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“I think nobody wants to drive in a condition they shouldn’t drive in, but I think we all feel like we are our own best judge to determine if we should drive or not,” he said. “So, the interpretation of the results, I think, is the biggest concern.”

Dr. Mark Lovell developed the ImPACT test now used by many professional sports leagues, including the NFL, and has tested several NASCAR stars for years. He said false positives are rare and could happen in any kind of medical test. If the score is low, and the driver voiced concerns, he could retest. Plus, ImPACT is only one factor in determining recovery from a concussion. There are checks for everything from balance, to the brain’s reaction to physical activity.

NASCAR said flunking the test alone will not keep a driver out of a race.

“We’ve got a select group of neurologists and it’s going to be their call,” O'Donnell said. “We don’t think that should be us. We think it should be someone that specializes in that field.”

Some of the sports greats from earlier eras are forced to deal with the fact they likely raced at dangerous speeds with a serious head injury.

“I think I drove more with a concussion than I did without one,” seven-time Daytona 500 Richard Petty said, laughing.

The Hall of Famer driver turned serious as he applauded NASCAR’s dedication to safety, and called Earnhardt smart to sit out.

Michael Waltrip labeled the 1980s and 1990s the most dangerous era in the history of NASCAR. He said he was knocked unconscious or knocked silly dozens of times over the course of a 30-year career that includes two Daytona 500 wins. With dark humor, he recalled simply running across the track after his car clobbered the call, and waking up the morning after one serious hit at his mother’s house, with no idea how he got there.

“Back then, if you said you were OK and you could hold up two fingers, you could pretty much go in your car and go home,” Waltrip said.

And now?

“You wouldn’t be able to leave the track,” he said.

NASCAR says if drivers are unable to drive their car back to the garage after an accident, they have to make a mandatory trip to the infield care center. The attending physician could then refer a driver to a neurosurgeon for a CT scan or MRI if they suspected a concussion. Clearance to race after suffering a concussion is not given until after a driver obtains a medical release.

“We have our own hospital at every track which, I think, is unprecedented,” O'Donnell said.

The premature deaths and degenerative brain ailments reported in former NFL stars and NHL enforcers have made athletes in all sports more aware of the frightening consequences of trying to tough it out and compete with a concussion.

“I told my buddy the other day that I feel fine, but if y’all start to see me think I might go somewhere and hurt myself, go with me,” Waltrip said. “I’m pretty sure I’m OK. I don’t want to wander off and do something dumb. You don’t know how those things affect you.”

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