Long: Tears and emotions plentiful at Sprint Cup Awards


LAS VEGAS – Jeff Gordon cried in his final appearance as a NASCAR Sprint Cup driver.

Martin Truex Jr. nearly did as well, but summoned the strength girlfriend Sherry Pollex has faced in battling ovarian cancer to tell the crowd at Wynn Las Vegas: “We’ve learned that life isn’t just about living, it’s about being alive.’’

Sprint Cup champion Kyle Busch first thanked the doctors who reassembled his broken bones earlier this year and saved a special message at the end of his speech for wife Samantha that left her wiping her eyes, and trying to hold back tears.

This was not a typical NASCAR Sprint Cup Awards where the drone of thank yous, while necessary, proves numbing.

Yes, thanks were given, but this night felt so much different and that had nothing to do with Tom Cruise’s surprise cameo to introduce Gordon, his friend.

Gordon was brought to tears by Cruise’s appearance – “That messed me up, that got me good,’’ Gordon said. As they shared an extended embrace on stage, Cruise told Gordon: “I wouldn’t have missed this for the world.’’

Gordon told Cruise: “Man, I wish I was an actor like you because I’m getting ready to struggle with this speech.’’

He did multiple times in his final act as a Sprint Cup driver. Gordon’s quivering voice halted as he talked about the end of “a fulfilling career.’’

He caught himself, sniffled and scrunched his face as he tried to restrain more tears. They returned when he thanked car owner Rick Hendrick and wife Linda. After saying their names, Gordon could only say “thank you so much” before he briefly broke down. Gordon had told Hendrick beforehand he would say little about his boss because he wouldn’t be able to get through the speech with all that he wanted to say. Same for Gordon’s family.

“When I speak, I speak with my heart,’’ Gordon said afterward. “When it’s speaking from my heart in a thankful way and appreciative way and I start to really go there in my mind, the river starts flowing.’’

Gordon held back the river but the tears were plentiful.

Kevin Harvick joked about having to follow Gordon’s speech, but Gordon had to follow Truex.

Truex ended his speech by talking about Pollex, who was diagnosed with Stage III ovarian cancer in August 2014. That came as Truex was struggling in his first year at Furniture Row Racing. AS Pollex’s condition has improved, so did Truex’s fortunes on the track, leading to a spot in the championship round at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The only advice I have for you tonight,’’ Truex told about 1,500 people in the ballroom and an NBCSN audience, “is to enjoy every moment, celebrate life, help others and never give up.’’

Then he looked at Pollex.

“Sherry, thank you for being in my life,’’ Truex said, his voice wavering. “You’re an inspiration, and I love you very much.’’

Gordon saw the emotion and said he thought: “I’m not going to be the only one (emotional).’’

Gordon admits that Truex “held it together far better than I could have ever.’’

Kyle Busch felt the emotions within him as he turned to his wife at the head table and thanked her at the end of his speech, moments after they cried while watching a video of the past season.

Their journey to this moment had been anything but easy. The struggles on the track most knew about. The issues with infertility had not until they revealed it after Samantha became pregnant. Three months before their long-coveted child was to be born, Busch suffered a broken right leg and fractured left foot in a crash in Daytona International Speedway. Suddenly, Samantha had to care for her injured husband.

He returned to racing days before son Brexton was born in May, beginning a remarkable journey that led to a Sprint Cup title.

“I would be remiss if I didn’t thank you for giving me the best gift life can give in our Brexton,’’ Busch said toward the end of his speech, as Samantha cried. “I love you.’’

Through tears, Samantha mouthed to her husband “I love you.’’

Carson Hocevar to run full Truck schedule in 2021

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Niece Motorsports has signed Carson Hocevar to run the full NASCAR Truck schedule in 2021, the team announced Thursday.

Hocevar, who turns 18 in January, has run five races for the team this season. His best finish this year is 12th at Dover. He’s scheduled to run at Martinsville on Oct. 30.

“I’m so excited to get the opportunity to race fulltime next year with the Niece Motorsports group,” said Hocevar in a statement. “We’ve had some really strong runs in the few starts that we’ve had this season and I am grateful for the chance to continue that next year. I’ve learned so much already this year and know that we will keep improving next year too.”

“Carson has really impressed us this season,” said team owner Al Niece in a statement. “He’s proven his talent – getting into the truck with no track time and really holding his own. We’re thrilled to have him with us fulltime next season and look forward to contending for wins together.”

TikTok to sponsor Ryan Vargas in six Xfinity races

JD Motorsports
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TikTok is coming to NASCAR.

The popular video sharing app will break into the sport next month as a sponsor of Ryan Vargas in the Xfinity Series.

TikTok has partnered with JD Motorsports to sponsor the 20-year-old Vargas in the final six races of the season, beginning with the Oct. 3 race at Talladega Superspeedway.

“TikTok has provided me with an incredible outlet to reach new fans and demographics through fun and creative content, and I’ve seen the highest growth in followers on TikTok over my other social channels,” Vargas said in a press release. “The opportunity to run the No. 6 TikTok Chevrolet Camaro in the NASCAR Xfinity Series for the rest of the season is an absolute dream come true. Johnny Davis and the whole JD Motorsports with Gary Keller team took a chance on me last year and I’m excited to bring this amazing TikTok partnership their way. I wouldn’t want to make this partnership a reality anywhere else.”

Vargas has made three Xfinity Series starts this year. His best finish was 13th at Pocono.

The sponsor deal is part of TikTok’s Latinx Heritage Month programming.

A native of La Mirada, California, Vargas joined TikTok last year. He is a former member of NASCAR’s Drive 4 Diversity programming and a winner of the Wendell Scott Trailblazer award, which is given to a minority or female driver who displays exceptional on-track performance, sportsmanship, and community service.

The partnership and paint scheme were inspired by a concept scheme by graphic designer Ryan Pistana, a friend of Vargas’.

“Creators of all sizes and backgrounds show up to TikTok with their genuine, authentic selves,” Nick Tran, TikTok’s Head of Global Marketing, said in a press release. “Partnering with an iconic brand like NASCAR to sponsor Ryan Vargas on his racing journey is a way for us to continue to support, celebrate and elevate the diverse creators that make our TikTok community what it is today. Ryan is an incredible athlete, and we’re looking forward to cheering him on alongside the rest of the TikTok community!”

According to CNBC in August, TikTok has roughly 100 million monthly users, up nearly 800% from January 2018.

TikTok, a Chinese-owned company, has been in national headlines recently after President Donald Trump threatened to ban the app in the United States for national security reasons if it was not sold to an American company. On Sept. 19 he approved a deal for its U.S operations to be operated by Oracle and Walmart.

Las Vegas weekend schedule

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NASCAR’s postseason continues with the Las Vegas weekend schedule, as the Cup Series begins the Round of 12.

In addition to Cup, Las Vegas Motor Speedway will host the Xfinity Series’ playoff opener and the second race of the Truck Series’ opening round.

More: Kevin Harvick on pole for Cup race

Here is the Las Vegas weekend schedule:

(All times Eastern)

Friday, Sept. 25

Noon – 2 p.m. ET – Truck Series haulers enter (screening and equipment unload)

2 p.m. – Truck Series garage opens

2 – 8 p.m. – Truck Series garage access screening in progress

2:30 – 3 p.m. – Truck Series rookie meeting (electronic communication)

5 p.m. – Xfinity rookie meeting (electronic communication)

5:30 p.m.  – Xfinity driver-crew chief meeting (electronic communication)

8:50 p.m. – Truck Series drivers report to vehicles

9 p.m.- Truck Series race; 134 laps/201 miles (FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

11:30 p.m. – Truck Series haulers exit


Saturday, Sept 26.

11 a.m. – 1 p.m. – Xfinity haulers enter (screening and equipment unload)

1 p.m. – Xfinity garage opens

1 – 6:30 p.m. – Xfinity garage access screening in progress

5 p.m. – Cup rookie meeting (electronic communication)

5:30 p.m. – Cup driver-crew chief meeting (electronic communication)

7:20 p.m. – Xfinity drivers report to cars

7:30 p.m. – Xfinity race; 200 laps/300 miles (NBCSN, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

9:30 p.m. – Xfinity haulers exit

10:30 p.m. – 12:30 a.m. – Cup haulers enter


Sunday, Sept. 27

Noon – Cup garage opens

Noon – 6 p.m.  – Cup garage access screening in progress

6:50 p.m. – Cup drivers report to cars

7 p.m. – Cup race; 267 laps/400.5 miles (NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

11:30 p.m. – Cup haulers exit

NTSB releases final report on Dale Jr. plane crash

Photo: Dustin Long
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Pilot error played a key role in the August 2019 crash of a plane carrying Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his family, a final report by the National Transportation Safety Board stated Wednesday.

Earnhardt, wife Amy and daughter Isla were on board the plane, which crashed after a hard landing at Elizabethton (Tennessee) Municipal Airport on Aug. 15, 2019. The report stated all three suffered minor injuries. 

The NTSB listed the probable causes of the accident as: “The pilot’s continuation of an unstabilized approach despite recognizing associated cues and the flight crew’s decision not to initiate a go-around before touchdown, which resulted in a bounced landing, a loss of airplane control, a landing gear collapse, and a runway excursion. Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s failure to deploy the speedbrakes during the initial touchdown, which may have prevented the runway excursion, and the pilot’s attempt to go around after deployment of the thrust reversers.”

A “go-around” occurs when a pilot pulls out of a landing and gains altitude to make another landing attempt.

The report stated that “the flight crew made several comments about the airplane flying too fast and allowed the airspeed to increase well above the reference speed for the approach.”

The report stated that “the pilot did not extend the speedbrakes upon touchdown, which landing checklist required, but instead attempted to deploy the thrust reversers immediately after touchdown, which was a later item on the landing checklist.”

Earnhardt’s Cessna 680A Citation Latitude bounced twice upon landing as it traversed the 5,001-foot runaway.

After the fourth touchdown, the right main landing gear collapsed. The plane went off the road and through a 400-foot long area of grass. It went down an embankment, through a creek and a chain-link fence. It continued up an embankment. The plane came to rest about 600 feet beyond the runway at the edge of a four-lane highway.

The passengers and two pilots escaped as the plane burned.

The full report can be read here.