Bundle of Joy provides families with play date they never could have imagined

Photo: Dustin Long
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HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. — They made noises, happy grunts, screams and squeals as they ran, climbed, swung, jumped and bounced around as toddlers do.

A few others too small to play, including one born July 31, rested in the arms of their parents and were admired by others.

Four years ago none of these adults would have been at this children’s gym and didn’t know if they ever would have a child. Infertility issues left them unable to conceive and the costs for treatments were beyond the means of many.

Tuesday night, they gathered as one big family, recipients of grants from the Bundle of Joy fund. Kyle and Samantha Busch started the Bundle of Joy fund after their struggles to have son Brexton, who was born May 18, 2015. They wanted to help infertile couples by providing financial gifts to pay for fertility treatments.

Since the program started in September 2015, the Bundle of Joy Foundation has distributed nearly $400,000 and had 14 children born with two more on the way this year.

All but one family, which moved to Colorado, that has had a child through Bundle of Joy grants were together for their first play date Tuesday, something Samantha Busch said two years ago she hoped they could have some day.

“I don’t think words can explain this,” Samantha Busch told NBC Sports on Tuesday. “Having them all here together and just seeing them all playing and interacting and the parents sharing their (In Vitro Fertilization) battles and journeys, this is what I always hoped for. This is why God had us go through IVF because look at all these families that are created through it.”

Among the newest couples with a child there was Ashley and Jeremy Rhoney with daughter Karoline, who was born May 9.

They had tried to have a child for five years. Doctors couldn’t explain why they were unable to conceive. Their lab work looked good but they still weren’t able to have a child.

Jeremy, Karoline and Ashley Rhoney. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Making it more difficult was that for the past four years Ashley has been a nursing assistant in the labor and delivery department at the Catawba Valley Medical Center in Hickory, North Carolina. There she had seen the joys of childbirth while unable to experience that herself. She admits it got to a point she considered switching jobs because of the constant reminder of what she couldn’t have.

They tried various treatments, including one that cost more than $5,000 that didn’t work. The next alternative was In Vitro Fertilization, which would cost Ashley and Jeremy more than $20,000, money they didn’t have. Then they heard about the Bundle of Joy fund and completed application just before the deadline.

When Samantha told Ashley and Jeremy that they would receive a $15,000 grant for additional treatments, Ashley could not speak. She cried when she got to the car.

Last September, she and Jeremy waited at home for lab results to determine if the treatment worked and she would be pregnant. Eventually they had to go to work. As they drove, Ashley got a phone call. She immediately declined it so it would go to voice mail when she saw the number. She waved her arm out the window to her husband in the trailing car, pulled over and called him to come to her car and listen to the voice mail. Even now, Ashley admits when she passes that patch of land on her way to work she thinks about the phone call that told her she was pregnant.

Also playing on Tuesday was Willie Lee Carswell III — call him Lee. He arrived April 12, 2017, ending a years-long journey for Will and Susan Carswell to have a child. 

Susan, Lee and Will Carswell. Photo: Dustin Long

Three treatments had failed. The costs were escalating for Will, a state police investigator, and Susan, who owns an embroidery business. They applied for a Bundle of Joy grant and received $12,600. When they found out Susan was pregnant, she noted that they had waited 1,116 days for that moment.

No moment can compare for Susan then when she held their son for the first time.

“My worst fear was … I thought oh my gosh, they hand me this child and I can’t get him to quit crying?” Susan Carswell said. “What am I going to do?

“As soon as they put him down on me and I said, ‘Hey baby, I love you,’ he quit crying immediately. It was like he knew I was his momma. I just could not believe that he could sense that I was his momma already and he knew that he was safe laying on my chest. That was the greatest feeling in the world that I’m his momma and he knows it.”

Will calls fatherhood: “Absolutely the best thing in my life.”

They both laugh as they recall when Lee was born and the first thing Susan said after seeing her son.

“We have to do this again,” she said.

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NASCAR President Steve Phelps meets with Denny Hamlin

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — Denny Hamlin confirmed that he met with NASCAR President Steve Phelps before Sunday’s Cup playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway.

The meeting came a day after Hamlin’s explosive comments to the media, saying the Next Gen car needed to be redesigned and blaming “bad leadership” by NASCAR for the safety concerns with the car.

Asked by NBC Sports about the meeting with Phelps, Hamlin said: “I don’t have any details on it. I’m grateful for Steve Phelps. He is a leader that we need. He is not who I directed any of my comments toward because he’s a huge asset for our sport.

“Me and Steve talk about much bigger and broader things than the safety of the cars. He’s got a lot bigger tasks ahead of him. I don’t task him or bog him down with knick-knack things like car safety.”

Asked if Phelps discussed Hamlin’s comments to the media in their meeting, Hamlin said: “We talked about that because we have that kind of relationship. I trust Steve. Best relationship I’ve had with any president of NASCAR. He’s done a lot for our sport. I made it very clear that I wasn’t directing anything at him.”

Hamlin’s frustration — and that of other drivers — has been the hard hits competitors have suffered in the car. The new car was designed to be stronger and better protect drivers in crashes similar to Ryan Newman’s airborne incident in the 2020 Daytona 500 and Joey Logano’s airborne crash in the April 2021 Talladega race. 

While the car has been improved for those accidents, the more common crashes, particularly those where the car backs into the wall, have been felt more by drivers.

Both Kurt Busch and Alex Bowman are out because of concussion-like symptoms after rear-end crashes. Busch, who has been out since late July, said this past week that he is “hopeful” to return this season. Car owner Rick Hendrick after Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway said that he is hopeful Bowman can be back as early as this coming week for the elimination race at the Charlotte Roval.

The injuries to Busch and Bowman and the hard hits have raised the tension in the Cup garage. 

Hamlin unleashed a torrent of criticism Saturday about the car and series officials.

Asked how the sport got to this point with the car, Hamlin said Saturday: “Bad leadership.”

Asked how to avoid the same thing from happening, Hamlin said: “New leadership.”

As for the changes that need to be made in NASCAR leadership, Hamlin said: “I don’t know. You can start at the top and work your way down.”

In regards to the car, Hamlin said Saturday: “The car needs to be redesigned. It needs a full redesign. It can still be called Next Gen, but it needs to be redesigned. It needs to be redesigned everywhere.”

Hamlin appeared on “Countdown to Green” before Sunday’s race on NBC and spoke with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Burton, who also leads the Drivers Advisory Council, about the car and his comments to the media.

“It’s not about what we can do right now, it’s what we can do about the future,” Hamlin said of the car. “In my mind, if we’re redesigning something for 2024, we need to be designing it now, testing it throughout the 2023 season and then implementing it for 2024. 

“There is no easy answer to this. This has been a buildup. We’ve been talking about this as drivers for over a year now. So that’s where the frustration has boiled from. 

“Certainly saying what can we do to fix it next week, it’s impossible. There’s a box that we’re in that we can’t get out of now. My thing is that while a (rear) clip is a really good thing —and I think it’s a start — we need to be in the redesign process of the entire car and that has to start now if we’re to implement that anytime in the next 12 to 14 months.”

Hamlin also said in that interview that he felt a responsibility to speak on behalf of drivers, particularly the younger drivers, on such issues. He noted that it was a mantle he and Kevin Harvick have taken.

“I do feel like at times that me and Kevin have the brunt of the responsibility to go out there and voice what we hear from our competitors and our peers. But as you are starting to see in the media, guys like Chase Elliott and others are starting to voice their displeasure and what they would like to see different as well.”

Talladega Cup playoff race results, driver points standings entering cutoff

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Talladega points, results: Chase Elliott captured his 18th career victory in the NASCAR Cup Series, passing Ryan Blaney on the final lap Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. It was the fifth time in the past six races at the 2.66-mile oval that a last-lap pass was made by the winner.

Blaney finished second by 0.046 seconds, followed by Michael McDowell, Ross Chastain and Denny Hamlin.

Erik Jones, Todd Gilliland, Daniel Suarez, Austin Cindric and Chase Briscoe rounded out the top 10.

RESULTS: Click here for where everyone finished l Click here for the race report

Elliott led four times for 10 laps during a 500-mile race that featured a season-high 57 lead changes among 17 drivers. It was the Hendrick Motorsports’ driver’s series-leading fifth victory and his first since Pocono nine races ago.

Elliott, who became the 10th winner in the past 10 superspeedway races (Daytona and Talladega), has won twice in 14 Cup starts at Talladega.

With his second top five of 2022, McDowell tied a career-best for most in a season and also extended a career-best with his 12th top 10 this year.

Hamlin is the only championship-eligible driver to finish in the top 10 of all five playoff races.


POINTS

Advancing to the Round of 8 for the sixth time, Elliott became the first championship-eligible driver to win during the playoffs. He also gained six playoff points for a total of 46, the most by 21.

Click here for driver standings l Click here for team owner standings

With Elliott the only driver locked into one of the eight spots in the next round, Blaney is 32 points above the cutline heading into the Oct. 9 race at the Roval, followed by Chastain (plus-28), Hamlin (plus-21), Joey Logano (plus-18), Kyle Larson (plus-18) and Daniel Suarez (plus-12).

Chase Briscoe is above the cutline by virtue of a tiebreaker but has the same points total as Austin Cindric. William Byron is 11 points below the cutline, and Christopher Bell is at a 22-point deficit. Alex Bowman, who missed Talladega with concussion-like symptoms, is 54 points below the cutline.

Chase Elliott wins Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway

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Chase Elliott had the moves, the power and the drafting help when he needed them.

Elliott shot to the lead in a web of traffic in the final five miles and won Sunday’s 500-mile NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway. Elliott, winning for the fifth time this year, thus earned a spot in the playoffs’ Round of 8. It will mark Elliott’s sixth appearance in that playoff round.

Following Elliott at the finish were Ryan Blaney, Michael McDowell, Ross Chastain and Denny Hamlin. Elliott’s win is the first by a playoff driver in this year’s playoffs.

Elliott led the last lap and nine others during the afternoon as 17 drivers owned first place for at least one lap on a typically competitive day at NASCAR’s biggest track. Seven drivers, including Elliott, led laps in double figures.

Blaney led nine of the final 17 laps in search of his first points win of the year but couldn’t hold off Elliott’s charge at the end.

The victory was huge for Elliott, who carries a platter full of playoff points (46) with him and will be in great shape when the next round begins in two weeks at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The Round of 12 will end Oct. 9 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval.

MORE: Talladega Cup results

MORE: Talladega Cup driver points

“It was a wild last couple of laps,” Elliott told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider. “I wasn’t super crazy about being on the bottom. Fortunately, I just go clear enough off of two to move up and had a good enough run to get out front.”

Despite a string of issues last week at Texas Motor Speedway and very public complaining by drivers this week about the Next Gen car, Sunday’s race was relatively calm by Talladega standards. There was an early-race multi-car wreck, but much of the rest of the race rolled along without serious incident.

With the win, Elliott jumped to the point lead. Blaney is second and Chastain third. Below the cutline entering the final race of the second round are Austin Cindric, William Byron, Christopher Bell and Alex Bowman. Bowman missed the race with concussion-like symptoms. He was replaced by Noah Gragson, who finished 19th.

MORE: NASCAR President Steve Phelps meets with Denny Hamlin

Powering through the top five, Elliott moved from the inside line to the outside in front of Erik Jones and benefitted from Jones’ push as he outran Blaney to the finish line.

As has been the case at so many Talladega races over the years, risky though impactful technique in the long drafting lines was a key. Approaching the finish line at the first two stages, Blaney and Elliott made excellent moves in the trioval to win the stages — Blaney the first and Elliott the second.

The last round of pit stops began with 28 laps to go. At the end of the pit cycle, Blaney, Chastain and Jones were at the front.

With 10 laps to go, Blaney led the lead drafting line, with Chastain and Todd Gilliland trailing. Jones led the other line.

The field was slowed by caution with seven laps to go when Daniel Hemric‘s car experienced engine trouble and stalled in the final pit row spot.

Bell took a big position hit on lap 99 when he lost control entering pit road and slid. He lost a lap but rebounded to challenge near the top 10 in the final stage, finishing 17th.

The race hadn’t reached the halfway point of the first stage when a multi-car accident brought out the day’s second caution flag.

The wreck began on lap 25 when rookie Harrison Burton lost control of his car in three-wide traffic entering Turn 1. Burton, looking for drafting help from Ricky Stenhouse Jr. behind him, was bumped by Stenhouse and slid to the left in the middle of a pack of traffic, causing drivers behind and around him to scramble.

Involved in the accident, in addition to Burton and Stenhouse, were Austin Cindric, Gragson, Justin Allgaier, Justin Haley, Ty Gibbs and Joey Logano.

MORE: Safety big topic of drivers meeting at Talladega

The early part of the race included some odd cooperation in Talladega’s famous draft. Racing one-two in tight formation were Hamlin, the leader, and William Byron, both gaining speed from their drafting. Last week at Texas, the two had major issues, resulting in Byron bumping Hamlin into a spin under caution and being nailed by a NASCAR penalty.

Stage 1 winner: Ryan Blaney

Stage 2 winner: Chase Elliott

Who had a good race: Chase Elliott zoomed to the front with bold moves in the final laps and scored his fifth win of the year. … Ryan Blaney does everything but win. Sunday marked his best finish (second) of the year. …Michael McDowell was active in the front-line draft over the final miles and finished a strong third. He has 12 top-10 finishes this year, a personal record. … Todd Gilliland (seventh) scored his second Cup top-10 finish.

Who had a bad race: Joey Logano was involved in an early-race accident and rebounded to race near the front but finished 27th. He fell from the point lead to fifth. … Christopher Bell slid onto pit road attempting a green-flag pit stop. He finished 17th and is 22 points below the playoff cutline. … Kyle Larson was basically a non-factor, finishing 18th.

Next: The Round of 12 will end Oct. 9 on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval (2 p.m. ET, NBC). Four drivers will be eliminated, and eight will advance.

William Byron focused on Talladega, not upcoming appeal

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — William Byron enters today’s Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway not knowing if he truly is above the cutline or below it.

He’s listed as eight points outside the final transfer spot after NASCAR penalized him 25 points for spinning Denny Hamlin under caution last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.

Hendrick Motorsports’ appeal will be heard this week. Should the team win, Byron could get those 25 points back. 

But that doesn’t matter to Byron this weekend. He views himself outside a playoff spot.

“I race eight behind,” said Byron, who starts ninth in today’s race (2 p.m. ET on NBC).  “I don’t think about the hypotheticals.

“Obviously, I feel like we’ve got a good case and a good amount of evidence that we put together, but I race (as the points are). So just move forward with it. Go after the stage points and feel like we’re capable of running really well at superspeedways.”

If he wins today to advance to the next round, the points he was penalized won’t matter, but if he doesn’t win, those could prove valuable. 

The points deducted are an element of the Hendrick appeal. 

“The severity of the penalty, that’s what we were opposed to and that’s what the appeal is about,” Byron said.

His point is that being docked a similar amount of points in a three-race round as during a 26-race regular season is too severe. The suggestion being that point penalties should be modified for the playoffs because drivers have fewer races to make up those points before the playoff field is cut. 

That will be up to the appeal panel to determine. Should Hendrick lose, the team could further appeal that decision. 

Byron is in this situation after being upset with how Hamlin squeezed him into the wall last week at Texas. Martin Truex Jr. crashed to bring out the caution a few laps later. As Hamlin, running second, slowed, Byron ran up to Hamlin’s car and hit it in the back, sending Hamlin spinning through the infield grass. 

Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, said series officials in the control tower didn’t see the contact. Series officials did not penalize Byron during the event but announced a penalty two days later. 

Hamlin had wanted to be placed back in his original spot after the contact but series officials put him back in the field where he blended in. Asked if he was satisfied with the penalty to Bryon, Hamlin said: “It didn’t help my finish. … It didn’t change the fact that I could have won the race instead of finishing 10th.”

Byron said he and Hamlin spoke this week.

“It was a good conversation, learned a lot from him,” Byron said of Hamlin. “Got a better understanding of what he was thinking.”

Byron’s incident shares similarities to what happened to him at Darlington in May. Joey Logano was upset with Byron for crowding him into the wall with 26 laps left. Logano caught Byron and hit the back of Byron’s car, knocking it out of the way with two laps left. Logano won. Byron finished 13th. NASCAR did not penalize Logano.

That incident was under green and in the final laps — when NASCAR is more likely to allow drivers to settle the race between themselves within reason. Byron’s contact of Hamlin last week was under caution and NASCAR typically frowns upon such action.

Earlier this season in the Xfinity Series, NASCAR did not penalize Noah Gragson for wrecking Sage Karam and triggering a 13-car crash at Road America. Four days later, NASCAR penalized Gragson 30 points and $35,000.