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Bump & Run: Forecasting what to watch for in 2018

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1. Of the changes taking place this season, what is the one you’re most interested in seeing how it goes?

Steve Letarte: I guess it’s a combination of inspection, rules and a new body for Chevrolet. There was so much talk last year about aerodynamics and perhaps Toyota had a little more efficient car than the other two manufacturers, according to the other two manufacturers or the teams that raced for them. Is the combination of the new inspection station, perhaps some rule tweaks … and the new Chevrolet body style, will that combination change the racing we see at the mile-and-a-half and 2-mile tracks?

Kyle Petty: I honestly don’t have an opinion on the changes. It always seems to me it’s not so much the change we talk about as we move through the season as it is the ripple effects of those changes. I’ll wait to see how large the waves are.

Nate Ryan: Schedule. It’s been the least discussed but could have the greatest impact — particularly on the Round of 16’s complexion, which could feature major cutoff drama in the debut of the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course.

Dustin Long: I’m most intrigued in how Hendrick Motorsports performs this season with all the changes that organization has made on and off the track. Even though the organization won four races last year, even car owner Rick Hendrick noted the lack of competitiveness and ability to lead laps much of the year. Will the management changes, the driver changes (William Byron and Alex Bowman) and the cultural changes (closer working relationship among the four teams) lead to greater success or more frustration? How these changes perform will have an impact on the playoff picture.

2. Of the drivers with a new Cup ride this year, who are you most intrigued about?

Steve Letarte: I think that is going to drive some excitement into the sport to have all those changes. The name that I have highlighted that I’m going to watch is Erik Jones. Aric Almirola (to Stewart-Haas Racing) has been around a while, we kind of understand where he is. Ryan Blaney did win a race, I think his transition (to Penske) will be smooth. William Byron I think kind of gets a freebie. He’s run so well at everything. It’s his rookie year, he’s so young. Come, learn. I would add Alex Bowman as well. Erik Jones and Alex Bowman. I think those two have to prove they deserve to be in the cars they are. Erik Jones is remarkably talented, and I have no doubt that he has the ability. But the ability is not the same as going to Victory Lane. At some point you need trophies. Now that he’s driving that 20 car, a car that won with Matt Kenseth, a company that knows how to win, I really look for Erik Jones to show up this year. He’s probably the one I’m most intrigued about and I’m going to watch the closest.

Kyle Petty: Blaney and Byron. Blaney because of his talent in the car. We saw a glimpse of that last year but as much because of his personality. He has something and has tapped into something that NASCAR and the sport has been missing! A driver who has fun, has personality … and can WIN! Novel idea! Byron because of his ability at such a young age to face pressure and stare it down! He appears wise beyond his years as a person and as a driver. His personality will develop. I’m not sure in what direction it will go, but we’ll have to wait and see.

Nate Ryan: Darrell Wallace Jr. With even a modicum of success, he could trigger positive shock waves of good cheer throughout the team and NASCAR. But if he falters, it will raise questions about the long-term viability of RPM and “The King’s” tolerance for hanging around NASCAR as an also-ran.

Dustin Long: I want to see what Kasey Kahne can do with Leavine Family Racing and a single-car operation. Can he help raise the organization’s performance level or will he be stuck in the middle of the pack? With a one-year contract, there’s a lot at stake for Kahne.

3. Which one of the drivers who raced for a championship in Miami last year (Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski) has the best chance of returning?

Steve Letarte: Kevin Harvick seems to always be there. So that means the odds are something is going to happen that maybe he won’t. Brad Keselowski, I put him in the same bucket as Harvick. I have some concern where the Fords are. Toyota had good speed last year. Chevrolet has made a body change. I’m really waiting to see at the beginning of the year what the Fords have to counteract that. As much as Martin Truex Jr. was so dominant last  year, I have to say Kyle Busch. I think Kyle Busch has the ability to dominate at different types of race tracks, so I think he has the best chance to go back to Miami.

Kyle Petty: Kevin Harvick … because he’s Kevin Harvick. Enough said

Nate Ryan: Martin Truex Jr. because of his No. 78 team’s continuity. The contraction of the No. 77 could make Furniture Row Racing even better considering how far it went as a single-car team in 2015 and ’16.

Dustin Long: Kyle Busch. He’s done it three years in a row. It’s easy to see him making it four in a row.

4. Who wins first — Chase Elliott, Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez, Alex Bowman, William Byron, Darrell Wallace Jr., Ty Dillon or someone else?

Steve Letarte: It should be Chase Elliott or Erik Jones but something in my gut tells me that it never works that way. I think William Byron breaks through super early in his career. I do think of this list, Chase Elliott wins, Erik Jones wins, William Byron wins. Those three I’m confident to say will win a race this year. Hopefully, for Alex Bowman and Daniel Suarez they can join the list, but I’m going to have to see something at the beginning half of the year to be able to move them on to the winning list.

Kyle Petty: Erik or Daniel. I don’t see JGR or Toyota getting weaker and I see Erik and Daniel getting stronger and better. The experience of last year should pay dividends this year.

Nate Ryan: Chase Elliott, maybe as soon as the Daytona 500. He’s long overdue for a breakthrough, and after the first victory with the number his father made famous, many more soon will follow.

Dustin Long: Chase Elliott. He’s been too close too long. His time is coming.

* NASCAR America returns to NBCSN on Feb. 26 after the Winter Olympics  

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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