Long: Special delivery that keeps giving

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In the rabidness of fandom, sometimes it’s easy to forget the pure joy sports provides. Why enjoy something when it’s easier to argue, belittle or banter about some minutiae?

If you’re lost among the trees, then just look to Thomas Selbe.

Until Tuesday morning you probably never heard of him but that’s OK, it’s not too late to follow his way.

But first you need to know a little bit about Thomas.

He didn’t speak when he was young. Didn’t sit still. At age 4, his parents found out why. Thomas was diagnosed as autistic.

He took speech therapy all through elementary, junior high and high school to the point when if it’s a subject he loves, he’ll talk nearly non-stop now.

He also joined Special Olympics and found an outlet he had never known.

“When I was in school I used to be bullied a lot,’’ Thomas, now 25, told NBC Sports. “I just wanted to be part of something where everybody was included and nobody said, ‘No, you can’t do this. No, you can’t do that. No, you’re not welcome.’ ”

He flourished in Special Olympics and grew to where if one met him, they likely wouldn’t know about his condition.

“He has come further than my husband and I ever dreamed,” Beth Selbe said of her son. “Thomas has just exceeded every single goal.”

Then came that day in 2004. His parents were watching the NASCAR Cup race from Rockingham when Thomas walked into the room. He sat down, saw the cars and didn’t move.

“I used to have trouble sitting still and paying attention but that day, my dad recalled, that was the first time he’d seen me sit for so long,’’ Thomas said.

Beth also vividly remembers that day. They hadn’t found anything that kept him so calm until then, so they embraced NASCAR as a family.

They live in Santee, California — not far from El Cajon, home of Jimmie Johnson. The nearest NASCAR track is Auto Club Speedway, which is about a two-hour drive away. Beth and David took their son to the Cup race there in February 2005.

He loved it.

Friends at church pitched in so Thomas and his family could go to Charlotte and attend the Coca-Cola 600 in 2006. The day before the race, they went to the fan appreciation event at Evernham Motorsports and met the drivers, including Thomas’ favorite, Kasey Kahne. The next day, Kahne won the 600.

“It was the perfect race weekend as far as Tom was concerned,’’ Beth said.

The family didn’t get back to another NASCAR race until 2010 when they returned to Auto Club Speedway. They kept going year after year, providing Thomas with special memories.

“I like seeing how the drivers interact with the fans and give them an experience that they’ll never forget,’’ he said.

Thomas recalls standing at the front of a stage for Joey Logano’s appearance one year. Thomas caught some good-natured ribbing from the emcee for wearing Kahne’s gear but Logano admired the diecast car Thomas held.

It was the car Logano ran in his first ARCA race at Rockingham in 2008, a race Logano won. He signed the car for Thomas. That is one of many diecast cars Thomas has at home, along with a coupe of pieces of sheet metal from Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s cars.

Which brings us to the letter.

Last year marked the first time since 2009 that Thomas would not attend the Cup race at Auto Club Speedway. His Special Olympics floor hockey team qualified for the Winter World Games in Ramsau, Austria. He was excited to go but disappointed he would miss the race.

So he wrote many of the drivers letters explaining why he wouldn’t be able to attend the race and explained to them what Special Olympics had meant to him. He sent the letters to the race shops. Over time, he received some correspondences, including signed hero cards.

Those hero cards at the track had inspired him. In the letter to the drivers, he also included a picture of his floor hockey team. It was his version of a hero card and he signed it for each driver.

“I wanted to sign the photos because I thought it would be cool to do what the drivers do,” Thomas said.

The letter to Clint Bowyer included something else. Thomas put the gold medal his team won that earned them a spot at the 2017 Special Olympics Winter World Games.

Tuesday, Bowyer saw Thomas’ letter. He tweeted a picture of it and the medal and wrote: “Your inspiration was just the motivation I needed. Let’s all kick ass this week.”

Soon after, Thomas saw the tweet.

“To be honest, I nearly dropped my phone when I saw Clint’s tweet” Thomas said. “I was like wow!

“I had no idea I’d made such an impact or be such an inspiration.”

That’s the beauty of sports.

 and on Facebook

Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas: Start time, TV channel

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The second round of the Cup playoffs begins with the Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The 1.5-mile track kicks off the Round of 12. Winning the race and stage points are a premium for playoff drivers before the races at Talladega and the Charlotte Roval.

Kevin Harvick, who won at Bristol, starts from the pole.

Here is all the info for the Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas:

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given by Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis at 7:07 p.m. The green flag waves at 7:17 p.m.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at Noon. Drivers report to their cars at 6:50 p.m. The invocation will be given at 7 p.m. by Motor Racing Outreach Chaplain, Billy Mauldin. The national anthem will be performed by Sierra Black at 7:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 267 laps (400.5 miles) around the 1.5-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 80. Stage 2 ends on Lap 160

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

STREAMING: Watch the race on the NBC Sports App

FORECAST: The wunderground.com forecast calls for sunny skies with a high of 96 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST RACE: Kevin Harvick beat Kyle Busch to win at Bristol and claim his ninth win of the season.

LAST POINTS RACE AT LAS VEGAS: Joey Logano beat Matt DiBenedetto and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in February.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the lineup.

CATCH UP ON NBC SPORTS’ COVERAGE:

Kurt Busch seeks first Las Vegas win but without hometown fans

Michael Jordan excited for NASCAR future with Denny Hamlin

Carolina Blue: Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan bonded by NASCAR

Germain Racing sells charter, will exit sport at end of season

Charlotte Roval to host limited number of fans

Friday 5: Team’s departure adds to ‘extremely stressful’ time

NASCAR fines Hendrick Motorsports $100,000

NTSB releases final report on Dale Jr. plane crash

Bubba Wallace to receive Stan Musial award for extraordinary character

Long: 100 days left in 2020, what else can happen?

Kurt Busch seeks first Las Vegas win, but without hometown fans

Kurt Busch
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A win by Kurt Busch in tonight’s Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN) couldn’t come under more bittersweet circumstances for the Chip Ganassi Racing driver.

Should Busch claim the victory on the 1.5-mile track, he’d go from being the last driver on the playoff grid (3,001 points entering the race) to the first driver to advance to the Round of 8.

While it would be his first victory of the year, it would also be his first NASCAR win at his home track in 23 starts across the Cup and Xfinity Series.

More: Stage points critical at Vegas

“The Vegas track has definitely been one of the tough ones for me over the years with results and finishes not where I would have expected them to be,” Busch said this week. “And the teams that I’ve raced for just have never quite found that right magic set-up or combination. And then for me, it’s a track that I just have that trouble with.

“There are a few tracks like Indianapolis and Martinsville; those are a few places where I struggle. And so with Vegas, I always put that little extra hometown pressure on myself and I would love to win there.”

The 42-year-old Las Vegas-native rolls off ninth on the 1.5-mile track. It’s his fourth while driving for Ganassi.

In his 21 Cup starts in Las Vegas, Busch’s best result is third in 2005 when he competed for Roush Fenway Racing. He has just one other top five. That came in last year’s spring race when he drove a throwback paint scheme to his 1999 NASCAR Southwest Series championship.

That day he led 23 laps. It was only the seventh time he’d led laps there and just the third time he’d totaled more than six laps led.

In February, Busch finished 25th.

If Busch were to finally make it to Vegas’ Victory Lane, the celebration would be somewhat muted.

It was announced last weekend that fans would not be allowed to attend the races at Las Vegas due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I would love to win through the spirit of the camera and everything on NBC Sports; and I know the fans there, local, will be watching and cheering on the Busch brothers,” Busch said. “So, that’s where I would connect. And hopefully do it through the TV side of it. We’ll get fans back one day and we’ll come back and race.”

Busch enters the Round of 12 having earned just one top 10 in the first round, an eighth-place finish at Darlington. He finished 13th at Richmond and 15th at Bristol.

“What I like is we have had better lap times at all three races so far compared to maybe the five or six races leading into the playoffs,” Busch said. “We know that our cushion is gone. We ended Bristol with 33 points to the good. And now we start Vegas minus four (points behind Austin Dillon in the cutoff spot). So that’s just part of the system and now we have to be perfect. We have to get every point possible that we’re able to get on our own at Vegas, Talladega, and the Roval. And, that should help us advance.”

Carolina Blue: Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan bonded by NASCAR

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Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan were teammates from 1982-84 at the University of North Carolina and Eastern Conference rivals throughout the 1980s and ’90s in the NBA.

But their friendship was about more than just hoops. While growing up on opposite ends of the Tar Heel State, Daugherty and Jordan both developed a passion for following NASCAR.

Tobacco Road meant fast cars and hard-driving heroes for these two North Carolina natives.

LIFELONG FAN: Michael Jordan explains why he’s partnering with Denny Hamlin

In a NASCAR on NBC feature, Daugherty recalls how NASCAR impacted his life and Jordan’s and led both into team ownership. Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin announced they will form a team to field cars for Bubba Wallace next season.

Daughterty notes in the feature that Wallace “has led a dynamic transformation as NASCAR banned Confederate flags and recommitted to inclusion amidst times of great unrest. This is a huge moment for NASCAR, a cultural momentum shift. This is people of all colors coming together to create an all-American race team already with championship lineage.

“With proper funding, equipment and crewmembers, this will be the best chance ever for a Black driver to win – and while driving for a Black owner. An opportunity to shock the world like Muhammad Ali once did.”

Watch the feature above on Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan or by clicking this link.

Las Vegas Xfinity results, driver points

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Chase Briscoe‘s victory Saturday night at Las Vegas Motor Speedway sends him into the next round of the Xfinity playoffs.

Noah Gragson led a 2-3-4 finish for JR Motorsports. Gragson was second and followed by Daniel Hemric and Justin Allgaier. Ryan Sieg finished fifth.

Briscoe dominated the race, leading 164 of the 200 laps.

Click here for Xfinity race results

POINTS

Ross Chastain finished 16th, last among the playoff drivers, and fell out of a transfer spot to the second round. He’s two points behind Harrison Burton for the final transfer spot. Michael Annett is 10 points behind Burton. Riley Herbst is 14 points behind Burton. Brandon Brown is 20 points behind Burton.

Click here for driver points report