Truex, Gase and Martha Nemechek named finalists for inaugural Comcast award

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Three members of the NASCAR community have been named finalists for the inaugural Comcast Community Champion of the Year Award.

The award recognizes the philanthropic efforts of a race team member.

The finalists are:

* Martin Truex Jr., driver of the No. 78 Chevrolet SS in the Sprint Cup Series.

* Joey Gase, driver of the No. 52 Ford Mustang in the Xfinity Series.

* Martha Nemechek, whose son Joe and grandson John Hunter Nemechek, compete in the Camping World Truck Series.

“Comcast works hard to make a positive impact in the local communities where our employees and customers live and work, and that philosophy is now embedded into our partnership with NASCAR,” said Matt Lederer, Executive Director of Sports Marketing at Comcast.

“We are proud to have Martin Truex Jr., Joey Gase and Martha Nemechek as finalists for the inaugural Comcast Community Champion of the Year Award,” Lederer added. “They embody the spirit of the award through their dedication to community service and we look forward to highlighting their causes through the award process.”

The Champion of the Year will be determined by executives from Comcast, The NASCAR Foundation, NASCAR on NBC analyst Kyle Petty and NASCAR.com reporter Holly Cain.

Comcast will make a donation of $60,000 to the Champion of the Year’s affiliated charity. An additional $30,000 apiece will be made to each of the remaining two finalists’ designated charity.

“Comcast has done a great job of coming in and viewing the sport in its totality,” Petty said. “Not just what they can get out of it, but what they can give back to it and how they become a part of the fabric of NASCAR.

“I think that’s what the Comcast Community Champion of the Year Award encompasses – the giving spirit that has always been a big part of NASCAR.”

The winner will be announced Nov. 23 at the NASCAR Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series Banquet in Hollywood, Florida. The banquet will air on NBCSN at 7 pm on Sunday, Nov. 29.

The 2015 Comcast Community Champion of the Year finalists are:

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series:

Martin Truex Jr. (Mayetta, New Jersey) and long-time girlfriend Sherry Pollex launched the Martin Truex Jr. Foundation in 2007 with the goal of raising funds and awareness for children suffering from poverty, abuse and illness – specifically pediatric cancers.  The foundation continued to grow over the next eight years, providing significant assistance in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and building a pediatric emergency care center in Truex’s home state of New Jersey. In August 2014, Pollex was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer. Through this experience, the couple was inspired to expand their fundraising efforts and change the foundation’s mission to include a range of underfunded cancer initiatives specific to childhood and ovarian cancers. In 2015, the Martin Truex Jr. Foundation began a three-year partnership with Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte, North Carolina to assist in finding breakthrough treatments specific to pediatric cancers. Every day, Truex sports a bracelet encompassing his personal motto as well as the Foundation’s inspiration: Never Give Up.

NASCAR Xfinity Series:

Joey Gase (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) lost his mother Mary Jo to a brain aneurysm when he was just 18 years old. Since she was not married at the time, Gase was faced with the decision of whether or not she would want to be an organ, eye, and tissue donor. Later on, he found out that the decision he made to donate his mother’s organs helped save and improve the lives of 66 people. Overwhelmed by the impact, Gase sought opportunities to promote donation through the local organ procurement organizations (OPO) in each state. Throughout the past few years, he has been able to use his platform as a NASCAR driver to host meet-and-greets with families who have been impacted by organ donation, visit children who have been hospitalized, promote organ donation through sharing his story at high schools, and more. At just 22 years old, his efforts have already produced great dividends. Gase often has people reach out to let him know that had it not been for his story, they never would have thought to sign up as an organ donor.

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series:

Martha Nemechek (Mooresville, North Carolina) lost her son John Nemechek to complications from head injuries sustained in an accident during a 1997 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In the months following the death of her 27-year old son, she was inconsolable until Nemechek received a call from Gordon Collins, a stranger empathizing with her grief, that she was able to channel into a driving force for helping those in similar situations. For the past 18 years, Nemechek has given her heart to many causes, including the exchange of supportive emails with U.S. troops in Iraq, assisting cancer patients with their wishes to meet NASCAR drivers, maintaining her World Prayer List, feeding the underprivileged, and much more. Her priority, however, is reaching out to parents who have lost children – especially those within the racing circuit. Those impacted by her efforts are amazed at Nemechek’s willingness to open up in an area that is painful for her to relive, but she is driven by her desire to reach out. The way she puts it is simple: once she began giving back, Nemechek felt like she was living again.

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Matt DiBenedetto wins NASCAR Truck race at Talladega

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Matt DiBenedetto won Saturday’s 250-mile NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Talladega Superspeedway on a day pockmarked by numerous accidents, including a major one at the finish.

As the field swept to the finish line in overtime, a multi-car crash developed as Corey Heim lost control of his truck in the trioval. Several trucks crashed approaching the finish as the caution flag flew.

NASCAR officials studied video of the final lap to determine that DiBenedetto was in front when the caution lights were turned on, although Bret Holmes appeared to beat him to the finish line by inches. When caution lights appear, the field is frozen at that point, so any position changes after the caution are irrelevant.

MORE: TalladeTalladega Truck results

MORE: Talladega Truck driver points

The last lap was the only one led by DiBenedetto, who has been racing in NASCAR national series since 2009 but scored his first win.

Following DiBenedetto, a non-playoff driver, at the finish were Ben Rhodes, Holmes, Ryan Preece and Christian Eckes.

With one race remaining in the Round of 8, Ty Majeski has locked in a spot in the final four at Phoenix. Chandler Smith, Zane Smith and Rhodes are above the cutline. Below the line are Stewart Friesen, Eckes, John Hunter Nemechek and Grant Enfinger.

MORE: Denny Hamlin says NASCAR needs leadership changes

A string of accidents left only two playoff drivers — Eckes and Rhodes — in the top 10 with 10 laps remaining.

Carson Hocevar dropped out of the lead group with five laps to go when he lost a tire, prompting a caution flag and pushing the race into overtime.

The race was marred by a fiery crash in the early going as Jordan Anderson‘s truck exploded in flames while running in the top five in a tight draft.

Anderson steered the truck to the inside as flames fired up on both sides of the vehicle. The truck crashed into the inside wall even as Anderson climbed from the driver-side window. He was transported to an area hospital.

On Lap 35, Lawless Alan hit the wall hard after his right front tire blew. He was evaluated and released from the infield medical center.

Another dangerous situation developed on Lap 63 as numerous trucks pitted at the same time under green. As Hailie Deegan attempted to stop in her pit, one of the crew members lost control of a tire, and it rolled into traffic and onto the grass area separating pit road from the track. A Deegan crew member chased down the tire in the grass and later was ejected from the track by NASCAR officials for a safety violation.

On Lap 79, Enfinger’s truck blew a tire and slammed the wall, starting a crash that collected Tanner Gray, Johnny Sauter and Austin Wayne Self.

Stage 1 winner: John Hunter Nemechek

Stage 2 winner: Chandler Smith

Who had a good race: Matt DiBenedetto had been waiting a very long time for this winning moment. … Alabama driver Bret Holmes almost won in front of the home crowd. He finished third.

Who had a bad race: Jordan Anderson had one of the most frightening crashes of the season, bailing out of his flaming truck after it caught fire in the middle of a pack of drafting trucks. … Playoff drivers John Hunter Nemechek (finished 24th) and Grant Enfinger (29th) had rough outings.

Next: The Truck Series is off for three weeks before racing at Homestead-Miami Speedway Oct. 22. The series’ final race is scheduled Nov. 4 at Phoenix Raceway.

 

Denny Hamlin calls out NASCAR leadership for Next Gen concerns

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — Denny Hamlin cites “bad leadership” from NASCAR for creating a car that he says needs to be redesigned after two drivers have suffered concussion-like symptoms in crashes this year.

Hamlin and Kevin Harvick have been most outspoken about the safety of the car this year. Chase Elliott spoke up Saturday about how “disappointed” he is “that we put ourselves in the box that we’re in.” 

Hamlin said other drivers must join them in being heard.

“I know a lot of young guys are just happy to be here, but they ain’t going to be happy when their brains are scrambled for the rest of their lives,” Hamlin said Saturday at Talladega Superspeedway.

NASCAR had not offered a response to Hamlin’s comments as of Saturday afternoon.

Driver frustrations with the Next Gen car continue to grow, as Alex Bowman became the second driver to be forced to miss at least a race for concussion-like symptoms. 

Bowman crashed last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway and experienced headaches and other symptoms of a concussion earlier this week, according to Hendrick Motorsports President Jeff Andrews. 

Bowman went to a doctor on Thursday and the team announced that day Bowman would not race Sunday. No timetable for his return has been announced. Noah Gragson will drive Bowman’s car Sunday.

Kurt Busch, who drives for Hamlin’s 23XI Racing, continues to be out because of a head injury he suffered after he crashed July 23 at Pocono Raceway. Busch said this week that he is “hopeful” of racing this season.

Hamlin unleashed a torrent of criticisms Saturday about the car and series officials for an issue he said drivers brought up more than a year ago.

Asked how the sport got to this point with the car, Hamlin said: “Bad leadership.”

Asked how to avoid the same thing from happening, Hamlin said: “New leadership.”

As for the changes that need to be made in NASCAR leadership, Hamlin said: “I don’t know. You can start at the top and work your way down.”

NASCAR has a crash test scheduled next week on the rear clip and rear bumper of the car. That’s an improvement that could be made to the car for next season. A complaint about the car is how stiff the rear is and how rear-end impacts have felt more violent to drivers this season. The crash test is the first since a full car crash test last December. 

For Hamlin, the rear is only a start to what needs to be done to the car.

“The car needs to be redesigned,” Hamlin said. “It needs a full redesign. It can still be called Next Gen, but it needs to be redesigned.

“It needs to be redesigned everywhere. Front, middle, rear, competition, the whole thing needs to be redesigned. We’ve got a tough Martinsville race coming up. It’s going to be tough. This thing is just going to get exposed about how bad it races. That’s just a part of it. Competition and safety, we’d like to have it all better, but certainly we just took a step back in safety and competition this year.”

Hamlin also knows it’s too late for a redesign for next year.

“If I were to run this and say, ‘All right, we’re going to have a new car,’ we’d already be done with testing right now for next year’s car,” Hamlin said. “We haven’t even begun. We’re just way too behind. This whole sport is behind.”

But Hamlin said it was “feasible” for NASCAR to do a redesign of the car.

“It’s just (that) NASCAR has to concede that they’re not capable and let the teams do it,” he said.

That’s not likely. NASCAR has a contract with the suppliers of each part and those deals, while they can be broken under certain circumstances, are multi-year deals. 

Hamlin said drivers brought up concerns about the car last year. There had been concerns about the car and how hard the impact felt after William Byron’s crash in testing at Auto Club Speedway in March 2020.

“We actually, as the drivers, didn’t do that docu-series last year because we didn’t feel comfortable with this Next Gen car and the lack of the safety testing that had been done before they started announcing that they were going to run it,” Hamlin said. “We threw up red flags over a year ago and they just didn’t respond. They just kept pushing this car has got to be on the track at all cost. At all cost.”

In an interview last month, John Probst, NASCAR senior vice president of Racing Innovation, told NBC Sports that he feels one misunderstanding with the car is the collaboration between NASCAR, teams and manufacturers.

“I think that sometimes when you read the driver quotes and the team feedback, crew chiefs are posting things on Twitter, it creates the sense of NASCAR vs. them vs. the world,” Probst said. 

“Really, it isn’t like that. I wish people could see how well we actually do work with the engineers on these teams, sorting through the problems.

“I feel like we work hand-in-hand with them, but a lot of times when it gets to the public eye, for whatever reason, or if it’s in the heat of the moment, it comes across as though ‘NASCAR is making us do this,’ or ‘This is the dumbest thing ever,’ but I think, in reality, that is so far from the truth.”

Jordan Anderson in fiery crash in Talladega Truck race

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NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Jordan Anderson was airlifted to an area hospital after being involved in a fiery crash during Saturday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway.

Anderson’s car caught fire in the middle of a pack of drafting trucks. Flames burst from three areas around the truck as Anderson tried to slow the vehicle and move onto the track apron. The truck hit the inside wall. Anderson climbed from the vehicle in a cloud of smoke as it came to a stop.

Anderson, 31 and a resident of Forest Acres, S.C., was transported to the infield medical center before being airlifted. NASCAR confirmed Anderson’s trip to the hospital.

Fox Sports reported that a team member said Anderson had burns.

Anderson is a part-time driver in the Truck Series. He has a top finish of 14th this season.

Starting lineup for Talladega Cup race: Christopher Bell wins pole

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Six playoff drivers will start in the top 10 for Sunday’s 500-mile NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway.

Christopher Bell won the pole for the race Saturday with a speed of 180.591 miles per hour. He was followed by Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin, Aric Almirola and Chase Briscoe.

MORE: Talladega Cup starting lineup

MORE: Talladega Cup qualifying results

Playoff drivers starting in the top 10 are Bell, Larson, Hamlin, Briscoe, Ross Chastain (sixth) and William Byron (ninth).

Noah Gragson, who qualified seventh, is replacing Alex Bowman, who is sitting out the race with concussion-like symptoms.

Ryan Blaney, starting 19th, is the lowest playoff driver on the starting grid.