Photo: Dustin Long

Kevin Harvick’s rear tire changer returns to pit road after cancer treatments

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. —  Daniel Smith stepped up to the pit wall to no fanfare. Those around Kevin Harvick’s stall focused on the cars heading toward pit road during Sunday’s Clash at Daytona instead of on the 34-year-old father of three young children.

The fans missed Smith crouch as Harvick’s car approached, then spring off the wall once the car stopped. Smith changed the right rear wheel, sprinted around the car’s rear to the left side and changed that wheel.

He was done in seconds.

Only a couple of hours earlier, the thought of doing something so common in a NASCAR race nearly brought Smith to tears.

Diagnosis

The call came the week of the Bristol night race last August, just two months after the birth of Smith’s third child.

Smith had cancer.

“Me and my wife sat on the living room floor and cried our eyes out,” he said.

Smith’s doctor couldn’t say to what extent Smith had cancer and if it had spread. More tests were needed. Smith’s mind raced.

“I just wanted to be alive to raise my kids,” said Smith, whose oldest child is 4 years old.

Rear tire changer Daniel Smith sprints during a pit stop in Sunday’s Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona International Speedway. Photo by Dustin Long

Smith spent the day before the Bristol race undergoing scans, blood work and other tests to determine if his testicular cancer had spread.

It had.

The cancer had infected two lymph nodes in his lower abdomen and doctors also saw a spot on Smith’s lung that was concerning. The cancer was not found anywhere else.

About 24 hours later, Smith stood on the pit wall at Bristol Motor Speedway to pit Harvick’s car that night. Smith knew it could be the last time he would pit the car in a while, maybe ever.

The previous weekend Smith had been in Victory Lane after Harvick’s win at Michigan. Now Smith prepared for an uncertain future.

Recovery

Two days after the Bristol race, Smith was in surgery so doctors could remove the tumor from one of his testicles. After a few weeks to heal, chemotherapy treatments began.

Each round of treatment consisted of one week in a hospital and two weeks of recovery. Doctors ordered four rounds — 12 weeks — of this treatment.

“You can’t leave the unit,” Smith said of when he was in the hospital. “You’re hooked up either to a chemo cord or your IV all day long

Daniel Smith watches the start of Sunday’s Clash. Photo by Dustin Long

“After that first round, you don’t feel so bad. Each round, they knock you down a little bit more. You don’t get time to build all the way back up to where you were so each round got a little bit tougher.”

All the fluids made him gain weight. The chemo sapped his strength and soon his hair was falling out.

Smith soon could no longer do 10 push-up before quitting.

That was tough on the athletic Smith, who joined what was then Haas-CNC Racing in 2004 and worked his way to the pit crew. He remained with the team when it was renamed Stewart-Haas Racing and was a pit crew member on Tony Stewart’s 2011 championship team. Smith and his teammates were moved to Kevin Harvick’s team shortly before the 2014 Chase and helped Harvick win the title that year.

Smith focused on returning to the pit crew for 2019. He worked out as best he could when he was in the hospital and at home.

“It was a lot of days of just not feeling like doing anything, but I knew I needed to and just pushed myself,” he said.

Daytona

As Smith recovered, the NASCAR season continued. Harvick advanced to the Championship 4 at Miami. Smith went to that race in hopes of celebrating another title but Joey Logano won the race and the championship.

Smith’s recovery continued in the offseason as he rebuilt the strength.

After arriving at Daytona on Sunday, all that he had done to get to that day hit him.

“Just the journey,” Smith said, his voice quivering. “I get emotional now thinking about it. Everything that me and my family has gone through to get to this point and all the people that have helped us. I’ll be thinking about all those people that were so gracious to us and helped us out and being with my guys. My guys are like my brothers.

“It’s going to be me holding back tears, but they’re going to be good tears.”

One more challenge

Although Smith has returned to pit Harvick’s car, he will miss some races later this spring. Doctors want to remove the two lymph nodes that the cancer infected. The plan is to have those removed in either March or April. The operation will enhance his chances of a full recovery.

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Bubba Wallace to receive Stan Musial award for extraordinary character

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Following months of speaking out in support of racial justice and inclusion in NASCAR, Bubba Wallace‘s work has been recognized by The Musial Awards.

The Richard Petty Motorsports driver has been selected as the recipient of its Award for Extraordinary Character.

The award honors “an individual who demonstrates remarkable poise, perseverance and overall sportsmanship.”

The Musial Awards – presented by Maryville University in St. Louis – is named after Stan Musial, a former St. Louis Cardinal baseball player. St. Louis is also the home to one of Wallace’s sponsors, World Wide Technology.

More: Michael Jordan excited for NASCAR future with Denny Hamlin

In the wake of the death of George Floyd in May, the 26-year-old Wallace has been active in helping lead NASCAR through social changes, including the banning of the Confederate flag at series events and tracks.

He also drove a Black Lives Matter car at Martinsville Speedway in June.

“Bubba Wallace exemplifies what the Stan Musial Award for Extraordinary Character is all about,” Frank Viverito, president of the St. Louis Sports Commission, which produces the Musial Awards, said in a press release. “He has overcome much to be where he is, and he has courageously stepped forward to take an important stand for change. He is most deserving of an award that stands for sportsmanship and character, and is named for Stan Musial, whose own actions promoted racial acceptance and unity.”

Wallace joins baseball legend Hank Aaron as a 2020 Musial Awards honoree. Aaron is receiving the Stan Musial Lifetime Achievement Award for Sportsmanship.

The Musial Awards will air nationally on CBS on Saturday, Dec. 26.

After three full-time seasons in Cup racing for RPM, it was announced earlier this week that Wallace would compete in 2021 for a Cup team co-owned by Denny Hamlin and basketball legend Michael Jordan.

Michael Jordan excited for NASCAR future with Denny Hamlin

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The most anticipated NASCAR team in years started with a joke.

Denny Hamlin said he was only kidding about owning a Cup team with Michael Jordan after reports linked the two in such an endeavor.

“Looks like we’re owners together, ha, ha,” Hamlin told Jordan. “Congratulations. He said, ‘Fake news, but if you want to make it real news, let me know.’ ”

Suddenly a team that will have Jordan and Hamlin as partners, Bubba Wallace as driver and potentially a far-reaching impact on the sport and Black community was born. Jordan said it all happened within 10 days.

Jordan and Hamlin discussed exclusively with NBC Sports and Fox on Wednesday their vision for their new team. Jordan, a six-time NBA champion, and Hamlin a three-time Daytona 500 winner, both look to win and plan to stay around for a long time.

Details have yet to be announced about a car number, sponsors, and manufacturer, although the team is expected to run Toyotas and align with Joe Gibbs Racing. Jordan, who becomes the first Black majority car owner since Wendell Scott, said Wednesday that when the sport opens up the infield to more than drivers and teams, he’ll be at the track often.

Hamlin admits Jordan’s reaction to his joke stunned him. It was only last November when Jordan told Dale Earnhardt Jr. in an interview on NBC before the championship race that he didn’t plan to be an owner.

“I’ve got a lot on my plate,” Jordan told Earnhardt then. “I love being a fan. I still understand the sport, but in terms of ownership, nah, I think I’m just going to sit back and watch it and support from afar.”

Jordan told NBC Sports on Wednesday that the timing was right when Hamlin joked with him.

“It was one of those things, again, it’s always been on my mind,” Jordan said of NASCAR team ownership. “I go with my gut feeling. When the time is right you know it. When this was presented to me, I felt good about it. When Bubba was involved in the whole conversation I felt good about it.

“My biggest conversation to Denny was, ‘Look, I don’t want to get in there just to go around the races and just go around and around and around and finish up 18th, 19th, 20th, 30th. I want to win. I want to be put in a position for the best chance for us to win. That’s my competitive nature. That’s always been who I am.

“When we got into this dialogue and I saw that OK, I might have a chance if we can put together the right situation to possibly win. That became more intriguing. That was my mindset going into this.

“I remember the conversation with Dale Earnhardt (last November). In essence, I love the sport. I was looking for an entry opportunity. This was the opportunity that was just presented to me in just the last 10 days.”

Hamlin said the competitive nature he and Jordan both have will ensure that “we will not do this team halfway. It will be a top-tier team sooner than later.” Hamlin said he will continue to drive for Joe Gibbs Racing while owning the team with Jordan.

“I have very good faith that Bubba is going to have everything that he needs to be capable of winning, and I think he’s got the talent to do it,” Hamlin said. “But still there would be growing pains here and there just like any team would have.”

Brad Daugherty, the only Black co-owner of a Cup team before Jordan’s entry, is looking forward to what Jordan’s team will do.

“I think it’s a pretty dynamic trio with Michael, Denny and Bubba,” said Daugherty, co-owner of JTG Daugherty Racing and teammate to Jordan on the University of North Carolina basketball team. “They’re going to be like rock stars.”

Part of the timing being right was the social change NASCAR has gone through this year. Drivers put together a video in a show of support for the Black community in June. NASCAR banned the Confederate flag at its tracks and races soon after. Drivers rallied around Wallace in June at Talladega after it was thought he was the victim of a hate crime.

Jordan said one of his main goals is to create more opportunities for Black people in racing.

“It’s huge,” he said. “It’s absolutely huge. To me, you’re basically diving into a situation where very few Black people have been present into the NASCAR arena. In essence, you’re going in with the opportunity to expand that and to give a different lens to NASCAR as a whole. For so long, it’s been viewed from a negative aspect with the Confederate flag and all these other things that occurred.

“Now you go in with NASCAR making an effort to change the perspective and try to attract and connect to the next generation without losing something for today’s authenticity of the sport presented an opportunity for me to get involved in this whole process and know that I am spearheading a thought process of Blacks getting involved in NASCAR when in essence very few have since 1960s (when Wendell Scott competed and owned his own cars).”

Although Jordan unquestionably is the biggest celebrity to enter NASCAR, the sport’s history is littered with former athletes and celebrities who have come and gone as co-owners in teams.

Jordan said he plans to be in the sport for a long time.

“I’m not doing this to try to look at the financials,” Jordan said. “The financials are part of the process, but my passion drives me more than the financials. If I invest or not invest, I was still going to call Denny each and every Sunday and ask him what the hell is he doing, is he going to win today, what is he going to do, what happened?

“I’ve been a fan for so long, so I’m always going to be that. With making money or losing money, I’m going to be a fan to NASCAR. This is authenticity in the making for me in that I’m involved in something that I truly, truly love and I wake up each and every weekend looking forward to each and every race.”

Jordan’s interest goes to his childhood when his father used to take his family to the race.

“He was a big car person,” Jordan said of his father. “He used to work on engines for years. He became a big stock-car fan and he bredded us to do the same. Went to Darlington, Rockingham, Charlotte, Talladega. (Long-time NASCAR car owner) Hoss Ellington used to be from Wilmington and he used to work on cars with Hoss Ellington way back in the day. I’ve been involved in car racing for a long period of time as a fan.”

Jordan’s entrance has created an excitement in the sport for what he can potentially deliver in terms of a wider audience and potential connections with different companies. But there’s only so much one person can do to help elevate the sport. It is a more complicated puzzle.

“I’m a fan of the sport first,” Jordan said. “I love sports. I love, love NASCAR. I don’t go into with the idea and concept that I’m trying to change and shape NASCAR. I go in with my passion. I hope that whoever knows Michael Jordan or whoever supports Michael Jordan, whoever supports NASCAR see this as an opportunity to enjoy the sport.

“If we can introduce it to the next generation, to at least gauge an interest, that’s a beginning there. How that translates economically, I have no understanding of that. Those are things that I’m not in control of. All I can do is show the passion for the sport and hopefully people can understand that passion and adapt to that.

“The business aspect is the business aspect. … I go in because I love sports and then I get all these different other conversations, all these other people calling, saying, ‘hey, look, that’s pretty interesting, I would love to be involved.’ To me, that’s change. That’s how this is going to work. It may not work from a perspective of what people may expect.

“I don’t know what the agendas may be or what the barometer may be, but at the end of the day, I love that I got involved in NASCAR and if people appreciate that and want to be a part of that, great. If not, it’s not going to change my involvement. I just want to continually win.”

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Las Vegas Truck lineup

Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
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Brett Moffitt will lead the Las Vegas Truck lineup to the green flag in Friday night’s payoff race.

Moffitt is coming off his runner-up finish to Sam Mayer in last week’s Truck playoff race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Tyler Ankrum will start second in Friday night’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He’ll be followed by Grant Enfinger, Sheldon Creed and Chandler Smith. Austin Hill starts 11th, last among the playoff drivers.

Click here for Truck starting lineup

The Las Vegas Truck lineup is set by using a formula based on four statistical categories: owner points position, owner final race position, the finish and fastest lap from the most recently completed race.

Performance Metrics Qualifying is a total number based on the previous race. The formula is 15% of a fastest lap time position, 25% of the driver’s final race finish position, 25% of the owner’s final race position and 35% of the owner points position. Any ties will be broken by the rule book.

 

NASCAR Truck Series at Las Vegas 

Race time: 9 p.m. ET, Friday

Track: Las Vegas Motor Speedway; Las Vegas, Nevada (1.5-mile speedway)

Length: 134 laps (201 miles)

Stages: Stage 1 ends Lap 30. Stage 2 ends Lap 60.

TV coverage: FS1

Radio: Motor Racing Network (also SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Streaming: Fox Sports app (subscription required); mrn.com and SiriusXM for audio (subscription required)

Lineup: Click here for Truck starting lineup

Next Xfinity race: Saturday at Las Vegas (200 laps, 300 miles), 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Next Cup race: Sunday at Las Vegas (267 laps, 400.5 miles), 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Las Vegas Xfinity lineup

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Chase Briscoe will lead the Las Vegas Xfinity lineup to the green flag as the series begins its playoffs Saturday night.

Briscoe enters the playoffs after his seventh win of the season last weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway. He has seven victories so far, two more than Austin Cindric who will start second Saturday night.

Justin Allgaier, who has won three of the last seven races, starts third. He’s followed by Ross Chastain and Harrison Burton. Michael Annett starts 13th, last among the playoff drivers.

Click here for Xfinity starting lineup

The opening round of the Xfinity playoffs goes to Talladega after Las Vegas and ends with the Charlotte Roval. The playoff field will be cut to eight drivers at Charlotte.

The Las Vegas Xfinity lineup is set by using a formula based on four statistical categories: owner points position, owner final race position, the finish and fastest lap from the most recently completed race.

Performance Metrics Qualifying is a total number based on the previous race. The formula is 15% of a fastest lap time position, 25% of the driver’s final race finish position, 25% of the owner’s final race position and 35% of the owner points position. Any ties will be broken by the rule book.

NASCAR Xfinity Series at Las Vegas 

Race time: 7:30 p.m. ET, Saturday

Track: Las Vegas Motor Speedway; Las Vegas, Nevada (1.5-mile speedway)

Length: 200 laps (300 miles)

Stages: Stage 1 ends Lap 45. Stage 2 ends Lap 90.

TV coverage: NBCSN

Radio: Performance Racing Network (also SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Streaming: NBC Sports app (subscription required); goprn.com and SiriusXM for audio (subscription required)

Lineup: Click here for Xfinity starting lineup

Next Truck race: Friday at Las Vegas (134 laps, 201 miles), 9 p.m. ET on FS1

Next Cup race: Sunday at Las Vegas (267 laps, 400.5 miles), 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN