Drivers make their Super Bowl picks

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The Super Bowl is almost here and nearly everyone is making a prediction on Sunday’s game between the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles (6 p.m. ET on NBC with pre-game show beginning at 1 pm ET on NBC).

NASCAR drivers are no different and many have made their picks. See who they’re taking and the challenge a driver made to one team’s fans.

Chase Elliott 

“I will pull for the Patriots. I can’t say that I’m a diehard of either one of them (Elliott is an Atlanta Falcons fan), but I do think that just the Brady-Belichick era is one that we often take for granted how good that whole situation is up there, that we’re watching probably the greatest quarterback ever to play the game. I don’t think there’s a whole lot arguing that in my opinion. The guy is really good and the coaching staff he has around him has put good people in place. I would love to see their legacy continue because they’re worthy of it.

“Definitely it sucks what happened last year (New England rallying to beat Atlanta in the Super Bowl). I think that what (the Patriots) have done, I have a lot of respect how they do their jobs, how they deal with the media and how they’re leaders. I think they’re worthy of the success they have.’’

David Ragan

“If it were for money I would have to pick the Patriots just because they’re that good. I don’t like the Patriots because they win too much and I’m jealous of all the New England sports fans because I’m an Atlanta Braves and Atlanta Falcons fan from Georgia and we don’t have many championships. I hope it’s a 0-0 tie and no one wins.’’

Brad Keselowski

“I’ve got the Eagles. They’ve got a better defense. Defense wins Super Bowls.’’

Elliott Sadler

“The Pats baby. Go Pats go. I’m a huge Patriots fan. My Super Bowl pick will be Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.’’

Ty Dillon

“Logically the Patriots. I don’t really care about either team. Definitely can’t stand the Eagles. I’m a Panthers fan through and through, born in North Carolina. It’s the only (NFL) team I care about honestly, but I’m a big sports fan. Patriots are going to win. They’re going to beat them pretty bad. I don’t really see Nick Foles coming back with another performance like he did. Unfortunately Eagles fans, I know that you’re going to hate me for this but I don’t really care for you either. I was at the Monday Night Football game that the Panthers played in Philadelphia and every single one of you fans treated me like trash so I have no love for your fan base … and I hope you lose the Super Bowl.’’

Martin Truex Jr.

“Definitely Eagles are going to win it. I said 28-17, but I don’t know. It might be higher score than that. I’m thinking 34-24.’’

Matt DiBenedetto

“My heart wants the Eagles to win just because I empathize with Nick Foles and I like the route he’s had to go and had kind of a tough journey the last few years. He had a lot of success and almost got forgotten about for a period of a few years. I empathize with that. I’ve had to go a crazy, crazy hard journey to get where I’m at in my career. So my heart lies with hoping that the Eagles win because it would be cool and it would be different. Now my brain tells me there’s no way you can bet against Tom Brady and the Patriots. That whole team has so much experience. Bill Belichick and those folks are so used to winning the Super Bowl. They’re like the Jimmie Johnsons of the NFL.’’

Denny Hamlin

“I know what the spread is but I think that the spread should be 3.5. I think the Eagles will keep it close for a very long time. I don’t know that they’ll be in the lead. I don’t know that the Patriots are going to make a last-second comeback. I think the Eagles offense is underrated. I think Nick Foles is underrated. I think their team is championship caliber. He’s good enough to run that team to be a close competitor of the Patriots even though they fall short.’’

AJ Allmendinger

“Fly Eagles Fly, 27-24 Eagles. The story of the underdog, Nick Foles, benched, backup, reborn. That’s what I love.’’

Trevor Bayne

“If I’ve got to pick one, you go with the odds, you got to go with the Patriots, right?’’

Kasey Kahne

“My pick is the Patriots, Tom Brady, Bill Belichick. They’re just so tough this time of the year. I think the Eagles will have a real good shot.’’

Paul Menard

“I’ve got to go with the Eagles. From the first time I watched this year, probably week two or three, I was impressed with their defense. Defense is what wins championships and they have a good one.’’

Clint Bowyer

“I’m pissed off at the Patriots. I’m over the Patriots. Even Jimmie Johnson gave us a breather. Give us some time to get over it and then we might root for you again. But the dude (Tom Brady) is so good. I’m not excited about the Super Bowl because he’ll win.’’

Kyle Busch

“I’ve got to go with the Eagles. They’re putting up points, man. I’m a Patriots fan, second to my No. 1 (Denver) Broncos. But if I had to choose one, I think the Eagles are pretty tough right now.’’

Cole Custer

I’m going to go with the Eagles. I don’t really have a reason. I like their helmets, I think that’s kind of cool with the wings on them.”

Austin Dillon

“Tom Brady is pretty tough to beat. The guy just keeps coming back and getting more. He’s like Jimmie Johnson. I’m racing with one of those guys that just has this desire to compete every year and to win a championship. What Tom Brady is doing is special. Tom Brady wins 21-14 over the Eagles. The Eagles have probably the best team but the Patriots have the best coach in the history of football and probably the best player in Tom Brady. Clutch moments, there’s no one who has seen more of them than Brady. It’s hard to beat him. I just think it’s Brady time again. This time of year.’’

Daniel Suarez

“I wish I could say (Carolina) Panthers, but I guess it’s going to be Patriots.”

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Mother’s tears a celebration of a journey more than a decade in the making

Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images
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DAYTONA BEACH, Florida — After her son Garrett raced to a career-high fifth-place finish in Saturday’s quintuple-overtime Xfinity race, Bethanie Smithley could not contain her emotions.

Memories flashed to when he wanted to race even though neither parent knew anything about the sport other than what they viewed from the stands. Then there was the sign that what they were doing was the right thing. And the memories of how pillow cushions helped Garrett’s racing career.

All that was before Garrett joined JD Motorsports, an underfunded team that is at the track each weekend but not often noticed.

He overcame an early spin and avoided the late crashes to collect his third career Xfinity top-10 finish, spurring a family celebration on pit road afterward.

“It’s the satisfaction that going out on a limb for your child when you don’t necessarily want to go out there … is worth it,’’ Bethanie said between tears.

“It’s the payback. It’s the affirmation that we made the right decision and that all the sacrifices we made, the family vacations we didn’t take, it was worth it.’’

Garrett Smithley, a 25-year-old from Ligonier, Pennsylvania, pointed to the Daytona International Speedway stands and about where he and his family sat 12 years ago.

A passion grew.

He started racing in 2007 in Bandolero cars.

“I had to learn to tow a race trailer,’’ Bethanie Smithley said.

“I had to learn how to be crew chief,’’ said RK Smithley, Garrett’s dad.

One of the requests the family made before buying a Bandolero car was that they be showed how to set it up.

“We could have never dreamed this would turn into a profession,’’ Bethanie said. “We thought it would be a short-term hobby. Every time he’s moved forward there’s just been some provision that I felt was divine providence for him to be a race car driver.’’

The first time Garrett went to test a Legends car, they pulled up to the shop. When Bethanie opened the truck door to exit, Bill Elliott stood 2 feet away.

“He was one of our favorite NASCAR drivers,’’ she said. “To me that was kind of a sign that it’s going to be OK that your son wants to go racing. All along the right person has come along at the right time to help him move forward.’’

While driving a No. 43 Legends car, Garrett’s talent was spotted and he was invited to a Richard Petty Driver Search.

Former Daytona 500 winner Derrike Cope saw Garrett at a test, leading to Garrett’s ARCA debut in 2014. He shared a car at the test with another driver, who was much bigger. Garrett’s parents brought pillows from their hotel couch so he could fit in the seat.

The following year, Garrett made his Camping World Truck Series debut with the Mittler Brothers, the same team Carl Edwards made his series debut with in 2002. Garrett is in his third season with JD Motorsports in the Xfinity Series.

“Johnny went on a limb,’’ Garrett said. “He had some better deals. He said I really want you to drive my 0 car.’’

As often happens the night before the first race of the season, Garrett couldn’t sleep Friday. He posted a picture on Twitter after midnight of the lit Daytona stands with the note: “Never taking this for granted.’’

“You come so close to not making it and not making it and not making it … this feels really special,’’ Garrett said.

Enough to make a mother cry.

“Along the way somebody has always noticed that talent,’’ Bethanie said. “I fully believe it will lead to him being in Cup one day. I don’t know how long.

“I also say because he’s done so well at these superspeedways, I think one of these days he’ll be in Victory Lane, although right now it feels like we’re there.’’

Instead, she and RK stood behind pit wall. The sun faded behind the stands and sweepers cleaned pit road. A few people pushed team pit boxes into position to be loaded onto trucks and head to the next race. RK and Bethanie were alone.

As they walked away, she turned to one person working on the pit boxes that she knew.

“I need a hug.’’

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Race results, point standings after Xfinity Series opener at Daytona

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Tyler Reddick began his tenure with JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series by coming out on top in the closest finish in national NASCAR series history.

Reddick beat Elliott Sadler by 0.000 to win the season opener at Daytona International Speedway. It is his second career win.

The top five was completed by Ryan Reed, Kaz Grala and Garrett Smithley.

Click here for the race results.

With his win, the 22-year-old driver leaves Daytona with a nine-point lead over Sadler.

Completing the top five in the standings are Spencer Gallagher (-11), Ryan Truex (-15) and Reed (-16).

Click here for the point standings.

Tyler Reddick wins Xfinity Series opener at Daytona in overtime finish

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Tyler Reddick won the Xfinity Series opener at Daytona after a track record 12 cautions, a record five restarts in overtime and one red flag period.

Driving the No. 9 Chevrolet, Reddick beat his JR Motorsports teammate Elliott Sadler in the closest finish in national NASCAR series history, earning his second Xfinity win.

The margin of victory was 0.000.

“That was insane. I just saw a picture of it like 10 minutes ago. It’s not much,” Reddick said in the winner’s press conference. “I guess it was just enough, just soon enough.”

The previous closest finish was .001 in the 1995 Truck Series race at Colorado National Speedway, won by Butch Miller over Mike Skinner.

The top five was completed by Ryan Reed, rookie Kaz Grala and Garrett Smithley.

“Feels amazing,” Reddick told Fox Sports 1. “This was a hell of a way to start off the year with JR Motorsports. … This is a hell of way to get my second win, my first win with JR Motorsports.”

Reddick is now qualified for the Xfinity playoffs.

“I think it’s an amazing opportunity,” Reddick said. “It’s just going to take a little bit of time to het honed in. I guess we’re getting along good right off the bat. We were having some problems all day long. We were having some issues with the motor. I don’t know exactly what it was, but it held on all race long. It was getting worse at the end.”

Reddick, 22, led 11 laps in the race. None of them were in regulation.

Overtime was setup by a spin by Sadler with three laps to go in the scheduled distance on the backstretch. Sadler had previously been black flagged along with Chase Elliott for locking their bumpers together for too long with 26 to go.

Sadler was able to mount a comeback thanks to a crash with 22 to go.

It resulted in his third runner-up finish in the last three restrictor-plate races.

“I was trying to figure out how close to get to (Reddick),” Sadler told Fox Sports 1. “My spotter was telling me the 16 (Reed) was coming too, so I didn’t want to leave him the outside. Man, I really want to win this race. Most eventful race I’ve ever been a part of. Spun there twice. Got black flagged for absolutely no reason in my opinion but that’s the way it goes. … I’m proud that a JR Motorsports car went to victory lane, but I wish it was us today.”

Originally scheduled for 120 laps, the race ended after 143 laps. That’s a series record at Daytona.

The first overtime attempt was marred by a massive wreck on the backstretch that involved 18 cars.

The race marked the 100th for Xfinity as the series sponsor.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Kyle Larson

STAGE 2 WINNER: Chase Elliott

MORE: Race results and point standings

WHO HAD A GOOD DAY: Garrett Smithley bounced back from a late-race accident to earn his first top five in his 67th start. His previous best result was eighth in this race last year … Ryan Reed earned his sixth top five. Four have come at Daytona … Spencer Gallagher finished a career-best sixth in his 41st start. Gallagher had been involved in a one-car accident on the second overtime restart … Jeff Green finished 11th for his best finish since placing 10th at Talladega last year.

WHO HAD A BAD DAY: In his first start on an oval in Xfinity, Austin Cindric started a eight-car wreck in the tri-oval as the field began Lap 11. The wreck eliminated Cindric and Christopher Bell … With 14 to go in the original distance, the caution waived for separate spins by Garrett Smithley and Michael Annett in the tri-oval. Smithley was turned by Ryan Truex and Annett was turned by Brandon Jones … Drivers included in the massive crash on first overtime restart: Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Chase Elliot, Joey Gase, Aric Almirola, Justin Allgaier, Austin Dillon, Matt Tifft, Jeremy Clements, Joe Nemechek, Brandon Brown, Cole Custer, Daniel Suarez, Brandon Jones, David Starr, Jeff Green, Dylan Lupton and Caesar Bacarella.

NOTABLE: Reddick’s win is his second at Daytona. He won the 2015 Truck Series opener at the track. The average age of the field was 28 years, 10 months and 11 days, the youngest ever at Daytona … The 357.5 miles in the race is the second longest race in series history in terms of miles.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “When I have enough fuel, yes.” – David Elenz, crew chief for Tyler Reddick when asked if he likes unlimited restarts in overtime.

QUOTE OF THE DAY 2: “Either way, fine with me.” – JR Motorsports owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. after being told the margin of victory was the closest in history.

WHAT’S NEXT: Rinnai 250 at Atlanta Motor Speedway at 2 p.m. ET on Feb. 24 on Fox Sports 1.

Barney Visser back at track, still recovering from heart ailment

Dustin Long
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Barney Visser won’t be back to full health for at least another three months, but the owner of Furniture Row Racing will attend tomorrow’s Daytona 500 three months after a heart attack scare.

The episode kept Visser from seeing Martin Truex Jr. win the team’s first Cup championship in person.

It occurred on Nov. 4 and he underwent bypass surgery two days later.

“There’s nothing like getting new pipes,” Visser said Saturday at Daytona International Speedway. “As good as I feel now, this is a home run.”

Visser, who has fielded cars in NASCAR since 2005, was back at a track for the first time on Friday.

“I missed the people and the competitive spirit,” Visser said. “I heard the engines fire up the other day, and I realized how much I missed that.”

Visser’s health scare was preceded by six months of angina, a symptom of coronary artery disease.

“It was just a burning lung sensation that would come and go,” Visser said. “So I should have paid more attention to that.  But my arm was numb all night the night before I went in (to the hospital), and usually you get up in the morning and you shake that stuff off, but it just wouldn’t shake off.  So I went into the hospital, and they started running tests and did an angiogram that afternoon, and they couldn’t stent it after ‑‑ they’ll try to stent it if they can, and one of them was 99 percent blocked, and they just couldn’t do it. I had to wait for a bypass on Monday.

“If there was a heart attack, and the doctors in the hospital told me there was, my cardiologist ‑‑ these guys take a lot of pride in this stuff and whether or not the patients have heart ‑‑ he doesn’t think I did because of the numbers, but I think what happened is on the gurney on the way to the angiogram, it just felt like somebody was ripping my chest open, and I started complaining about it, and they handed me a nitroglycerin, and I passed out at that point and don’t remember much after that.  They did the angiogram, and I remember a bossy little woman who was the doctor.  She was an angioplasty specialist, and she was going to do the stent.  Everyone was terrified of her.  That’s all I remember about that.”

Visser said his father underwent bypass surgery 40 years ago. But the team owner said he never thought he wouldn’t make it through the procedure.

Visser believes he’ll have more energy at the race track following his ordeal.

“I feel like I’ll have a little more gas after the race now,” Visser said.  “I remember Claire (B Lang of SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) talking to me a few times after wins, and I don’t ‑‑ I just was almost dead.  I didn’t realize how tired I was.  I think it’ll be better now.  I’m looking forward to that.”

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