family. He ran only 19 races that season because of decreased factory support and sponsorship, although he managed to score a win at Charlotte. Overall, 1970 was anything but a good year for LeeRoy Yarbrough, especially coming on the heels of his amazing 1969 campaign.
1971 wasn’t any better for Yarbrough. In addition to a serious practice wreck at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May, LeeRoy suffered a tick bite while on a camping trip. The tick bite turned into a case of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, which – if left untreated – has been known to affect the brain. From that point on, through the remainder of the decade, Yarbrough continued to slide into confusion and ever-increasing dementia.
Personally, I remember hearing about Yarbrough’s struggles during this time and how his bout with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever supposedly led to the night in February of 1980 when he tried to strangle his mother to death. His words to her were simple and clear: “Mother, I hate to do this to you….”
Steven Cole Smith reported in his story about Yarbrough that it took a sharp blow to the head from a nephew wielding a full jelly jar to stop LeeRoy from choking his mother. Such an action was necessary since other measures were not working, but such an action was also more of the same injury that led Yarbrough to that tragic state.
As such, LeeRoy Yarbrough had exhibited traits of dementia all during the decade of the 1970s, demonstrating “violent tendencies, memory lapses, and irrational conduct” according to Smith’s 2008 article. Junior Johnson told of how LeeRoy would need to be reminded to eat, even though a plate of food had just been placed before him. Years of prior head injuries (and most likely concussions) from racing had taken their toll on Yarbrough.
LeeRoy was eventually found not guilty of first-degree attempted murder by way of insanity. His failing condition resulted in his being placed in a mental hospital near his hometown of Jacksonville, Florida. This was where he died after having a seizure and suffering yet one final head injury in December of 1984.
Yarbrough’s last seizure supposedly resulted in additional traumatic brain injury (TBI), a condition brought on by – as LeeRoy’s former car owner Ray Fox once put it – “just too many crashes”.
It’s the correlation connecting my memories of LeeRoy Yarbrough, the events surrounding Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Alex Karras, and details provided by Steven Cole Smith’s article that links all this frightful information together. The moral of the story here is simple: if the symptoms of concussions are ignored, and if proper assessment and treatment is neglected, a long-term result could be life-threatening dementia. This condition is serious and all-too-common within the culture of high-contact sports, and there’s no doubt that automobile racing needs to be counted as a primary cause of CTE.
But have we not grown complacent about the dangers of stock car racing? Cars in all of NASCAR’s touring divisions are required to include an extensive array of safety measures, including cockpits that are packed tightly with padded roll bars and state-of-the-art seats, all surrounded by energy-absorbing foam encased in sheet metal.
Sure, the era of LeeRoy Yarbrough and Fred Lorenzen was a different time – the days when speed and safety weren’t necessarily joined at the hip in the eyes of NASCAR. Accidents at Talladega during the 1960s and 1970s were much different than the ones we see today; those wrecks back in the day were far more violent and far more dangerous…. Or were they?
When my wife saw in-car footage from Earnhardt’s Chevrolet during the Talladega wreck, her immediate response was: “That didn’t look so bad. He was injured in that?”
We know now that it was not the Talladega accident that prompted Junior’s visit to Dr. Jerry Petty. His trip to Petty’s office was motivated by the lingering headaches that stemmed back to Earnhardt’s tire test accident at Kansas over a month ago. A visit to the doctor was the right thing to do, even if Petty’s recommendation caused Junior to miss two races and end his run for this year’s Sprint Cup championship.
Maybe if LeeRoy Yarbrough paid more attention to his symptoms, he’d have been able to avoid his eventual tragic demise. If his family, his fellow racers, an alert doctor, or even NASCAR had been more aware of concussions and their dangers, perhaps Yarbrough’s tale would have had a happy ending. His “official” cause of death was cited as the result of traumatic brain injury (TBI), but I fail to see much difference between what used to be considered TBI and what doctors today define as CTE.
The dangerous connection between the two seems as obvious as ABC…
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Thank you for promoting awareness of the concussion issue. Often times, we don’t know what we don’t know. NASCAR must be proactive in this or they may one day be the focus of a lawsuit like the NFL is now.
Thanks for the excellent article. I had forgotten about LeeRoy’s tragic story. When it comes to safety, it’s up to the drivers to take care of themselves. The tragedies that can result from ignoring the risks to a driver’s health and future well-being aren’t worth any amount of personal glory.
Thanks for this story remembering LeeRoy. After hating his guts in ’69 (Glotzbach/Mopar fan) it was very sad to get what little news you could about his decline in the early 80’s. Junior Johnson once said “you could put his brains on the head of a pin, but it would take a boxcar to contain his bravery.” RIP LRY. For a time, he truly was “the man.”