by John Close:
Late last week, NASCAR announced that it would mandate neurocognitive baseline testing for all drivers in its top series prior to the start of the 2014 racing season.
After the actions of several drivers this weekend at Martinsville Speedway, it is evident that multiple competitors have completely lost their minds are in need of the tests.
Please don’t misunderstand – concussions in contact sports are a serious health issue and it is commendable NASCAR continues to trend forward in the direction of driver safety.
That said, the in- and post-race antics of several drivers in both the Truck and Sprint Cup Series events at Martinsville this past weekend were downright laughable.
Here’s the backstory –
One week after running over each other on the biggest track on the circuit – the giant 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway – NASCAR’s Truck and Cup divisions invaded the smallest track on the tour, the venerable .526-mile Martinsville oval.
Ironically, the only way to pass at both tracks was to push somebody out of the way.
The results were predictable.
Vehicles got wrecked, championship dreams got dashed, drivers got pissed.
In Saturday’s Truck Series race, Cup driver Kevin Harvick got in an on-track altercation with Truck division title contender Ty Dillon. The accident spilled over into the subsequent caution period with Harvick and Dillon running into each other several times. Harvick then steamed his wrecked truck into Dillon’s box on pit road igniting a near free-for-all in which a large sledgehammer was thrown at Harvick by one of Dillon’s team members.
Afterward, Harvick appeared to have some cognitive issues as he ripped Dillon in his post-accident media comments calling him a “punk ass kid” and stating it was a “shame” to get taken out by “some rich kid like that.”
Considering Dillon is the grandson of Harvick’s Sprint Cup team owner Richard Childress, the comments certainly appear to merit some testing of Harvick’s mental capacity.
Those actions also put Harvick at the head of the line for the new NASCAR baseline testing next year.
Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Martinsville produced a slew of other candidates for the newly mandated NASCAR pre-season ‘brainiac’ tests.
With the season winding down to just a handful of races and the Sprint Cup championship on the line, drivers were amped even before the drop of the green flag.
Racing high-tech, new millennium sophisticated vehicle on a narrow, one-groove oval track designed in the 1940s, the event produced a car-mangling, 17-caution period affair and plenty of hard feelings afterward.
The most visible of these came when Greg Biffle confronted championship contender Jimmie Johnson. Johnson was in the middle of a radio interview when Biffle barged in and grabbed Johnson. A verbal altercation broke out with Biffle telling Johnson “you’d better watch it,” a thinly veiled threat that he would crash Johnson if they had another incident in the final three races of the season.
Ah, there’s nothing like publicly threatening a championship front-runner to put you under the NASCAR microscope for the rest of the season.
Mr. Biffle – please take a seat next to Mr. Harvick in the neurocognitive waiting room.
And, by the way, please leave room for the idiot who threw the sledgehammer at Harvick on Saturday.
That guy really needs to be tested – and suspended.
As indicated earlier, this writing is not designed to make light of the NASCAR neurocognitive testing program here. Concussions are a scary thing and they are in no way a laughing matter. They are also an expensive one as evidenced by the mega-million dollar lawsuits that are filing in at the National Football League headquarters these days.
Fortunately, nobody got hurt in any of the incidents at Martinsville this weekend.
However, after the behavior displayed by some NASCAR drivers at the track fondly known as ‘The Paperclip,’ you have to wonder what kind of ‘baseline results’ the neurocognitive testing will produce when administered prior to next season.
About John Close
John Close covered his first NASCAR race as a professional media member in 1986 at Bristol Motor Speedway. Since then, Close – a former Associated Press newspaper sports editor – has written countless articles for numerous motorsports magazines, trade publications and Internet sites.
Close has also authored two books – Tony Stewart – From Indy Phenom To NASCAR Superstar and NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series – From Desert Dust To Superspeedways.
Close also spotted more than 150 NASCAR Cup, Nationwide and Truck events from 1995-2008.
Close resides in Charlotte, NC with his wife Gail and son Sam.
You can direct comments/inquiries to Close at closefinishes@carolina.