Photo by Dustin Long

Kyle Larson helps give Boys & Girls Club kids smiles, presents

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The noise carries through the closed doors. Laughter, shouting and squealing.

The sound is tempered when the children are aligned and head into a rec room with pool tables, air hockey tables and couches. They are told to be quiet to hear the guest. Then the noise rises when Kyle Larson unveils a variety of gifts, on behalf of sponsor Target, to the Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club in Northeast Charlotte.

Wednesday’s visit by Larson is part of a year of charitable efforts he and Target have focused on children. They provided toys to those affected by floods in Southern Virginia, delivered backpacks and school supplies in Darlington, South Carolina, and visited two Dallas schools to donate gift cards and books in support of Texas Motor Speedway’s Speeding to Read program.

As a father — son Owen turns 2 on Dec. 22 — such causes have extra meaning for Larson.

“With having Owen, it gives me another respect when I come here to do things like this,’’ said Larson, who was joined by Owen and girlfriend Katelyn Sweet.

Kyle Larson signs an autograph for a child at the Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club on Wednesday. Larson and Target presented the Charlotte, North Carolina, club with toys. (Photo: Dustin Long)
Kyle Larson signs an autograph for a child at the Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club on Wednesday. Larson and Target presented the Charlotte, North Carolina, club with toys. (Photo: Dustin Long)

The club that Larson visited is one of eight in the Charlotte area that provides a safe place for children to play.

Will Johnson, a front tire carrier for Larson’s team who also helped pass out gifts, attended such a club from ages 7-14 when growing up in Charlotte. He still talks about meeting members of the Harlem Globetrotters when they visited his club years ago.

For Larson, being around children is special because of Owen.

Larson admits parenthood provides something new every day.

“Owen knows words and stuff, but he gets so wrapped up in one word that he kind of get obsessed with it,’’ Larson said. “Water and balls and have been his favorite things to say. Over the last couple of weeks he’s really been starting to repeat a lot of words that we say. He’s learning a lot. Not too long he’ll be saying sentences.’’

Larson, who is 24 years old and coming off his first season competing in NASCAR’s Chase, said having Owen has helped him.

“I think it helped me grow up faster, kind of mature quicker,’’ Larson said. “I don’t play video games anymore, I wake up early, go to bed semi-early. You find a whole new responsibility level taking care of this child.

“You’ve got to learn a different language. I feel like I’m bilingual now. I can speak baby and interpret what he’s trying to tell me.

“Everybody says that first year is a lot work and it is but it is easier. When they turn a year old, it’s like gosh, I don’t know if I have enough energy for this. He’s got a ton of energy.’’

Owen will be busy with his family this holiday season. They’ll go to California for about a week and Larson will compete in an outlaw kart race before heading to Australia to drive in four sprint car races. He’ll return to the U.S. to race in the Chili Bowl in January. He won’t drive in the Rolex 24 at Daytona. He anticipates running about 25 sprint car races in 2017 along with his NASCAR duties.

“It’s my relaxation, my vacation,’’ Larson said of racing on dirt.

NASCAR America: A Matt Kenseth return to Roush Fenway Racing would mean …

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Roush Fenway Racing will make what it is calling a major partner announcement at 10 a.m. Wednesday, and a report states that it will include details on Matt Kenseth returning to drive for the team.

NASCAR on NBC’s Nate Ryan reported Tuesday that Roush Fenway Racing declined comment on SB Nation’s report that Kenseth would run select races for Trevor Bayne beginning May 12 at Kansas Speedway. Ryan reported that multiple principles, including a former Roush Fenway Racing driver will be at Wednesday’s announcement.

Kenseth, who turned 46 in March, won Cup Rookie of the Year honors with Roush Fenway Racing in 2000 and remained there through the 2012 season.

Kenseth left for Joe Gibbs Racing and raced there from 2013-17. He was replaced after last season in the No. 20 car by Erik Jones, leaving Kenseth without a full-time ride for this season.

NASCAR on NBC’s Kyle Petty said on NASCAR America that should the report of Kenseth’s return to Roush Fenway Racing be true, it would provide a nice homecoming.

“He knows the players,’’ Petty said of Kenseth. “He knows everything about the place. He grew up there. He came of age there. He won (a) championship. He won races there. So from all those pieces, it makes sense for a guy like Matt Kenseth to go back there just as it would if Jeff Gordon said I want to go back to Hendrick. It makes perfect sense. But only Matt can answer that question (of why).’’

Ryan noted it is not unusual for teams to put another driver in a car to benchmark that car’s performance.

Bayne is 26th in the points. The 2011 Daytona 500 winner has not finished better than 12th (Texas) this season. Every driver ahead of him in the points has at least one top-10 finish this season.

“Even in a part-time basis, what could he bring?’’ Petty said of Kenseth. “He brings so much. It’s an intangible. I think we saw it when he went to Joe Gibbs Racing. What did he bring there? That team just, all of a sudden, just took off. Was it all Matt Kenseth? No, but it’s part Matt Kenseth, it’s part that knowledge, it’s part that experience, it’s part that desire to run up front, win races and build something and I think Matt felt he had built something that first go around.’’

Kenseth scored the 39th Cup win of his career in November at Phoenix. A week before that win, Kenseth talked to Ryan on the NASCAR on NBC podcast about realizing the end of his career seemed near.

“But like I said, I feel like the way things have gone that for whatever reason — reasons I don’t understand that I think will become really, really clear in the future — that it’s just not meant for me to race next year,” Kenseth said. “I think it’s that simple. Everything lined up this way because I wasn’t going to make the decision myself, so someone made it for me. It’s just not supposed to happen.”

Car owner Joe Gibbs said Tuesday on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that he would look forward to a return by Kenseth to Cup.

“I’ve got to tell you I would love it,’’ Gibbs said. “What a great guy, a great person, a great representative for the sport and for sponsors and extremely competitive. I would love that, and I hope that is going to be the case. I hope he can be there on a steady basis.

“It would be a thrill for us to have Matt back. I think he’s a real credit to the NASCAR Series and love the family. I think that would be great for us. I hope that’s going to be the case. I hope he gets to run a bunch of races.’’

For more, watch the video above.

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Deontay Wilder named Geico 500 honorary pace car driver

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Talladega SuperSpeedway has a reputation for delivering blows to the competition, so it is only fitting that the honorary pace car driver for the Geico 500 will be a man known to deliver knockouts to his opponents. Reigning World Boxing Council (WBC) World Heavyweight Champion and Tuscaloosa, Alabama, native Deontay Wilder will pace the field before the initial green flag Sunday.

Wilder, 32, has a record of 40-0 with 39 of his wins by knockout.

Known as the “Bronze Bomber” because of the 2008 Bronze medal he won in the Beijing Olympics, Wilder found boxing as a way to provide for a daughter diagnosed with spina bifida. He immediately found that he was a natural by scoring a technical knockout over Ethan Cox in November, 2008.

Wilder has held the title since January 2015 after defeating Bermane Stiverne in his only bout that was not decided by a knockout. Wilder scored a unanimous decision and has defended his belt seven times since.

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Update on Matt Kenseth report, Matt DiBenedetto visits

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and features Matt DiBenedetto, who is coming off a 16th-place finish at Richmond Raceway.

Marty Snider hosts and will be joined at the Big Oak Table by Kyle Petty, Nate Ryan and DiBenedetto.

On today’ show:
  • NBCSports.com’s Nate Ryan joins the show with the latest news following last night’s report from SB Nation that said Matt Kenseth is returning to the Monster Energy Series in a part-time role with Roush Fenway Racing.
  • Go Fas Racing driver Matt DiBenedetto will be our special guest! The leader of ‘DiBurrito Nation’ will discuss his solid run last weekend at Richmond and reveal his throwback scheme for this year’s Southern 500 at Darlington. But one question remains – will Matt bring fresh-baked treats from his Mom’s kitchen to the Big Oak Table?
  • We’ll have footage from the latest Dale Jr. Download, as Junior sits down with Kasey Kahne’s crew chief, Travis Mack – who tells the incredible story of how he unexpectedly delivered his own baby at home!
  • And our Tuesday tradition continues … We’ll listen in on all the action from drivers, crew chiefs and spotters on a Saturday night under the lights in Scan All Richmond!
If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Preliminary entry lists for Cup, Xfinity at Talladega

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Forty cars are entered for Sunday’s Geico 500 Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway.

Joey Gase will be in the No. 00 car for StarCom Racing.

Brendan Gaughan is back in the No. 62 this weekend for Beard Motorsports.

Timothy Peters is set to make his Cup debut in the No. 92 for RBR Enterprises.

Cole Custer is listed in the No. 51 car for Rick Ware Racing but a team spokesperson told NBC Sports that Custer will not be driving the car.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won this race a year ago in overtime, beating Jamie McMurray and Kyle Busch.

Click here for Cup entry list

Xfinity Series

There are 41 cars entered for the Sparks Energy 300 Xfinity race.

The race is a Dash 4 Cash event, so no drivers who earn points in the Cup Series are permitted to race in this event.

Noah Gragson, who finished second in his series debut last weekend at Richmond, is back in the No. 18 for Joe Gibbs Racing this weekend.

Shane Lee, who finished 14th in his series debut two weeks ago at Bristol, is back in the No. 3 for Richard Childress Racing.

Aric Almirola won this race a year ago, finishing ahead of Elliott Sadler and Joey Logano.

Click here for Xfinity entry list