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NASCAR kids say the darndest things

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LAS VEGAS — Frustration lingered as Denny Hamlin stepped into his motorhome after Monday’s Cup race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

His chance to snap a yearlong winless streak, build momentum for the playoffs and be three-quarters of the way to winning each of NASCAR’s four major races vanished when Brad Keselowski passed him for the lead coming to the white flag.

As Hamlin removed his driving shoes, Taylor, his 5-year-old daughter, broke the silence.

“Daddy, you did really good,” she told him. “I know you didn’t win, but you were up front a lot. That’s really good.”

Children do say the darndest things — and often at the right times.

Hamlin’s mood lightened. His frustration seeped away.

“I was like, ‘Wow, she’s starting to get it,’ “ Hamlin told NBC Sports. “She’s starting to be old enough to understand and get it, so I want to perform well for her more than anyone.”

While providing motivation, children also can be a stress-relief valve for drivers especially in the playoffs — a 10-week grind that will take competitors across the country and to the brink emotionally. One mistake can put a driver in jeopardy of being eliminated. That can weigh heavily during and between races and be mentally draining.

Kevin Harvick with son Keelan after winning at Michigan in August. (Photo by Getty Images)

“You can really, really stress yourself out because I’ve done that before, and it makes for a long 10 weeks,” said Kevin Harvick, father of 6-year-old son Keelan and 9-month-old daughter Piper.

“You have to be engaged and into it and a part of it, but you also have to have some separation, and I think kids and family in general help separate you from (the stresses).”

For Harvick, it can mean taking his son to school, a sports practice or something else that can keep him away from racing during the week.

Coincidence or not, four of the last five Cup champions had at least one child when they hoisted the championship trophy in Miami. Nine of the 16 playoff drivers are fathers: Hamlin, Harvick, Keselowski, Joey Logano, Aric Almirola, Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer, Kyle Larson and Jimmie Johnson.

With the influx of young drivers, this year could present an interesting case study on the value of having children in a championship chase.

Clint Bowyer, father of son Cash, who turns 4 in October, and 21-month-old daughter Presley, says that “kids have certainly given me new energy and new focus on racing. It’s made me want to be in it longer. A lot of people it changes that and makes them want to start to think about retirement. Racing has been a family sport for me since I was a little kid, and I want Cash to see me for who I was and my opportunity in this sport. I want him to see me as a winner.”

Cash and his daddy provided one of the more memorable moments of the season when Bowyer won at Martinsville — Cash and Clint running toward each other on the frontstretch after the race before embracing.

Some of the most special moments, though, take place away from the track for drivers and their children.

Jimmie Johnson holds daughter Lydia’s hand as they walk ahead of his wife Chandra and daughter Genevieve earlier this year. (Photo: Getty Images)

In what has been one of his most challenging seasons, Jimmie Johnson finds motivation from 5-year-old daughter Lydia.

Shortly before he left for Las Vegas this week, his youngest daughter gave him explicit instructions.

“She’s just on me: ‘Daddy win a race. Daddy win a race. Daddy win a race,’ ‘’ Johnson said.

Lydia had some other advice for Johnson, who is on a career-long 49-race winless streak, as he left home.

“Daddy, push the gas pedal as hard as you can! The hardest you ever have and you win that race!”

She continued her personal pep rally for her father.

“Daddy, you win that race, you do it!”

She has been outspoken the past few weeks, and it’s helped Johnson just before the race begins.

“As I climb into the car, I always think about my family and say a little prayer before I head off,” he said. “The last handful of weeks, I just laugh because I can see her face and her intensity, ‘Daddy, you win that race.’ “

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Tyler Ankrum joins DGR-Crosley to contend for Rookie Truck honors

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Tyler Ankrum will move to the Gander Outdoors Truck Series in 2019 to compete for Rookie of the Year honors with DGR-Crosley, the driver and team announced on Twitter.

In 2018, Ankrum won the K&N East Championship with DGR-Crosley through four wins, nine top fives and 12 top 10s in 14 starts. Ankrum won three consecutive races at Thompson (CT) Speedway, New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Iowa Speedway during the summer. His other victory came in May at South Boston (VA) Speedway.

Ankrum made two starts in the Truck series last year – scoring a top 10 in one of those races. He finished sixth at ISM Raceway.

“Taking the next step of my racing career is mind blowing,” Ankrum said in a tweet. “And I’m lucky enough to do it again with DGR-Crosley and Toyota Racing in 2019.”

Last year’s K&N Championship came in his rookie campaign in that series.

 

Vote for best 2018 Cup paint schemes

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It’s time to take stock of the 2018 Cup season.

That means voting in the best paint schemes of the year tournament.

The NBC Sports tournament has now reached its final four.

Here’s the bracket so far.

Bubba Wallace, RPM reinlist US Air Force as two-race sponsor

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Richard Petty Motorsports will continue to receive support from the United States military. On Friday, they announced the US Air Force will continue as a primary sponsor in 2019 as well as a major associate sponsor throughout the season on Bubba Wallace’s No. 43.

The two races for which the Air Force will be the primary sponsor are Saturday, July 6 at Daytona International Speedway (4th of July weekend) and Sunday, Nov. 10 (Veteran’s Day weekend) at ISM Raceway. Last year during his rookie campaign, Wallace finished in the top 15 in both of those races. He was 14th in the Coke Zero Sugar 400 at Daytona and 10th at ISM.

“The Air Force continues to see benefits from our partnership with Richard Petty Motorsports and driver, Bubba Wallace,” said Major Ross McKnight, Chief, Air Force National Events Branch at Air Force Recruiting Service in a press release. “Wallace Jr. and his personality align well with our target audience’s interests and the Air Force’s commitment to teamwork and technology. The combination of Bubba Wallace and the iconic No. 43 provides a continuing sponsorship opportunity that reflects our Air Force core values of Integrity, Service and Excellence, as well as has a positive impact on generating public awareness about the U.S. Air Force, our people and our mission.

“Like NASCAR, much of our work is based on science, technology, engineering and math principles combined with teamwork and training. This sponsorship is a great way to highlight that connection.”

Last year, Wallace visited four Air Force bases. He participated in drills at each and flew in an F-16 with the 77th Fighter Squadron “Gamblers” at Shaw AFB in South Carolina.

“I was really impressed with all the different aspects of the Air Force, and the different opportunities they offer,” said Wallace Jr. “I was able to visit different bases and see the Airmen in action and actually participate myself. That gets me excited and then I’m able to talk to inspiring students who are looking at a career in the Air Force. I’m pretty humbled to represent the Air Force.”

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John Hunter Nemechek, Chase Briscoe approved to run for Xfinity Rookie of the Year

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NASCAR has approved John Hunter Nemechek and Chase Briscoe to compete for the Xfinity Series Rookie of the Year title in 2019, NBC Sports has confirmed.

Nemechek made 18 Xfinity starts in 2018 with Chip Ganassi Racing while Briscoe made 17 with Stewart-Haas Racing and Roush Fenway Racing.

Nemechek will compete for GMS Racing in the No. 23 Chevrolet. Briscoe will drive the No. 98 Ford for Stewart-Haas Racing.

When Nemechek was announced on Dec. 6 as joining GMS Racing, a team press release said he would compete for Rookie of the Year. But a NASCAR spokesperson said his eligibility had not been decided on at the time.

The Rookie of the Year title was not mentioned in SHR’s Nov. 27 press release about Briscoe going full-time.

The Xfinity rookie field next year will include Nemechek, Briscoe, Noah Gragson in JR Motorsports’ No. 1 Chevrolet and Justin Haley in Kaulig Racing’s No. 11 Chevrolet.

Briscoe said in an Q&A on Reddit he was “honestly surprised” he was approved.

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