Long: Special delivery that keeps giving

1 Comment

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

Interstate Batteries extends sponsorship with Joe Gibbs Racing


Interstate Batteries, which has been a Joe Gibbs Racing sponsor since the team’s first race, has expanded its involvement with the team for 2023.

Interstate, based in Dallas, will be a primary JGR sponsor for 13 races, up from six races, the number it typically sponsored each year since 2008.

Christopher Bell and Ty Gibbs will run the majority of Interstate’s sponsorship races, but Denny Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. also will carry the sponsor colors.

MORE: NASCAR outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move

“We’re extremely proud of our partnership with our founding sponsor, Interstate Batteries,” said team owner Joe Gibbs in a statement released by the team. “They have been such an important part of our team for over three decades now, and it’s exciting to have them on board all four of our cars this season. The best part of our partnership is the relationships we’ve built with everyone there over the years.”

Bell will carry Interstate sponsorship in Sunday’s Clash at the Coliseum, the All-Star Race May 21, the Coca-Cola 600 May 28, at Texas Motor Speedway Sept. 24 and at Martinsville Oct. 29.

Gibbs, in his first full season in Cup racing, will be sponsored by Interstate at Daytona Feb. 19, Bristol April 9, Nashville June 25, Chicago July 2, Texas Sept. 24 and Charlotte Oct. 8.

Hamlin will ride with Interstate sponsorship March 26 at Circuit of the Americas, and Truex will be sponsored by Interstate July 23 at Pocono.

Interstate was a key JGR sponsor in the team’s first season in 1992.

NASCAR announces rule changes for 2023 season


CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR announced a series of rule changes for the 2023 season that includes outlawing the move Ross Chastain made at Martinsville and eliminating stage breaks at all six Cup road course events.

NASCAR announced the changes in a session with reporters Tuesday at the NASCAR R&D Center.

Among new things for this season:

  • Updated penalty for a wheel coming off a car.
  • Change to the amount of time teams have to repair cars on pit road via the Damaged Vehicle Policy.
  • Change to playoff eligibility for drivers.
  • Cars could run in wet weather conditions on short ovals.
  • Expansion of the restart zone on a trial basis.
  • Choose rule will be in place for more races.

MORE: Ranking top 10 moments at the Clash

NASCAR updated its policy on a loose wheel. Previously, if a wheel came off a car during an event, it would be a four-race suspension for the crew chief and two pit crew members. That has changed this year.

If a wheel comes off a car while the vehicle is still on pit road, the vehicle restarts at the tail end of the field. If a wheel comes off a vehicle while it is on pit road under green-flag conditions, it is a pass-thru penalty.

The rule changes once a vehicle has left pit road and loses a wheel.

Any vehicle that loses a wheel on the track will be penalized two laps and have two pit crew members suspended for two races. The suspensions will go to those most responsible for the wheel coming off. This change takes away a suspension to the crew chief. The policy is the same for Cup, Xfinity and Trucks.

With some pit crew members working multiple series, the suspension is only for that series. So, if a pit crew member is suspended two races in the Xfinity Series for a wheel coming off, they can still work the Cup race the following day.

The Damaged Vehicle Policy clock will be 7 minutes this season. It had been six minutes last year and was increased to 10 minutes during the playoffs. After talking with teams, NASCAR has settled on seven minutes for teams to make repairs on pit road or be eliminated. Teams can replace toe links on pit road but not control arms. Teams also are not permitted to have specialized repair tools in the pits.

NASCAR will have a wet weather package for select oval tracks: the Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Lucas Oil Raceway Park, Martinsville, Milwaukee, New Hampshire, North Wilkesboro, Phoenix and Richmond.

Elton Sawyer, senior vice president of competition for NASCAR, said that teams have been told to show up at these events prepared for wet weather conditions as they would at a road course. That includes having a windshield wiper. Wet weather tires will be available. 

“Our goal here is to get back to racing as soon as possible,” Swayer said. “… If there’s an opportunity for us to get some cars or trucks on the racetrack and speed up that (track-drying) process and we can get back to racing, that’s what our goal is. We don’t want to be racing in full-blown rain (at those tracks) and we’ve got spray like we would on a road course.”

NASCAR stated that it is removing the requirement that a winning driver be in the top 30 in points in Cup or top 20 in Xfinity or Trucks to become eligible for the playoffs. As long as a driver is competing full-time — or has a waiver for the races they missed, a win will make them playoff eligible.

With the consultation of drivers, NASCAR is expanding the restart zone to give the leader more room to take off. NASCAR said it will evaluate if to keep this in place after the Atlanta race in March.

NASCAR stated the choose rule will be in effect for superspeedways and dirt races.

NASCAR eliminates stage breaks for Cup road course events

1 Comment

CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR will do away with stage breaks in all six Cup road course races and select Xfinity and Truck races this season, but teams will continue to score stage points. 

NASCAR announced the change Tuesday in a session with reporters at the NASCAR R&D Center. 

MORE: NASCAR outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move

NASCAR stated there will be no stage breaks in the Cup road course events at Circuit of the Americas (March 26), Sonoma (June 11), Chicago street course (July 2), Indianapolis road course (Aug. 13), Watkins Glen (Aug. 20) and Charlotte Roval (Oct. 8).

There will be no stage breaks for Xfinity races at Circuit of the Americas (March 25), Sonoma (June 10), Chicago street course (July 1), Indianapolis road course (Aug. 12), Watkins Glen (Aug. 19) and Charlotte Roval (Oct. 7).

There will be no stage breaks for the Craftsman Truck Series race at Circuit of the Americas (March 25).

In those races, stage points will be awarded on a designated lap, but there will be no green-and-checkered flag and the racing will continue.

The only road course events that will have stage breaks will be Xfinity standalone races at Portland (June 3) and Road America (July 29) and the Truck standalone race at Mid-Ohio (July 8). Those events will keep stage breaks because they have non-live pit stops — where the field comes down pit road together and positions cannot be gained or lost provided the stop is completed in the prescribed time by NASCAR.

NASCAR has faced questions from fans and competitors about stage breaks during road course races because those breaks alter strategy in a more defined manner than on most ovals.

Elton Sawyer, senior vice president of competition for NASCAR, said the move away from stage breaks at road courses was made in collaboration with teams and response from fans.

“When we introduced stage racing … we took an element of strategy away from the event,” Sawyer. “Felt this (change) would bring some new storylines (in an event).”

NASCAR instituted stage breaks and stage points for the 2017 season and has kept the system in place since. NASCAR awards a playoff point to the stage winner along with 10 points. The top 10 at the end of a stage score points.

It wasn’t uncommon for many teams to elect to pit before the first stage in a road course race and eschew points to put themselves in better track position for the final two stages. By pitting early, they would be behind those who stayed out to collect the stage points. At the stage break, those who had yet to pit would do so, allowing those who stopped before the break to leapfrog back to the front.

NASCAR outlaws Ross Chastain Martinsville move

1 Comment

CONCORD, N.C. —  NASCAR announced Tuesday that it will not permit drivers to run against the wall to gain speed as Ross Chastain did in last year’s Martinsville Cup playoff race.

NASCAR made the announcement in a session with reporters Tuesday at the NASCAR R&D Center.

MORE: NASCAR eliminates stage breaks for Cup road course events 

MORE: NASCAR announces rule changes for 2023

Chastain drove into the Turn 3 wall and rode it around the track at higher speed than the rest of the field, passing five cars in the final two turns to gain enough spots to make the championship race. NASCAR allowed the move to stand even though some competitors had asked for a rule change leading into the season finale at Phoenix last year.

NASCAR is not adding a rule but stressed that Rule covers such situations.

That rule states: “Safety is a top priority for NASCAR and NEM. Therefore, any violations deemed to compromise the safety of an Event or otherwise pose a dangerous risk to the safety of Competitors, Officials, spectators, or others are treated with the highest degree of seriousness. Safety violations will be handled on a case-by-case basis.”

NASCAR stated that the penalty for such a maneuver would be a lap or time penalty.

Chastain said he’s fine with being known for that move, which will never be repeated in NASCAR history.

“I’m proud that I’ve been able to make a wave that will continue beyond just 2022 or just beyond me,” Chastain told NBC Sports earlier this month about the move’s legacy. “There will be probably a day that people will learn about me because of that, and I’m good with that. I’m proud of it.

“I don’t think it will ever happen again. I don’t think it will ever pay the reward that it paid off for us that it did that day. I hope I’m around in 35 years to answer someone’s question about it. And I probably still won’t have a good answer on why it worked.”

The video of Chastain’s wall-hugging maneuver had 12.5 million views on the NBC Sports TikTok account within a week of it happening. Excluding the Olympics, the only other video that had had more views on the NBC Sports TikTok account to that point in 2022 was Rich Strike’s historic Kentucky Derby win. 

Formula 1 drivers Fernando Alonso, Pierre Gasly and Daniel Ricciardo all praised Chastain’s move at the time, joining a chorus of competitors throughout social media.