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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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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Martin Truex Jr.: It ‘makes sense’ to raise minimum speed for undamaged cars

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CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — Martin Truex Jr. believes it’s time for NASCAR to raise the minimum speed for cars that haven’t been involved in a wreck.

Truex said he raised the issue in a meeting this week with Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s executive vice president and chief racing development officer.

Truex’s comments come four days after a minor accident involving a car 16 laps down kept him from winning the regular-season finale at Richmond Raceway.

“We need to up minimum speed for cars that were not in an accident, that didn’t get on the five-minute clock for crash damage, for that very reason,” Truex said Wednesday during playoff media day at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. “We don’t want to go to Homestead and have a car that’s 25 laps down scrape the wall or blow a tire and change the outcome of possibly a championship or who the champion is. I think it’s something they’re definitely willing to look into. I think it makes sense. ”

Truex’s chance at winning in Richmond were dampened when Derrike Cope washed up the track with three laps to go and brushed the wall. NASCAR threw the caution with Truex leading, even though no major damage resulted from it.

Lap times show that Cope was running laps faster than the minimum speed in the five circuits before he hit the wall.

The caution created an overtime finish and Truex being wrecked on the last lap by Denny Hamlin.

“I would say that minimum speed right now probably is too far off from where we run,” Truex said. “You have to be way, way off the pace to go 16 or 20 laps down under green at a short track, for a 400-lap race. Losing a couple of laps is one thing. But 15-plus, you probably don’t need to be out there.”

According to info provided by NASCAR prior to the race at Richmond, the minimum speed for the race was 26.95 seconds.

Truex said any new regulations regarding minimum speed should be enforced over the course of the entire season, instead of potentially just in the 10-race playoff.

“Just because we need to keep that consistency,” Truex said. “I do feel like there’s too much of a gap in there. Certainly, some tracks where the tires wear out a lot, it’s going to be different than places where it doesn’t.”

The Furniture Row Racing driver said cars off the pace can lead to questionable situations for cars running with the pack.

“For quite a while now we’ve had a few cars here and there that are just so far off the pace, you don’t know even know where they’re going to go when you get to the corner,” Treux said “It’s not a huge issue, but it’s something we need to look at.”

Truex also didn’t see Cope’s accident as a “legitimate reason for the caution” to be issued, especially with a potential fifth win of the season at stake in the regular-season finale.

“The biggest problem I had was, every year in the drivers meeting (NASCAR says) ‘we don’t want anyone screwing with the race’ and then they make the wrong call. It’s frustrating.”

With the start of the postseason four days away, does Truex have confidence in NASCAR’s race control?

Said Truex: “Ask me in 10 weeks.”

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Long: Richmond calls raise questions about NASCAR officiating heading into playoffs

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RICHMOND, Va. — NASCAR told competitors before Saturday night’s race to let the event play out naturally on the track.

“We don’t want to get involved.’’

But NASCAR did in comical and confounding ways that raise questions about its officiating as the Cup playoffs begin this coming weekend.

Questionable cautions and questionable actions befuddled drivers Saturday night.

Where to start?

How about this: A wayward ambulance nearly cost Matt Kenseth a spot in the playoffs.

Just stop and ponder that.

Rarely have the words ambulance and racing produced such a ridiculous image since the time a gurney Buddy Baker was strapped to flew out of an ambulance and on to a track as cars sped by.

Had Kenseth lost his playoff spot because of an ambulance, it would have raised the specter of if NASCAR should add him to the postseason — as it added Jeff Gordon under different circumstances in 2013.

There’s more.

Saturday’s overtime finish was set up by a caution for a car 16 laps behind the leaders. A NASCAR official stated that debris came off the car, necessitating the caution.

Fine, but the bigger question is why was Derrike Cope on the track in the final laps?

His incident brought out a caution on Lap 398 of a scheduled 400-lap race. He was five laps down from the closest car, thus had no chance of gaining any positions in the regulation length.

Yet, by being out of the track — as is his right — his actions created a caution that changed the race’s outcome. Martin Truex Jr. led when the caution waved but wrecked on the last lap and finished 20th, while Kyle Larson won.

As the playoffs begin, NASCAR should order cars that are too many laps down from gaining any positions off the track in the final laps to avoid a repeat of what happened Saturday.

While some will say that every driver should be allowed to continue in case a race goes to overtime and they can gain spots there, drivers so far back should lose that right for the betterment of the race.

Also, it doesn’t do the sport — or the competitor that causes the caution in such a situation — any good.

The result was that an upset Truex was awarded a regular-season trophy after the race with the look of a person who had just had multiple root canals, found out the IRS wanted to audit him and that even his dog had turned its back on him.

Whee!

Oh yes, the race’s second caution was a quick trigger by NASCAR for what was described in the race report as smoke after Kenseth locked his brakes attempting to lap Danica Patrick.

“Smoke.” Not as in Tony Stewart but “smoke.”

Officiating affects every sport, but as the 10-race playoffs begin, the focus becomes sharper on everything NASCAR does and doesn’t do.

Since criticism for a debris caution late in the Michigan race in June, NASCAR has called fewer debris cautions, allowing for long stretches of green-flag racing regardless of how far the leader has pulled away.

This direction came a year too late for Carl Edwards in the championship race, as Dale Earnhardt Jr. noted Sunday morning in a tweet.

At Homestead, NASCAR called for a caution with 15 laps to go after Dylan Lupton wobbled through Turn 2 but continued in a seemingly innocuous incident.

Edwards led but on the ensuring restart blocked Joey Logano’s charge and wrecked, ending Edwards’ title hopes. The two cautions helped Jimmie Johnson win his record-tying seventh series title.

Maybe something else would have happened that would have required a caution in that race but should NASCAR’s season finale — or any other race — be determined in such a way?

No.

That’s why as each team examines all it can do these final 10 races, NASCAR needs to examine its officiating policies and makes sure that it abides by its hope of not wanting to be a factor in the race.

One only can hope Saturday night’s missteps are avoided the next 10 weeks, or a cloud could hang over the postseason.

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Martin Truex Jr. on late Richmond caution: ‘That is not what racing should be’

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Martin Truex Jr. was unhappy after a late caution derailed his chance at winning Saturday’s Cup race at Richmond Raceway.

Truex was leading with three laps to go when the caution was brought out by Derrike Cope washing up the track and scraping the wall. There was no major damage in the accident. Cope continued on and finished 36th, 16 laps off the lead.

The caution resulted in an overtime finish and Truex being accidentally wrecked by Denny Hamlin in Turn 1 after taking the white flag.

Truex finished 20th after leading 198 laps.

“Yeah, I mean, I just don’t agree with the caution,” Truex told NBCSN. “I think it’s ridiculous that, again, there’s a guy out there that shouldn’t even be out there, 20 some laps down, riding around.

“As slow as he is, he can’t even hold his damn line. It’s ridiculous. He scrapes the wall, they throw a caution with (three) to go. That’s not what racing should be.

“I’m mad about that. But I have to go back and watch the tape, see how it exactly played out. I’m madder about all that than I am about losing. Just a hard way to lose ’em.”

Had the race continued on without a caution, Truex likely would have won his fifth race of the year and earned another five playoff points. He enters the playoffs with 53 playoff points and the regular-season title.

“I don’t even think (Cope) makes minimum speed, and really doesn’t even belong out there,” Truex said later in the media center. “I don’t know if he apparently scraped the wall a few times, and I don’t know, couldn’t stay in the racetrack as slow as he was going. It’s unfortunate they threw a caution for that, and I don’t know if it should have been thrown or not.

“I just think that’s ridiculous that a guy could cause a caution with (three laps) to go as bad as he’s running and just riding around there basically just making laps. Yeah, it’s pretty dumb.”