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Friday 5: Davey Allison makes one Cup driver’s Dream Team

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The NASCAR Hall of Fame celebrates its 10th class tonight (8 p.m. ET on NBCSN) and while the spotlight may be on Jeff Gordon, there’s one inductee who is special to Ryan Blaney.

Asked this week who he would have on a four-driver fantasy team if he could choose competitors from any era, Blaney told NBC Sports that he would have Davey Allison, Dale Earnhardt, David Pearson and Jimmie Johnson.

Allison will join Gordon, Alan Kulwicki, Roger Penske and Jack Roush in the Hall of Fame tonight.

So why did Blaney choose Allison for his dream team?

“I watched all of his races and heard stories about him,” Blaney said. “He obviously came from a great racing family. He was so successful in the short time he was around the sport. He was definitely taken too soon. You never know what his potential could have been.”

Allison won 19 times in 191 starts, including the 1992 Daytona 500. He was the Rookie of the Year in 1987 and finished second to his father, Hall of Famer Bobby Allison, in the 1988 Daytona 500. Davey Allison died July 13, 1993, from injuries suffered in a helicopter crash at Talladega Superspeedway. He was 32.

“I got to know the Allison family a little bit and just hearing some stories about him and how he was always one of the nicest guys in the garage and his skill behind the wheel was pretty amazing and what he fought through,” Blaney said of what stands out to him about Allison. “There was a year when he was almost hurt about every single week and he made a run for the championship. That dedication is pretty amazing. I just would have loved to have seen his potential and seen what would have been. I think he definitely would have been a multiple-time champion.”

2. New year, new address

Ryan Newman has switched teams before but he says his move to Roush Fenway Racing this season is unique.

“Everything is new for me,” Newman told NBC Sports. “Absolutely everything. Every aspect of what I’ll be doing from the manufacturer, the team, the car owner, crew chief, pit crew, there’s not a single person that I’ve really worked with, that I know of, in the shop throughout my racing career, which I think is a good thing.

“It keeps everything fresh. It gives me opportunity to build new chemistry and that chemistry, we all know, is so powerful in our sport.

“I know there’s a lot of work that goes into it because I’ve been in this position before but not to this extent. We’re building a new team. It’s not like I’m going into the organization that I left from where we had an existing team and I was just a plug and play driver. This is plug and play everyone and I think it comes with a lot of responsibility.”

What does he mean by responsibility?

“Just everybody has to do their job,” he said. “It’s like building that chemistry. Everybody on the team has to take responsibility for their 100 percent for everybody to have that collective 100 percent. I think of as a driver I’ve got to do my job, my crew chief has to do his job, pit crew has to do their job, Jack Roush has to do his job. Collectively, we can all do our jobs and still be a seventh-place car that day, so we have to figure out how to be better than everybody else, commit to 100 percent, deliver 100 percent and take responsibility for it.”

3. Adjusting to the new rules

Jimmie Johnson is in Las Vegas to complete the second day of testing with the new rules package today.

Before he left for the test, he talked about how with less horsepower, drivers are in the gas more. He told NBC Sports how he has used the throttle in the past to control the car and this will be an adjustment.

“I think it’s less natural for me,” he said of staying on the throttle more. “ I’ve always been better with more power and trying to control wheel spin. You think about my dirt days and we always had way more power than traction. So that environment is good for me. When you take power away, that’s just not the way I grew up racing. I always had way too much power and not enough traction. This, technically I think works against me.”

We’ll see how the seven-time champion adjusts.

4. A memorable experience (for the wrong reason)

Kevin Harvick has been in the Rolex 24 once, or so the records state, listing him as finishing 69th in 2002.

“My first experience was a bad experience,” he told NBC Sports. “It was kind of a last-minute deal. I qualified the car and got to practice and got all the way up to the race. Whoever was driving first, it wound up blowing up, so I never actually got to participate in the race.

“I would say that that door is not closed (to running in that race again). I wouldn’t say that it’s high on the priority list currently at this particular time just because If I ever go do it again … I want to be in the fastest class because I don’t want to have to look at my mirror all day because it’s definitely not something that I would be looking forward to do.

“(Competing in that race) would definitely be something that would be interesting if the right opportunity came about but not something I’m actively seeking.”

5. One final weekend

This marks the final weekend before Cup cars are on track. Teams take to the track Feb. 9 for practice for the Clash and for Daytona 500 qualifying. The Clash is Feb. 10.

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Kevin Harvick’s rear tire changer sidelined by cancer treatment

Photo: Dustin Long
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BRISTOL, Tenn. — Daniel Smith, rear tire changer for Kevin Harvick’s team, left a hospital Saturday afternoon after surgery this week as part of his cancer treatment.

Smith, who had the planned surgery Thursday, told NBC Sports through a team spokesperson that he should be back in four to six weeks. The Cup playoffs begin in four weeks at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

It was shortly before the Bristol night race last year that doctors discovered Smith had testicular cancer. He spent the day before that race undergoing scans, blood work and other tests to determine if the cancer had spread. Doctors found that the cancer had infected two lymph nodes in his lower abdomen and also saw a spot on his lung that was concerning.

Daniel Smith, rear tire changer for Kevin Harvick’s team, was released from a hospital Saturday afternoon. (Photo by Dustin Long)

Two days after last year’s Bristol night race, Smith had surgery to remove the tumor in his testicle. After a few weeks to heal, he began chemotherapy treatments. Each round consisted of one week in a hospital and two weeks of recovery. He had four rounds (12 weeks) of treatments. Smith returned to the track to watch Harvick compete in the championship race in Miami last year and then was back to changing tires at Daytona in February.

Thursday’s surgery is expected to be the final one Smith needs. Tonight’s race (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) is the first he’s missed this season. He stated through a team spokesperson that he walked a mile in the hospital Friday and again on Saturday before his release.

Harvick, who won last weekend at Michigan, starts eighth in tonight’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Matt DiBenedetto focused on winning as he looks for 2020 ride

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BRISTOL, Tenn. — Looking for a ride for next season, Matt DiBenedetto enters tonight’s Cup race at Bristol Motor Speedway focused on one goal.

“I want to win in Cup,” says the driver whose family moved from California to North Carolina when he was a teen to help his racing career, who ran start-and-parks at one time in the Xfinity Series to keep in the sport and who has 13 races left in what is the best ride of his five-year Cup career.

DiBenedetto found out this week that he would not return to Leavine Family Racing after this season. DiBenedetto said that “I don’t want to say I was blindsided” but said he held out hope that “my performance behind the wheel (would) do the talking and hope that that would prevail over everything.”

Instead, business matters prevailed. With Erik Jones near an extension to remain at Joe Gibbs Racing — keeping all four driver spots there filled — Toyota and JGR needed a place to move Christopher Bell from the Xfinity Series to Cup. Leavine Family Racing’s alliance with JGR makes it the natural spot for Bell. While Bell said this week nothing is set, all signs point to him driving the No. 95 car next year.

Despite his disappointment, DiBenedetto remains grateful to Leavine Family Racing for the chance to run the No. 95 this year.

“I want everyone to know, fans especially and social media and stuff, is to be easy on our team and Toyota and (Joe) Gibbs and everything because they’re all still great people and they gave me this opportunity,” he said. 

Still, about a year after DiBenedetto left his ride with Go Fas Racing and unsure of where he’d land, he’s again looking for a ride for the upcoming season.

“I don’t want to retire yet because I’m only 28 years old,” said DiBenedetto, who starts seventh in tonight’s race (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN). “Just getting started, but I want to win in the Cup Series. That’s what I’ve said and that’s my goal. I’m here to keep on climbing the ladder, not go backwards.”

As for what he might do next year, he’s not sure.

“I have no irons in the fire per se, yet, but this all just happened just this week,” he said.

One question is if it might be possible for him to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing’s Xfinity program — DiBenedetto made his Xfinity debut with JGR in 2009 as a development driver and he will drive the team’s No. 18 Xfinity car in the upcoming race at Road America.

“I don’t think there is that opportunity or as of now, there’s not,” he said. “Not that I’m aware of. I’ve talked to the Toyota folks and stuff and I don’t foresee any opportunities within the camp, I don’t think. Just going to have to really pursue everything, but the main goal is to keep proving myself behind the wheel, which I’ve shown I’m here to win and run up front.”

Maybe something good will happen to him tonight. Bristol is where he scored his first Cup top 10 in 2016, placing sixth for an underfunded BK Racing team. He and his family celebrated that finish on pit road after the race.

Alex Bowman, who also drove for underfunded teams before working his way up to a ride at Hendrick Motorsports, is rooting for DiBenedetto to remain in Cup next season.

“I think he does a really good job in the race car,” Bowman said. “Obviously, he has shown that he continues to deserve (a Cup ride). He’ll land on his feet. Everything happens for a reason. I was pretty bummed when I lost my gig. It all ended up working out for the better.”

Tonight’s Cup race at Bristol: Start time, lineup and more

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With the playoffs looming in a few weeks, the Cup Series returns its short-track roots tonight for a rumble under the lights at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The duo of Kurt and Kyle Busch have won the last four races in “Thunder Valley.” Who can claim the Bristol throne from the brothers?

Here’s all the info you need for tonight’s race.

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given at 7:41 p.m. by Johnny Morris, founder and CEO of Bass Pro Shops; Richard Childress; Bill Dance, legendary fisherman; Becky Humphries, National Wild Turkey Foundation CEO; Nick Wiley, Director of Conservation Ducks Unlimited; R. Joseph Hamilton, QDMA Founder and Senior Advisor; John Eastman, QDMA Senior Director of Operations. The green flag is scheduled to wave at 7:46 p.m.

PRERACE: Garage opens at 1:30 p.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is at 5:30 p.m. Driver introductions are at 7 p.m. The invocation will be given at 7:30 p.m. by Ronda Paulson, Founder and Executive Director of Isaiah 177 House. MRO Kids will perform the National Anthem at 7:31 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 500 laps (266.5 miles) around the .533-mile short track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 125. Stage 2 ends on Lap 250.

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

FORECAST: Wunderground.com forecasts clear skies, a temperature of 86 degrees with no chance of precipitation at the race start time.

LAST TIME: Kurt Busch won this race last year over Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott. Kyle Busch won in the spring over Kurt Busch.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup

Results, points after Xfinity race at Bristol

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Tyler Reddick capitalized on Justin Allgaier‘s misfortunes and led the final 11 laps to win Friday’s Xfinity Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

It is his fourth win of the season.

The top five was completed by Chase Briscoe, John Hunter Nemechek, Jeremy Clements and Austin Cindric.

Click here for the results.

Points

Reddick keeps his lead in the standings with a 55-point advantage over Christopher Bell.

The top five is completed by Cole Custer (-139 points), Allgaier (-159) and Cindric (-193).

Click here for the point standings.