NASCAR and IndyCar adapt new tests for concussion screenings

CONCORD, N.C. -- NASCAR is implementing the use of the King-Devick test to screen for concussions when drivers are brought to the infield medical center.

The test, developed in association with the Mayo Clinic, typically takes only a few minutes and consists of reading numbers listed in a row with various spacing between them.

NASCAR confirmed its use Friday. The topic of concussion testing for drivers was heightened when IndyCar announced earlier this week that it had started using the I-Portal Portable Assessment System.

That system, commonly referred to as the "goggles test" and developed by Neuro Kinetics, evaluates drivers with symptoms of dizziness and/or balance disorders, especially those associated with concussions, migraines or vertigo.

IndyCar began looking to use the I-PAS test after Will Power was misdiagnosed with a concussion during the season-opening weekend in 2016, but the I-PAS and other tests indicated it wasn't a concussion. He was suffering from an ear infection.

Both series can institute concussion protocols at the recommendation of physicians at the race track. IndyCar drivers have ear accelerometers, and data from those devices can be used to trigger the concussion protocol.

"IndyCar's medical staff has used a number of tools to help improve its evaluation of concussions," IndyCar consultant Dr. Terry Trammell said earlier this week. "It is a challenge to balance both the safety of the drivers and the need for them to be on the track to compete.

"I-PAS has proven to be an important part of the decision-making process as to if and when a driver with the possibility of having had a concussion may return to competition."

NASCAR talked about using the King-Devick test earlier this year but had not announced until Friday its use as a way to quickly check a driver who has been involved in a crash. Vision accounts for more than 55 percent of the brain's pathways, according to the test developers, so a score lower than a baseline score administered at the start of the season could indicate that a driver has suffered a concussion. NASCAR had been using tests that took 20 minutes or more.

"The field of concussions is constantly evolving, and we work with experts across the country in maintaining a proactive approach to prevention and assessment," NASCAR said in a statement. "At those experts' recommendation, we are implementing the King-Devick test as part of a basic neurological exam for drivers in the [care center]."

Dale Earnhardt Jr. missed the second half of the 2016 season while battling concussion-related balance and vision issues. The toll of previous concussions played a role in his decision to retire after the 2017 season. But if drivers feel any way capable, they will want to drive unless told they can't.

"A lot of times, NASCAR has to help us from ourselves, so I think that better technology obviously is something that we all ask for in order to make sure that we either have A, more opinions or B, better opinions and that we're not held out of a race car for some other unforeseen circumstance," NASCAR driver Kyle Busch said.