NASCAR on NBC podcast, Episode IX: Jeff Burton, Eddie Gossage

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On the day of Mark Martin’s last NASCAR race – the 2013 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway – Jeff Burton visited his old friend while confronting a grim reality.

It might be Burton’s last race, too.

“I went down to see him, and I started crying,” Burton said on the ninth episode of the NASCAR on NBC podcast, which was released Wednesday morning. “Walking back to my car, I couldn’t help it. I knew how hard he had worked. I knew the things we had done together. I didn’t know what was happening with me. I wanted to experience what he was experiencing.”

The retirement plan didn’t work quite how it had been envisioned by the NASCAR veteran, who had wanted to race for one more full season in 2014 before retiring to join NBC Sports. But he also explains on the podcast why the timing still couldn’t have worked any better for him and his new and former employers.

It’s one of many insightful anecdotes and perspectives offered by Burton, who brings analysis to the daily “NASCAR America” on NBCSN and will return to the booth with Rick Allen and Steve Letarte in July to call the final 20 Sprint Cup races of the season.

Among the topics discussed by the South Boston, Virginia, native who scored 21 victories in NASCAR’s premier series in a career stretching from 1993-2014:

–Putting Kyle Busch’s victory at Martinsville Speedway and the likelihood of the defending series champion winning at every track (“He’s in uncharted territory. There’s nothing to compare it to, and that’s what makes it difficult.”);

–The mental anguish that has been Matt Kenseth’s 2016 season (“They can put their shoes on, but they can’t tie them. They just can’t seem to finish a race off.”);

–The postrace media obligations of a Cup driver;

–What the transition to being in the media has entailed;

–How does a driver know when to retire? (“I didn’t.”);

–Why the 2006 Chase still haunts him;

–What’s new for NBC Sports’ NASCAR coverage in 2016;

–Who the favorites are at Texas Motor Speedway, where NASCAR races this weekend.

Wednesday marks 19 years since Burton won the inaugural Sprint Cup race at Texas, and he’ll be inducted Thursday night into the track’s Hall of Fame as its first two-time winner.

Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage was on hand to present Burton with that first winner’s trophy, and he provides his memories from the past 19 years during the second half of the podcast, including those inauspicious first two seasons.

FORT WORTH, TX - MARCH 19: Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage speaks during the press conference for the unveiling of "Big Hoss" the largest HD video board in the world at Texas Motor Speedway on March 19, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo by Gary Miller/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage speaks during the news conference for the unveiling of “Big Hoss” HD video board on March 19, 2014. (Photo by Gary Miller/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)

“I don’t know who said a good thing about this place” when it opened, cracked Gossage, noting he “spent tens of thousands of dollars in therapy trying to forget it.” Other topics:

–The moment he couldn’t tell if Jeff or Ward Burton won the first race;

–How Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s opinion changed Texas’ surface;

–The impact of the new lower downforce package;

–Gossage’s case for 500-mile races;

–The impact of the absence of Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart on ticket sales, and why Gossage is optimistic about the future stars of NASCAR.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking below or download and subscribe to it on iTunes by clicking here. The free subscription will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone.  It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here.


Long: Even through pain, a smile emerges from Kaulig Racing’s Chris Rice

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Chris Rice punctuates tweets with #Happy and whatever day of the week it is. Co-workers hold him accountable if he doesn’t smile because he’s always encouraging people to smile. His goal is to make everyone feel good.

Even when he hurts.

The last few months have tested Rice, president of Kaulig Racing, in ways he couldn’t have imagined.

Nick Harrison, crew chief for Justin Haley’s team, died July 21. The team’s hauler crashed Wednesday on the way to Kansas Speedway for Saturday’s Xfinity race (3 p.m. ET on NBC). A few hours later, Rice found out his family’s dog, Kiki, was missing.

“The racing is minimal to what I’ve been through this year,” he said.

Still, Rice had reason to smile this week. Both the driver and backup driver in the team’s hauler escaped serious injuries. And Kiki was found a day later about 4 miles away.

Rice says faith has helped him through such challenging times. His voice softens when he talks about how he found out Harrison had suddenly died. Rice got a call from Harrison’s phone at 8:30 a.m. Sunday, a day after the New Hampshire Xfinity race.

‘When I picked up the phone and it was not Nick, it changed my life,” Rice said.

On the phone was one of Harrison’s friends. He told Rice that Harrison had been found dead.

Rice helped Kaulig Racing grieve for Harrison while continuing with the season and the demands a racing schedule presents. His message often was that each day will get better.

Then come days like Wednesday.

The team’s hauler driver had a medical issue and the truck ran through a guardrail, went down an embankment and crashed into a wooded area in Western North Carolina.

Rice went to the crash site. Seeing the overturned hauler and debris strewn, stunned Rice. The windshield was knocked out. Wheels turned backward. The hauler smashed.

“The shock of seeing how bad it was got to me more than anything else,” he said. “The joy is that (the drivers) lived through this.

“We can replace all that other stuff. The one thing we cannot replace is life.”

Later that day, Kiki, a 12-year-old lobsta obsta that Rice and his family rescued 11 years ago, went missing.

“When I was looking for my dog, we walked and we walked and we cried and we cried,” Rice said.

Any pet is special but few are a life saver. That’s Kiki.

Rice’s wife, Tammy, is allergic to shellfish. She had an allergic reaction one night about a year ago while asleep.

“(Kiki) woke my wife up,” Rice said. “Just kept beating on her, woke her up. If not, should have never woken up.”

Tammy posted on Facebook that they had lost the dog this week. The next day, they got a call that Kiki had been found.

Even then, Rice had his doubts. There had been some foxes and coyotes in their neighborhood at times.

When they arrived at the shelter, the dog was Kiki.

It was another reason for Rice to smile.

“I don’t know what day is coming next,” Rice said. “I take what we have today and try to make the best of it. When I wake up tomorrow, I’m glad I woke up and I am going to help the next person.”


Daniel Hemric fastest in final practice; Kevin Harvick second

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Daniel Hemric turned the fastest lap Friday in the final Cup practice at Kansas Speedway, turning a 177.830 mph lap in his No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing.

Kevin Harvick was second followed by Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski (who paced the first practice) and Ryan Blaney.

Hemric has yet to announce a ride for 2020 after RCR announced last month that the rookie would be replaced by Tyler Reddick next season.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Daniel Suarez and Aric Almirola rounded out the top 10.

Here are the rankings speeds of the other playoff drivers: Denny Hamlin 12th; Alex Bowman 15th; Joey Logano 16th; Clint Bowyer 19th; Chase Elliott 20th; and William Byron 22nd.

Click here to see where things stand in the playoffs standings entering Sunday’s second-round cutoff race at Kansas.

Click here for speeds from the final practice at Kansas.

Click here for the speeds during the first Cup practice of the weekend at Kansas.

Ryan Preece praises team for its work after hauler fire

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Ryan Preece praised his team for converting teammate Chris Buescher’s backup car into Preece’s primary car Friday after the hauler carrying Preece’s cars and equipment caught fire this week en route to Kansas Speedway.

“I know some of the guys haven’t had much sleep, very proud of them,” Preece said.

The team’s hauler pulled over near New Columbia, Illinois, on Thursday after a fire in the rear axle area that spread to the hauler. A team spokesperson told NBC Sports that crew chief Eddie Pardue and a couple of team members flew there to take what could be salvaged before driving to Kansas City.

The team spokesperson said that the lockers and uniforms in the hauler were heavily damaged. Both cars had damage with the backup car suffering smoke damage.

NASCAR allowed JTG Daugherty Racing to enter the garage at 8 a.m. ET Friday — five hours before the garage was scheduled to open — and allowed members from both JTG Daugherty teams to work on the car. Preece said he was there with the team when it arrived and worked on the interior as the crew converted the car.

“We’re in it as a team,” Preece said. “I wasn’t going to show up later in the afternoon. I wanted them to know that I was right there with them. I wanted to help in every way I could.”

Preece said his car was loose in the first practice session Friday at Kansas Speedway. He was 32nd on the speed chart in that session, making it on track about 10 minutes after practice began.

Brad Keselowski fastest in first practice at Kansas; Kyle Busch makes big save

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Brad Keselowski turned the fastest lap with a minute remaining in Friday afternoon’s first Cup practice at Kansas Speedway.

The 176.499-mph lap by the No. 2 Ford of Team Penske nipped a 176.389 mph lap by the No. 10 Ford of Aric Almirola.

Daniel Suarez was third, followed by Denny Hamlin and Ryan Blaney. Kurt Busch, Paul Menard, Austin Dillon, Kevin Harvick and Daniel Hemric rounded out the top 10.

Here’s how other playoff drivers fared during the practice:

Kyle Larson 11th; Joey Logano 13th; Clint Bowyer 15th; William Byron 20th; Alex Bowman 21st; Kyle Busch (who had an impressive save; video below) 22nd; Chase Elliott 23rd.

Click here to see where things stand in the playoffs standings entering Sunday’s second-round cutoff race at Kansas.

Click here for the speeds during the first Cup practice of the weekend at Kansas.