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NASCAR Race Weekend Central

NASCAR Mailbox: The Importance of Matt DiBenedetto Missing Texas

A false diagnosis in any health situation is eerie.

The seriousness of a patient being given a false diagnosis could be a life or death situation, forcing a person to undergo medical treatments that aren’t necessary. When this occurs in the sports realm, it sparks major debates.

This time, it is BK Racing’s Matt DiBenedetto, who was forced to sit out at Texas Motor Speedway this past weekend for concussion-like symptoms. While he sat on the sidelines, Jeffrey Earnhardt replaced him.

More importantly, the NASCAR world went into quite the debate about concussions, false diagnosis and how to go about dealing with any potential symptoms of concussions.

Something else to think about as the NASCAR season comes to a conclusion,  are drivers and teams announcing new deals. However, there are several major unknowns going into this off-season, including how several key names will fit into their new roles. More importantly, the charter system enters its second year, with several unknowns lying ahead.

Q: Why did NASCAR make Matt DiBenedetto sit out at Texas? – Brian R., St. Louis.

A: Head injuries are no joke, obviously, especially when you’re a professional athlete. Life around you won’t just stop because you have to sit out for a week.

For DiBenedetto, the pain of missing race is immense. However, the precautions taken after Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was forced to miss what was originally just one race and now the remainder of the season, are ones that are wise beyond belief for NASCAR.

A driver not competing for a title, DiBenedetto had nothing to lose by missing Sunday’s race. His ride at BK Racing is secure — for now — given he continuously brings in new partners. While his results are slightly lower than teammate David Ragan, each week is a chance to prove why he deserves to return to NASCAR’s highest division next year.

But after crashing hard during the NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Texas the day prior to Sunday’s 500-miler, DiBenedetto was forced to sit out by NASCAR officials. While he claimed he felt fine after the incident, doctors in the infield care center felt otherwise.

While DiBenedetto may have never received a concussion, NASCAR can’t enter another Earnhardt-like situation. The sport doesn’t need more criticism when it comes to how it deals with concussions.

The sanctioning body made a wise choice. It can be argued, though, that doctors don’t understand how racecar driver’s mentality and 2012 Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski added to the discussion as well.

“What’s happened to Dale Jr. this year is a big wake-up call for everyone,” Keselowski told NBC. “Of course, there is a natural tendency to want to err on the side of caution. Also, there’s real people’s lives that are being affected and I’m very fortunate to make a living as a driver in this sport, so are a lot of others, and that can be very easily taken away from you by someone who wants to make a conservative decision.

“I think it’s really such a gray area. I really appreciate the tough position that NASCAR is put in, but we have to move forward and we have to look after guys like Matt, who feels like he doesn’t have a concussion and is being sat out.”

But now DiBenedetto is officially set to get behind the wheel of his No. 83 car once again at Phoenix Raceway.

As NASCAR looks to perfect its concussion prevention program, it must understand that in a sport as dangerous as this one, to have only a handful of concussions yearly is indeed a blessing.

Q: What is the biggest headline going into the NASCAR off-season? – Casey A., Concord, N.C. 

A: It’s going to be a very different season come 2017.

First off, it will be quite odd to see Clint Bowyer in the No. 14 car rather than Tony Stewart. His sponsors still haven’t been announced, and it is unclear how Stewart-Haas Racing as a whole will adjust to Ford come 2017.

It’s going to be a massive season for Bowyer, who will not only have the pressure of replacing Stewart, but the pressure of proving to himself he can compete for wins once again. This year has been horrendous for him, joining HScott Motorsports in hopes of helping a small team grow and being competitive like Kasey Kahne was when he went to Red Bull Racing before Hendrick Motorsports.

But Bowyer is set to earn career-worsts in just about every statistically category. While his car number might have been the same as it was at Michael Waltrip Racing, the difference has been outstanding. Not even he could have predicted his average finish would be 23.6 with three top 10s this year.

Meanwhile, along with Bowyer, Matt Kenseth’s new sponsor(s) has not been named as of now. It was originally reported that Mobil1 would leave SHR to be on the No. 20 car, but that will not happen now that the oil company re-signed with SHR.

But the biggest story of this off-season doesn’t have to do with those two drivers. Rather, it has to do with NASCAR’s charter system, which it implemented entering 2016.

Several smaller teams are already paying the price for the charter system, while others are relishing in it.

The Wood Brothers have been one of the few smaller teams to enjoy success this year while racing without a charter. Led by Ryan Blaney, the No. 21 team sits 20th in the standings with a pair of races left in the season, tallying up three top 5s and eight top 10s — slightly above average for a rookie driver.

But besides the No. 21 squad, there are several teams with charters that have some thinking to do for the off-season.

Tommy Baldwin Racing — as we previously reported — is rumored to be selling its charter to Leavine Family Racing, with Casey Mears leaving Germain Racing to replace current Circle Sport – Leavine Family Racing driver Michael McDowell. In this situation, Circle Sport Racing owner Joe Falk will not lease a charter to Leavine Family Racing, bringing McDowell on to pilot a CSR racecar in 2017, which could fill a void in the entry list if HScott Motorsports does indeed fold.

Essentially, due to the charter system, HScott Motorsports will close its doors at the end of the season. Not only will this put dozens of crew members out of a job, it will mean the sport’s premier division will lose another two cars.

However, with Falk expecting to field an entry and if TBR stays in business (racing without a charter), the entry list could expand in 2017.

JTG-Daugherty Racing might be expanding as well, with the option of taking Greg Biffle away from his longtime home of Roush-Fenway Racing after several mediocre seasons. That would leave an opening for Front Row Motorsports driver Chris Buescher to finally enter the Roush fold, giving another mid-pack driver a shot at impressing Roush/Ford executives while competing with FRM.

While the sport will see many changes in 2017, it’ll certainly be interesting to see how the sanctioning body reacts — if any adjustments to the charter system are needed.