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Final two episodes of ‘Bubba Wallace: Behind The Wall’ Facebook Watch series released

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The seventh and eighth (and final) episodes of the Facebook series “Bubba Wallace: Behind the Wall” were released today and it capsulizes Wallace’s run-up to the Daytona 500, including the Can-Am Duels at Daytona International Speedway in Episode 7 and his first Daytona 500 appearance and ultimate runner-up finish in Episode 8.

Among the highlights of Episode 7, called “Embrace It”:

* On “black driver” continuing to be an identifier among the media to describe him: “A lot of media outlets, their headline is ‘black driver’ or ‘African-American driver.’ And fans are getting tired of that.

“So I was letting them know that, look, I’ve accepted it – and I know almost every story you call up is going to start with that – embrace it and carry on back with your day.

“I’m going to be labeled. It’s going to happened, so it’s all part of it, so just enjoy it, sit back, embrace it, so when you look back at it 10 years from now, you want to make that image look good.”

* He wrote “Daytona 500” on his shoes to remind himself that he was there. It was kind of his way of pinching himself that all this was really happening to him.

Then he said about being in the 500, “I’m just glad to be here. I’ve worked real hard to be at this level and it all just starts right now, you know?”

* Showed him visiting sick kids in a hospital on Valentine’s Day. Said Bubba: “I do think I made some new fans, I definitely think they’re going to be cheering on purple (for sponsor Click n’ Close). Everybody loves purple.

“I love visiting the kids. It’s something special that if anybody has the time to set aside to do this, to give back, it’s so special for the kids to be able to just enjoy it all. They have idols and people that they look up to and want to be like some day, so for me, I’d like to be that person.”

* He has a humorous exchange with best friend and fellow driver, Ryan Blaney, after last Thursday’s Can-Am Duels. Blaney shakes Wallace’s hand, prompting Bubba to quip, “Thanks, dog, wash your hands after.” To which Blaney responds, “What, did you just poop?” Wallace replies, “No, I’m sick.”

* One of the more poignant conversations captured on film include this exchange between Wallace and crew chief Drew Blickensderfer before the Can-Am Duels:

Bubba says: “About time (he can’t wait to get racing).”

Replies Drew: “It is, it is. This is the easy part, just do our deal. This will be the start. Whatever happens tonight is not going to define us. But it will be the start of a big ball of momentum to get rolling here.”

* Blaney won the Duel, Joey Logano snuck by Bubba to finish second, with Wallace a close third.

When Wallace climbed out of the car, team owner and NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty gave him a big hug, saying, “You done damn good.”

When Wallace got into the Daytona media center, he said of Petty: “I just had a bodyguard walk me from the car to (the media center), and his name was Richard Petty.

“I have never seen him that excited before. That was the coolest thing, him coming up, huge hug, his sunglasses were off, and that was so the highlight of the night. It was one of these full-wrap (hugs) and then walked with (his arm around Wallace) all the way (to the media center).

“… I feel like we had just won the race, as proud as he was.”

Click here for the full Episode 7.

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And then there’s the final episode of the series, titled “My First Daytona 500.”

Among its highlights:

* Bubba on the eve of the Daytona 500: “The 60th running of the Daytona 500 is tomorrow, my first Daytona 500. Got through this whole week, going to bed knowing I’m waking up for the biggest race of my career.”

* Crew chief Drew Blickensderfer giving Wallace pre-race advice and the team’s commitment to him on the parade laps: “We will claw and scratch and fight our ass off for you all day long. We know you’ll do the same for us. And at the end of the day, we’ll take what we get.”

* His mother, Desiree, admits she’s a “nervous wreck” before the race.

* As he goes around the racetrack during pre-race introductions, a group of fans are screaming, “Bub-ba, Bub-ba, Bub-ba!” To which Wallace replies, “Did y’all hear any boos? I didn’t hear any boos. Damn right, I didn’t hear any boos. (That’s) before the race starts though. We’ll see how many we get after the race.”

* Just before Wallace took a phone call from Baseball Hall of Famer and fellow Mobile, Alabama native Hank Aaron, wishing him a good race, former NFL player Charles Woodson stopped by to say hello and poignantly added, “Keep breaking down barriers. Good luck.”

* Wallace’s final comments before the race: “This is the Daytona 500. All of a sudden, the mood just gets amped up. It’s a physical race, it’s an emotional race, I finally get to experience it all. Pretty special.”

* There’s an emotional scene almost halfway through the episode when his girlfriend and mother are concerned about Bubba in one of the late big wrecks. Blickensderfer asks him if he’s okay, and Wallace replies with a quip, “Yeah, but by drawers aren’t.”

* Wallace wasn’t sure where he finished, so he asked Blickensderfer. “P2, P2.” To which Wallace and his girlfriend seemed to reply at the same time, “Holy (expletive).”

* The best part of the episode starts with about six minutes left, the post-race segment. He hugs Richard Petty and refers to him as his “grandpa,” talks to the fans and then starts crying in the media center. “I’m just so excited to be where I’m at today,” Bubba says. “It’s an incredible opportunity for a 24-year-old who just goofs off and happens to drive race cars for a living.”

Then, with tears in his eyes, he says, “I try to play tough guy most of the time, keep my emotions to myself, but man, there was just so much leading up to this moment, there was just a lot riding on us. I think it was all the pressure that was there finally hit me.”

Bubba then has a very touching moment with his mother, both crying their eyes out, where he tells her, “You act like we just won the race!”

During the post-race press conference, Wallace says to himself, “Pull it together, bud, pull it together. You just finished second. It’s awesome.”

Another poignant moment by Wallace afterward late in the episode: “Holy (expletive). We just finished second in the Daytona 500. That just hit me now. That’s so cool, my phone is going to be blowing up – and I didn’t even win the race.”

* One thing Wallace did not address in the final episode was his post-race tete-e-tete with Denny Hamlin.

* Click here to watch Episode 8.

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Driver intro songs for the Bristol night race

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BRISTOL, Tenn. — Here are the songs Cup Series drivers were introduced with before tonight’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

In order from last to first place.

Ross Chastain – “Watermelon Crawl” by Tracy Byrd

Kyle Weatherman – “All About that Bass” by Meghan Trainor

Reed Sorenson – “Georgia on my Mind” by Ray Charles

JJ Yeley – “Raining Blood” by Slayer

Josh Bilicki – “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons

Quin Houff – “Levels” by Avicii

BJ McLeod – “Levels” by Metallica

Landon Cassill – “Hang on Sloopy” by The McCoys

Kyle Busch – “Lights Come On” by Jason Aldean

Jimmie Johnson – “Enter Sandman” by Metallica

Chris Buescher – “Evil Like You” by Red Sun Rising

Michael McDowell – “The Floor is Lava” by Blake Rules and Netherfriends

Matt Tifft – “Cleveland Rocks” by The President of the United State of America

Corey LaJoie – “Brand New Man” by Brooks & Dunn with Luke Combs

Paul Menard – “Baby Shark” by Leo Moracchioli

Ty Dillon – “Gold” by Imagine Dragons

Ryan Preece – “Girls, Girls, Girls” by Mötley Crüe

Bubba Wallace – “Into Despair” by Currents

William Byron – “Fortunate Sun” by Creedence Clearwater Revival

Clint Bowyer – “God’s Country” by Blake Shelton

Austin Dillon – “Cowboy Baby” by Kid Rock

Daniel Suarez – “El Mariachi Loco”

Daniel Hemric – “Lose Yourself” by Eminem

David Ragan – “You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone” by Anna Kendrick

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. – “Ain’t No Grave” by Johnny Cash

Ryan Newman – “These Are My People” by Rodney Atkins

Brad Keselowski – “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple

Ryan Blaney – “Living the Dream” by Sturgill Simpson

Joey Logano – “Circle of Life” by Elton John

Alex Bowman – “Bow Down” by I Prevail

Erik Jones – “The One I Loved Back Then” by George Jones

Kevin Harvick – “The Git Up” by Blanco Brown

Matt DiBenedetto – “Gonna Fly Now” by Bill Conti (song made famous by the movie “Rocky”)

Chase Elliott – “Beer Never Broke My Heart” by Luke Combs

Aric Almirola – “Give Me the Green Light” by Put Bull

Kurt Busch – “Thunderstruck” by AC/DC

Martin Truex Jr. – “Drinkin’ Hours” by Cole Swindell

Kyle Larson – “Money in the Grave” by Drake

Denny Hamlin – “Some of It” by Eric Church

 

Kevin Harvick’s rear tire changer sidelined by cancer treatment

Photo: Dustin Long
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BRISTOL, Tenn. — Daniel Smith, rear tire changer for Kevin Harvick’s team, left a hospital Saturday afternoon after surgery this week as part of his cancer treatment.

Smith, who had the planned surgery Thursday, told NBC Sports through a team spokesperson that he should be back in four to six weeks. The Cup playoffs begin in four weeks at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

It was shortly before the Bristol night race last year that doctors discovered Smith had testicular cancer. He spent the day before that race undergoing scans, blood work and other tests to determine if the cancer had spread. Doctors found that the cancer had infected two lymph nodes in his lower abdomen and also saw a spot on his lung that was concerning.

Daniel Smith, rear tire changer for Kevin Harvick’s team, was released from a hospital Saturday afternoon. (Photo by Dustin Long)

Two days after last year’s Bristol night race, Smith had surgery to remove the tumor in his testicle. After a few weeks to heal, he began chemotherapy treatments. Each round consisted of one week in a hospital and two weeks of recovery. He had four rounds (12 weeks) of treatments. Smith returned to the track to watch Harvick compete in the championship race in Miami last year and then was back to changing tires at Daytona in February.

Thursday’s surgery is expected to be the final one Smith needs. Tonight’s race (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) is the first he’s missed this season. He stated through a team spokesperson that he walked a mile in the hospital Friday and again on Saturday before his release.

Harvick, who won last weekend at Michigan, starts eighth in tonight’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Matt DiBenedetto focused on winning as he looks for 2020 ride

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BRISTOL, Tenn. — Looking for a ride for next season, Matt DiBenedetto enters tonight’s Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway focused on one goal.

“I want to win in Cup,” says the driver whose family moved from California to North Carolina when he was a teen to help his racing career, who ran start-and-parks at one time in the Xfinity Series to keep in the sport and who has 13 races left in what is the best ride of his five-year Cup career.

DiBenedetto found out this week that he would not return to Leavine Family Racing after this season. DiBenedetto said that “I don’t want to say I was blindsided” but said he held out hope that “my performance behind the wheel (would) do the talking and hope that that would prevail over everything.”

Instead, business matters prevailed. With Erik Jones near an extension to remain at Joe Gibbs Racing — keeping all four driver spots there filled — Toyota and JGR needed a place to move Christopher Bell from the Xfinity Series to Cup. Leavine Family Racing’s alliance with JGR makes it the natural spot for Bell. While Bell said this week nothing is set, all signs point to him driving the No. 95 car next year.

Despite his disappointment, DiBenedetto remains grateful to Leavine Family Racing for the chance to run the No. 95 this year.

“I want everyone to know, fans especially and social media and stuff, is to be easy on our team and Toyota and (Joe) Gibbs and everything because they’re all still great people and they gave me this opportunity,” he said. 

Still, about a year after DiBenedetto left his ride with Go Fas Racing and unsure of where he’d land, he’s again looking for a ride for the upcoming season.

“I don’t want to retire yet because I’m only 28 years old,” said DiBenedetto, who starts seventh in tonight’s race (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN). “Just getting started, but I want to win in the Cup Series. That’s what I’ve said and that’s my goal. I’m here to keep on climbing the ladder, not go backwards.”

As for what he might do next year, he’s not sure.

“I have no irons in the fire per se, yet, but this all just happened just this week,” he said.

One question is if it might be possible for him to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing’s Xfinity program — DiBenedetto made his Xfinity debut with JGR in 2009 as a development driver and he will drive the team’s No. 18 Xfinity car in the upcoming race at Road America.

“I don’t think there is that opportunity or as of now, there’s not,” he said. “Not that I’m aware of. I’ve talked to the Toyota folks and stuff and I don’t foresee any opportunities within the camp, I don’t think. Just going to have to really pursue everything, but the main goal is to keep proving myself behind the wheel, which I’ve shown I’m here to win and run up front.”

Maybe something good will happen to him tonight. Bristol is where he scored his first Cup top 10 in 2016, placing sixth for an underfunded BK Racing team. He and his family celebrated that finish on pit road after the race.

Alex Bowman, who also drove for underfunded teams before working his way up to a ride at Hendrick Motorsports, is rooting for DiBenedetto to remain in Cup next season.

“I think he does a really good job in the race car,” Bowman said. “Obviously, he has shown that he continues to deserve (a Cup ride). He’ll land on his feet. Everything happens for a reason. I was pretty bummed when I lost my gig. It all ended up working out for the better.”

Tonight’s Cup race at Bristol: Start time, lineup and more

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With the playoffs looming in a few weeks, the Cup Series returns its short-track roots tonight for a rumble under the lights at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The duo of Kurt and Kyle Busch have won the last four races in “Thunder Valley.” Who can claim the Bristol throne from the brothers?

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

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given at 7:41 p.m. by Johnny Morris, founder and CEO of Bass Pro Shops; Richard Childress; Bill Dance, legendary fisherman; Becky Humphries, National Wild Turkey Foundation CEO; Nick Wiley, Director of Conservation Ducks Unlimited; R. Joseph Hamilton, QDMA Founder and Senior Advisor; John Eastman, QDMA Senior Director of Operations. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 7:46 p.m.

PRERACE: Garage opens at 1:30 p.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at 5:30 p.m. Driver introductions are at 7 p.m. The invocation will be given at 7:30 p.m. by Ronda Paulson, Founder and Executive Director of Isaiah 177 House. MRO Kids will perform the National Anthem at 7:31 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 500 laps (266.5 miles) around the .533-mile short track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 125. Stage 2 ends on Lap 250.

TV/RADIO: NBCSN will televise the race. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with NASCAR America. Countdown to Green begins at 7 p.m. The Performance Racing Network’s radio broadcast begins at 6:30 p.m and also can be heard on goprn.com. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry PRN’s broadcast.

FORECAST: Wunderground.com forecasts clear skies, a temperature of 86 degrees with no chance of precipitation at the race start time.

LAST TIME: Kurt Busch won this race last year over Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott. Kyle Busch won in the spring over Kurt Busch.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup