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ERNIE IRVAN’S CONDITION TAKES A BIG STEP UP

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Ernie Irvan, critically injured a week ago in a crash during practice at Michigan International Speedway, was reported upgraded Saturday to serious but stable condition at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital.

The announcement, made by Robert Yates Racing spokesman Brian Vandercook, came at Bristol International Raceway, where NASCAR's Winston Cup series was racing Saturday night. Irvan was injured while driving for Yates.The statement issued by Vandercook said Dr. Walter Whitehouse, a vascular and trauma surgeon who is part of the medical team assigned to Irvan, characterized the change in Irvan's condition as "a big step up."

In explaining the change, Whitehouse said, "Both sites of serious injury, the brain and the lungs, as well as his overall condition, have improved sufficiently to support this classification."

He added that Irvan, who regained partial consciousness and began responding to questions on Tuesday, is now "conscious but drowsy."

Irvan continues on a ventilator for breathing assistance and Whitehouse cautioned that while no new problems have been diagnosed, and signs of neurologic improvement continue, the 35-year-old's recovery will follow a "slow, progressive course."

The accident occurred on the morning of Aug. 20. NASCAR has said an investigation concluded that Irvan drove over a piece of debris and cut his right front tire before veering nearly head-on into the concrete wall at more than 170 mph.