Derrike Cope

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

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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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Jeffrey Earnhardt will drive StarCom Racing’s No. 00 in Daytona 500

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An Earnhardt will be in the 60th Daytona 500 after all.

Jeffrey Earnhardt, the grandson of seven-time Cup champion Dale Earnhardt Sr. and son of Kerry Earnhardt, will stretch the family’s streak of competing in the “Great American Race” to 40 years.

The 28-year-old will drive StarCom Racing’s No. 00 Chevrolet in the Feb. 18 race and the rest of the season, the team announced Tuesday.

The team announced last week that it was leasing a charter from Richard Childress Racing, ensuring the No. 00 a starting spot in all 36 Cup points races.

Earnhardt will be sponsored by VRX Simulators in the race.

“I am so appreciative of everyone at StarCom Racing and VRX for having confidence in me and making this a reality,” Earnhardt said in a team release. “There’s been an Earnhardt driving in the 500 for 39 years so to be able to keep that streak going for a 40th year means a lot to me and I’m sure a lot of Earnhardt fans are going to be happy to hear this news.”

In 2017, Earnhardt drove the No. 33 Chevrolet for Circle Sport with The Motorsports Group. But the two entities split in December and Earnhardt lost his ride.

Derrike Cope, the 1990 Daytona 500 winner, is the team manager for StarCom Racing.

“It was imperative for our young team to have a sponsored driver for our start-up year, and we did have several options,” Cope said in the press release. “We felt that Jeffrey was the best fit for our team and VRX has already shown the type of enthusiasm and commitment that SCR has both for Jeffrey and for the sport. It will be a very exciting year for us.”

Earnhardt has 58 Cup starts since 2015. Last season, he made his first start in the Daytona 500, starting 32nd and finishing 26th. It was the last Daytona 500 start for Dale Earnhardt Jr., who retired from Cup competition following the season.

The family’s history in the Daytona 500 began in 1979 when Earnhardt Sr. made his first start and led his first laps in the race. This year marks the 20th anniversary of his only victory in the race in 1998.

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StarCom Racing leases charter from Richard Childress Racing for 2018 season

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StarCom Racing has leased a charter from Richard Childress Racing this season for the No. 00 car that will have Derrike Cope driving it in the Daytona 500.

ESPN.com first reported the arrangement. Richard Childress Racing is not fielding the No. 27 car this season and that charter was available. RCR will run two Cup cars this years. Charters can be leased once in five years. A charter guarantees a starting spot in each race. There are 36 charters.

“What a wonderful opportunity it is for our organization to have secured a charter for 2018!” Cope said in a statement from the team. “We have a strong and enthusiastic team that are now working with renewed vigor and we can’t wait to start the season!”

StarCom Racing, which has Tony Furr as crew chief, stated in its release that it “will continue to explore all driver options with funding opportunities and will choose the best possible fit for the team. SCR Marketing Director, Elyshia Cope, and the team are actively seeking sponsorship opportunities for the coming season.”

This is the sixth charter to change teams since the end of last season.

The charter for the No. 77 car at Furniture Row Racing was sold to JTG Daugherty for the No. 37 car of Chris Buescher

Roush Fenway Racing sold the charter from the No. 16 team to Team Penske for the No. 12 car of Ryan Blaney

Richard Petty Motorsports leased a charter to Rick Ware Racing for the No. 51 team.

Wood Brother Racing formed a partnership with Go Fas Racing owner Archie St. Hilaire and acquired his charter for the No. 21 car of Paul Menard.

Go Fas Racing has partnered with Circle Sport Racing and use its charter, meaning the No. 32 car with Matt DiBenedetto will have a charter this season.

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Kyle Busch takes Stage 1 at Kansas, engine issues befall Kyle Larson

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Kyle Buch won Stage 1 of Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.

Busch led 37 of the 80 laps. The stage ended under caution brought out when Kyle Larson‘s engine blew up on Lap 76.

Kevin Harvick finished the stage second, followed by Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney and Jamie McMurray.

Among incidents during the first stage:

* The No. 00 of Derrike Cope was penalized twice for driving through too many pit boxes, as well as for speeding.

Cope also took the car to the garage after the first penalty before returning to the track and eventually adding the second pit box penalty.

* Points leader Martin Truex Jr. was penalized on Lap 36 for a restart violation on the restart following the competition caution on Lap 30. Truex served his pass-through penalty on Lap 38.

During the pre-race driver/crew chief meeting, NASCAR Cup Series Director Richard Buck told drivers:

“Restarts, just want to remind everybody to get lined up in the order of race control, bumper to bumper, door handle to door handle. A reminder to stay in your lane until you cross the start-finish line. The front row establish the lanes and the inside lane must be established above the inside painted line.’’

* The No. 83 of Brett Moffitt brought out the second caution when he hit the wall on Lap 46.

* Larson came to pit road with 15 laps left in the stage with apparent engine issues. After his team looked under the hood, Larson came back on the track and crew chief Chad Johnson told him over the team radio to run the car as much – and as long – as he could.

Unfortunately, it didn’t last very long as on Lap 76, Larson’s engine blew up — although he’s still technically in the playoffs, 29 points above the cut line, depending on what happens in the final two stages. It’s the first engine failure for Larson since he became a full-time Cup driver, according to NBCSN.

“I felt it drop a cylinder or something,” Larson told NBCSN. “It’s a disappointing way to finish our race and probably our season, but we’ll be alright.

“I’ll cross my fingers and pray to anything I can pray to, but I don’t think 29 points (the margin he was above the cut-line coming into the race) is enough. It sucks to have an engine failure, but it is what it is. … Disappointing, but still a long race left to go, so maybe we can get lucky.”

Six cars to miss time in final Cup practice session

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KANSAS CITY, Kansas – Six Cup teams, including playoff contenders Chase Elliott and Jamie McMurray, will each miss 15 minutes of today’s final practice session at Kansas Speedway because of inspection issues, NASCAR announced.

Three teams were penalized 15 minutes in Saturday morning’s first practice – Derrike Cope, Landon Cassill and AJ Allmendinger. Each were penalized for being late to qualifying inspection Friday.

Teams penalized 15 minutes in final Cup practice will be Elliott, McMurray, Cope, Trevor Bayne, Paul Menard and Aric Almirola.

Bayne, Elliott and Almirola were penalized for failing qualifying/race inspection twice at Talladega.

Cope, McMurray and Menard were penalized for failing qualfiying qualifying inspection twice at Kansas.

Final Cup practice is scheduled from 1:30 – 2:20 p.m. ET on NBCSN.