Comcast announces finalists for Comcast Community Champion of the Year Award

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Announced on Thursday’s episode of NASCAR America, Comcast has named the three finalists for the 2016 Comcast Community Champion of the Year Award.

Created to recognize charitable efforts by members within the NASCAR industry, the award will be presented for just the second time this year.

The finalists are Ray Wright, the pit crew coach at Richard Childress Racing in the Sprint Cup Series; Wade Jackson, a fabricator in the Xfinity Series at JR Motorsports; and Samantha Busch, co-owner of Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Camping World Truck Series.

“Each year, it is both humbling and empowering to hear so many examples of how NASCAR is making a difference beyond the track,” said Matt Lederer, Executive Director of Sports Marketing at Comcast. “The Comcast Community Champion of the Year Award was created to extend our Xfinity partnership with NASCAR outside of the competitive space to reinforce the importance of bringing positive change to one’s own community, and it’s an honor to recognize this year’s finalists.”

Comcast will award $60,000 to the winner’s charity, as well as $30,000 to each of the two remaining finalists’ charities.

In 2015, Joey Gase was named the winner of the inaugural Comcast Community Champion of the Year Award for his work with the Iowa Donor Network, which is an organization that provides education on the importance of organ donation.

About the 2016 finalists:

Ray Wright (Welcome, North Carolina) is the founder of Pit Stops for Hope. The organization serves youth in America by providing food for children while helping create a positive classroom environment. Wright collects old pit crew items and sells them on pit road where fans make a donation toward the organization with their purchase. Wright also reached an agreement with Richard Childress Racing drivers to collect donations based on top-performing pit stops. Working with other organizations such as the Salvation Army and Second Harvest Food Bank, Pit Stops for Hope donates thousands of dollars to educators each year. A number of fundraising events are also held annually.

Wade Jackson (Mooresville, North Carolina) lost his son, Jacob Jackson, at 17 years old following congenital heart defect after open heart surgery. Wade and his wife Kim have since created Camp LUCK (Lucky Unlimited Cardiac Kids), which is a camp that provides a place for kids suffering heart disease to gather and experience the community. The Jackson’s put in countless hours promoting the organization’s mission that stretches across many other programs Camp LUCK offers, such as Kids Camp, where campers can bring one of their siblings to enjoy the experience with them. Family camp allows families to spend a long weekend together. Baby LUCK, Youth Board, Parent Support Network, Camp LUCK Cares, Camp LUCK Closet and Hug ‘n Heal Pillows is also offered by the organization.

Samantha Busch (Mooresville, North Carolina) and her husband, Kyle, discovered the expenses, lack of awareness on infertility and the rarity in insurance coverage associated with in vitro fertilization (IVF) when they turned to the REACH Clinic in 2014 for help conceiving their son. The Busch’s then created the Kyle and Samantha Busch Bundle of Joy Fund, which works to empower families to overcome the hardship by providing the essential tools to do so. Thirteen couples have benefited from the program in the last year and more than $140,000 have gone toward IVF treatments at the REACH Clinic. Samantha Busch also puts time into her annual Prom Dress Drive, where dresses are collected for young girls who cannot afford formalwear, in addition to working with the Pretty in Pink Foundation, which raises money for uninsured or under-insured breast cancer patients. Busch also spends each holiday season shopping for items she can provide to underprivileged families.

The winner of the 2016 Comcast Community Champion of the Year Award will be announced during the Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series awards banquet on November 21. He or she will be selected by a panel of Comcast and NASCAR executives, as well as former driver Kyle Petty, and NASCAR.com reporter Holly Cain.

Follow @KellyCrandall

NASCAR America: Matt DiBenedetto on Indy success with small team

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Matt DiBenedetto has just three top-10 finishes in his three years of competing in the NASCAR Cup Series. But two of them have come this year in two of the biggest races in the sport.

DiBenedetto, who drives the No. 32 Ford for Go Fas Racing, finished ninth in the Daytona 500 in February and eighth in Sunday’s Brickyard 400.

DiBenedetto, who was also celebrating his 26th birthday, joined NASCAR America to discuss his run at Indy and what is considered a successful race for his team, which has 15 crew members.

“You’ve got to keep it in the perception of your versions of wins are a little bit different than everybody else’s version,” DiBenedetto said. “We look at it as who we’re racing around. I would say on a regular week where there’s not a ton of chaos like Indy was, a top 20 is a really good day. A top 25 is if we just do our job.”

Watch the video for the full segment.

Chase Elliott, AJ Allmendinger unveil Darlington throwback schemes

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Both Chase Elliott and AJ Allmendinger have revealed the paint schemes they’ll drive in the Sept. 3 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

Elliott will use his No. 24 Chevrolet to pay tribute to the car his father, NASCAR Hall of Famer Bill Elliott, drove in his first Cup start.

The light blue look was on his No. 9 car when he started in the Feb. 29, 1976 race at Rockingham Speedway.

The car was revealed on Facebook in the below video.

AJ Allmendinger will pay tribute to two-time Cup champion Terry Labonte with his No. 47 Chevrolet.

The car will resemble the No. 44 Piedmont Airlines Oldsmobile that Labonte drove in during the 198 Cup season when he competed for owner Billy Hagan.

NASCAR America: Felix Sabates: ‘I’m lucky to be here’ after near-death experience from illness last year

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For nearly a month last year Felix Sabates was at death’s door.

The fears were so great that Sabates might not wake up from a coma he spent 29 days in, Chip Ganassi bought a blue suit for the possibility he might have to attend his co-owner’s funeral.

But the 71-year-old made a full recovery through a rehab process that included learning to walk again.

NASCAR America’s Kyle Petty and Sabates have a special relationship. Petty drove the No. 42 car for Sabates’ SABCO Racing for eight years in the 1980s and 1990s, winning six of his eight Cup races for the millionaire owner from Cuba.

Sabates sat down with Petty to discuss the ordeal, which began in January 2016 when Sabates began feeling ill during the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

“I came home and woke up the next morning and I (couldn’t) breath,” said Sabates, who drove himself to the hospital. “The minute they saw me I was in intensive care.”

Sabates was in the hospital for two and half weeks before he was released, but Sabates “should’ve know I wasn’t cured.”

The Chip Ganassi Racing co-owner returned to his usual grind until it caught up to him in August.

“My blood pressure was through the roof, my oxygen level was 55, which you should be dead then,” recalled Sabates, who has no memory of a three-month stretch. “They thought was I was brain-dead. They were pretty much going to disconnect me. So 4 o’clock in the morning, they took my tubes out.”

That’s when Sabates began the process of waking up.

“I’m lucky to be here,” said Sabates, who aside from being back at the track is also back to playing golf.

“I used to worry about little things,’ Sabates said. “Now I don’t even worry about big things.”

The full feature will air Sunday on Countdown to Green, which begins at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN before the Cup race at Pocono.

NASCAR America: Ryan Blaney glad Team Penske news is finally out in the open

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On Wednesday it was finally announced that Ryan Blaney would move from Wood Brothers Racing to Team Penske full-time next year in the Cup Series in the No. 12 Ford while Paul Menard will take over the No. 21 Ford.

NASCAR America’s Dave Burns caught up with Blaney on Thursday. Blaney was happy that his 2018 plans were finally public knowledge.

Blaney also acknowledged how a technical alliance between the two teams helped Wood Brothers Racing return to a competition level that allowed Blaney to get his first Cup win this season earlier this year.

“That was a big deal,” Blaney said. “That was getting us to where we could run a full-time season. That was really helpful not only to me but to (crew chief) Jeremy Bullins, will be coming with me to the 12 car.”

Blaney has been driving for Team Penske part-time in the Xfinity Series since 2012.

“It’s been nice to get the news and tell everybody finally about what we’re doing,” Blaney said. “But mainly we’re trying to finish this year out strong with the Wood Brothers, getting their 100th win, that’s really big. That’s on my bucket list for this year and getting as far as we can in the playoffs.”

The No. 21 team returns to Pocono Raceway this weekend, the site of Blaney’s first Cup win last month.

Watch the video for the full interview.