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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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John Hunter Nemechek earns first Xfinity Series win

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John Hunter Nemechek bounced back from two pit stop miscues in the last 50 laps to earn his first Xfinity Series win Saturday at Kansas Speedway.

Nemechek, 21, led the final 30 laps. That was after he went from fifth to first on the final restart with 32 laps to go.

The son of former Cup driver Joe Nemechek earned the win in his 15th start.

Nemechek had to pass Daniel Hemric, who finished second after leading 128 laps.

“It means a lot, especially at Kansas,” Nemechek told NBC. “(In) 2004, I forget how old I was. But dad swept the weekend in the Xfinity Series and the Cup Series. It’s pretty special.”

The top five was completed by Elliott Sadler, Shane Lee and Tyler Reddick.

Nemechek pitted with Hemric with 50 laps to go and slid through his pit box. He left pit road three seconds behind Hemric.

When the final caution waved with 36 laps to go, Nemechek had to pit twice to tighten lug nuts.

“When that caution came I knew we had a chance,” Nemechek told NBC. “Luckily Daniel and I raced each other hard and clean all day. We got the track position and this thing was unreal to the end.”

When Nemechek took the checkered flag, he led Hemric by roughly five seconds. Hemric said he had a vibration over the last 15 laps.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Daniel Hemric

STAGE 2 WINNER: John Hunter Nemechek

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Elliott Sadler earned his best finish since the July Daytona race (second) … Shane Lee placed fourth for his career-best finish … Tyler Reddick earned his first top five of the playoffs … Ryan Sieg placed ninth for his second top 10 of the season.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Playoff contenders Cole Custer, Justin Allgaier, Austin Cindric and Christopher Bell were all involved in an eight-car wreck on Lap 1. Only Custer finished the race (26th) … Brandon Jones was eliminated via a one-car incident on the ensuing restart … After being involved in the Lap 1 crash, Spencer Gallagher was eliminated in one-car incident on Lap 26 … After Bell and Jones, Ryan Preece completed the Joe Gibbs Racing trifecta. He was involved in an incident on the last lap of Stage 2 when he was turned from contact with Joey Gase. Preece finished 21st.

NOTABLE: John Hunter Nemechek is the third driver to earn his first Xfinity win of the season (Ross Chastain, Spencer Gallagher).

WHAT’S NEXT: O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway at 3:30 p.m. ET on Nov. 3. on NBCSN.

Video: Xfinity playoff contenders out after Lap 1 crash at Kansas

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Three of the eight playoff contenders were eliminated in a crash on the first lap of Saturday’s Xfinity race at Kansas Speedway, which opens the Round of 8.

Justin Allgaier, Christopher Bell, Austin Cindric and Cole Custer were involved in a nine-car wreck as the field raced through Turn 2. Allgaier, Bell and Cindric were eliminated while Custer’s team was able to make repairs to his No. 00 Ford.

It began when Allgaier got loose and made contact with Bell.

“Just hate it for everybody that we took out on Lap 1. It’s uncalled for, ” Allgaier told NBC. “That one’s on me.”

Bell, who won this race last year, told NBC he “didn’t really see much of anything” as the wreck developed. “Just heartbroken. This is one of my favorite race tracks we go to. Especially after the run I had last year. This was the race I was really looking forward to when we started the year back in February.”

Allgaier earned his second DNF of the playoffs while Bell and Cindric earned their first.

“It was just a racing incident,” Cindric said. “You don’t really expect something that big to happen in front of you on the first lap. … It is unfortunate that it happened that early. Huge points implications on my end and the owners championship end. I have to put my head down the next couple weeks and figure it out.”

Non-playoff drivers Michael Annett, Ryan Truex, Spencer Gallagher and Chase Briscoe were also involved.

The race restarted on Lap 12. The field was immediately slowed by a one-car incident involving Brandon Jones on the backstretch.

Kurt Busch fastest in final Cup practice at Kansas

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Kurt Busch led the way in the final practice session for Sunday’s Cup race at Kansas Speedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver posted a top speed of 186.226 mph.

The top five was completed by Erik Jones (186.104 mph), Aric Almirola (185.842), Kyle Busch (185.471) and Paul Menard (185.446).

MORE: Aric Almirola fastest in Saturday’s early practice

There were no incidents in the session.

Joey Logano, who was 12th fastest, recorded the most laps with 67.

Kyle Busch had the best 10-lap average at 183.094 mph.

Click here for the speed chart.

Daniel Hemric wins Xfinity pole at Kansas Speedway

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Daniel Hemric won the pole for today’s Xfinity Series race at Kansas Speedway (3 p.m. ET on NBC).

Hemric claimed his fourth pole of the year with a top speed of 183.955 mph.

The top five was completed by Christopher Bell (182.784 mph), Justin Allgaier (182.426), Austin Cindric (182.254) and Brandon Jones. (182.254).

The top 10 was rounded out by Tyler Reddick, Ryan Preece, Shane Lee, Matt Tifft and Cole Custer.

In Round 2 John Hunter Nemechek qualified 13th. He was followed by Ryan Truex, Michael Annett, Ryan Reed, Spencer Gallagher and Ty Majeski.

Round 1 had a lengthy red flag with 1:05 left in it for fluid on the track. That allowed Reed, Truex and John Nemechek’s cars to get through inspection and make a lap.

Click here for the starting lineup.