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Safety revolution protecting drivers

Changes in wake of Earnhardt death make a difference

By George Diaz, Tribune Newspapers

October 12, 2011

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NFL players are getting dinged every week with concussions. Sidney Crosby, the best player in the NHL, hasn't played since January because of a concussion. Yet it's interesting to note that no one in NASCAR is missing significant time after getting his head banged around.

And one can easily argue that NASCAR is the most dangerous professional sport, unless you want to throw in bullfighting.

Credit a quiet revolution over the years. NASCAR reacted quickly and boldly after the death of icon Dale Earnhardt in 2001, and the sport has been better for it because of all the safety measures that have been implemented.

"It's actually quite a few components to our sport that lowered the concussion rate and the fatality standpoint," Jimmie Johnson said. "We look at a threshold, and the impact that was estimated for Earnhardt's crash, and now … we have the data recorders and you can see that we are well in excess of that and guys aren't even losing consciousness or breaking shoulders. We used to break shoulders just because of a seat design, so we've come a long way, and there is a lot of technology out there that can be applied to other sports.

"People love the crashes, people love the hits in football, but you have to keep the athletes safe and protect their lives, their families and put on a good show. ... It wasn't until NASCAR really got serious about things and started implementing it, and (it) also took the loss of the greatest driver out there, Dale Earnhardt, for us to say, 'Hey, this superman essentially has been killed, we need to wake up.'"

Roush down to 3 cars? Jack Roush isn't confident he will be able to field a four-driver team next season, leaving David Ragan with the possibility of looking for a ride.

"We're looking for a sponsor, but right now I can't tell you who that's going to be," Roush told SiriusXM Satellite Radio. "I'll say that I'm not real close on it. So David has not been encouraged to not talk to other teams for things that they might have … because right now I don't see how I'm going to run the fourth car unless things turn dramatically."

Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth are the other drivers with Roush Fenway Racing.

Daytona 500 top brand: Props to the Daytona 500 and Daytona International Speedway for recognition by the Forbes Fab 40. For the third consecutive year, the Daytona 500 placed in the top 10 most valuable sporting events brands, ranked No. 7.

"The power of the Daytona 500 brand remains unmatched in motorsports," Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood said. "The recognition not only validates the significance of this prestigious event to its fans and competitors, but also demonstrates the incredible global reach and value 'The Great American Race' represents to our partners."

George Diaz