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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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New Hampshire Cup race in rain delay

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The Foxwoods Resort & Casino 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway is in a rain delay.

The race was scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. ET. The start time had been moved up from 2 p.m. ET due to the threat of weather.

Kurt Busch is on the pole and Martin Truex Jr. will start second.

Check back for more.

Staff picks for today’s Cup race at New Hampshire

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Here’s a look at who the NBC Sports staff is picking to win today’s Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Nate Ryan

Denny Hamlin. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver rediscovers his magic here and locks into the playoffs.

Dustin Long

Martin Truex Jr. wins back-to-back races for the first time in his career.

Daniel McFadin

Kevin Harvick earns a career-best sixth win of the season.

Dan Beaver

Martin Truex Jr. is getting into the same groove he had last year. This week he catches Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch. Next week, he starts to pull away,

Today’s Cup race at New Hampshire: Start time, lineup and more

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The Cup Series holds its only race of the year at New Hampshire Motor Speedway today with the Foxwoods Resort & Casino 301.

Kurt Busch starts on the pole and Martin Truex Jr. starts second.

Here’s all the info you need for today’s race.

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given by Jean Swift, treasurer of Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Counsel, at 12:51 p.m. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 1 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 301 laps (318.46 miles) around the 1.058-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 75. Stage 2 ends on Lap 150.

COMPETITION CAUTION: Lap 35

PRERACE SCHEDULE: Garage opens at 7:30 a.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at 11 a.m. Driver introductions are at 12:05 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Vanessa Salvucci will perform the anthem at 12:45 p.m. The Canadian National Anthem will be performed by Kirk Young at 12:42 p.m.

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will broadcast the race beginning at 1 p.m. Coverage begins at noon with Countdown to Green on NBCSN. Performance Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at noon p.m. and also can be heard at goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will have PRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for a high of 70 degrees and a 78 percent chance of rain and storms at the start of the race.

LAST TIME: Denny Hamlin won this race last year over Kyle Larson. Kyle Busch won the playoff race over Larson.

TO THE REAR: Landon Cassill (backup) and Michael McDowell (backup).

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the complete starting lineup.

Long: No idea seems too wild these days in NASCAR

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LOUDON, N.H. — A sea of change is brewing in NASCAR and no idea seems far-fetched anymore.

A Cup race incorporating Charlotte Motor Speedway’s infield road course would have been mocked. Such a race is about two months from happening.

A Cup race on a dirt track? It seems more plausible but still a few years away.

And the idea one driver has of turning a 1.5-mile track into a short track doesn’t seem as farcical as it would have been years earlier.

While the action on the track remains a key focus for NASCAR, the race to retain and reach out to more fans also is key. That’s opened conversation to changes, particularly what venues should hold Cup races.

“To me, if you go to a track that is smaller, it’s better for the fans,” Ryan Newman told NBC Sports. “If you go to a track that is slicker, it’s better for the fans. If you go to a track that is different, it’s better for the fans.

“At this point in our sport, different is good because we’ve done so much of the same in the last 18 years that I’ve been involved as a competitor. I would say as a fan it has become somewhat redundant.”

Camping World Truck teams on the dirt at Eldora Speedway. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

Newman competed in Wednesday’s Camping World Truck Series race at Eldora Speedway and likes the idea of a Cup race on dirt. Cup last ran on dirt Sept. 30, 1970 at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds in Raleigh. Richard Petty won.

Is it time for Cup to return to its roots?

“The Cup Series was not above racing on dirt 40 years ago, 50 years ago,” Newman said. “Dirt is where we get our food from. There’s nothing wrong with racing on it.”

Not everyone agrees.

In the race by public opinion to change the sport, Kyle Larson is pumping the brakes on one idea.

“I wouldn’t like to see Cup on dirt,” Larson said Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, echoing comments he made two years ago. “To me, Cup belongs on pavement and real road course tracks.”

Asked what could be done to make Cup racing on dirt a better idea to him, Larson noted improved tires for that surface and more horsepower. He then stopped himself and said: “I don’t really know how to answer the question without making people mad.”

One thing that is becoming evident is there are few bad ideas.

The notion of racing at different tracks is gaining momentum. The last track added to the Cup schedule was Kentucky Speedway in 2011.

“I think that new venues always add excitement,” Denny Hamlin said Friday. “I mean, that’s what really, in my opinion, boomed the popularity in the 2000s, was going to these new race tracks. You know, Kentucky was awesome for the first time and then it’s just kind of – it fizzled out and it’s still the same old Kentucky that it’s always been.

Kasey Kahne tests on the Roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway. (Photo by Dustin Long)

“If you want to talk about a road course, there’s some amazing tracks just north of the border in Canada that are awesome – Montreal and tracks that are made for road course racing. The (Charlotte) roval is a little bit different of a beast because I don’t know how much architect went into coming up with passing zones and the lay of the land.

“It’s certainly a wildcard race and maybe that’s what the fans want. If it is, then we can – we’ll do that every week, but I definitely like the idea of going to new venues because there’s always a level of excitement.’’

But Hamlin also knows change will be slow.

For those wanting races at different venues, NASCAR signed five-year sanctioning agreements with tracks that go through the 2020 season. The 2019 schedule already has been announced. So unless something dramatic happens, there won’t be anything new until 2021.

If then.

“None of this is ever going to happen,” Hamlin said of the many venue changes fans and those in the sport support. “Not until these tracks and NASCAR get together and are willing to make changes.”

But fans and those in the sport can dream. While thinking about the possibilities, David Ragan has an idea for his home track of Atlanta Motor Speedway. The track’s rough surface, praised by drivers, likely will need to be repaved soon and with it will be the fear that the multi-lane racing will disappear.

Ragan has a solution for Atlanta. Don’t repave. Rebuild.

“Whenever they go to pave Atlanta Motor Speedway, they need to reduce the size of the track to three-quarters of a mile and build it like Iowa,” Ragan told NBC Sports. “I think they would make a big mistake if they would just repave it.”

It’s a wild idea that doesn’t seem likely to happen. Then again, who had ever heard of a roval two years ago?

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