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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Hailie Deegan on IMSA debut: ‘I’m not mad. I’m gaining experience’

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The first day of Hailie Deegan’s foray into sports car racing was one with mixed results.

Deegan and teammate, NASCAR Xfinity driver Chase Briscoe, finished 43rd of 51 teams that were entered in Friday’s Michelin Pilot Challenge at Daytona International Speedway.

Deegan ran as high as 15th before the car experienced mechanical issues roughly three hours into the four-hour event, and it was brought in to be worked on for the remaining time.

Deegan and Briscoe were in the No. 22 Multimatic Motorsports Inc. Ford GT4, which ran a total of 86 laps. One other NASCAR driver, Xfinity pilot Austin Cindric, was teamed with Seb Priaulx in the No. 15 Multimatic Motorsports Inc. Ford Mustang GT4, and together they finished 45th, completing 78 laps.

One other name of note was IndyCar driver Gabby Chaves, who finished 28th (completed 107 laps).

The fastest team in the field was Dylan Murry, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Jim Cox, who collectively ran the entire 110 laps.

While her team continued to work on the car in the garage, Deegan visited the infield media center to speak about her first race experience in an IMSA sports car.

I feel like I just gained a lot of experience,” Deegan said. “I’m here to gain experience after that three-day road test, coming here and practicing for two days.

“I just feel like I know a lot more about racing than I did before. And that’s why I’m here and supposed to be doing.”

The biggest challenge, Deegan said, was the large number of cars she had to compete against.

“The traffic is a little difficult to deal with; it’s not bad, though,” Deegan said. “It makes it fun. It makes it interesting. You constantly have to be on your toes.

“What I like about sports car racing is how many of the points you have to remember in your head. You get a little distracted for a second, and the next thing you know, you overdrive the corner that kind of laps into the next corner.

“So there’s constantly so much going on, you have to be on top of your game.”

While she would have liked to have more time on track had it not been for the mechanical issue, Deegan was philosophical about how the day played out.

“I’m not mad, I’m gaining experience,” she said. “That’s what I’m here to do.”

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DC Solar founders to plead guilty to charges related to $1 billion Ponzi scheme

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Thirteen months after the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Internal Revenue Service raided the headquarters of DC Solar and the home of its founders, Jeff and Paulette Carpoff, the couple has entered plea agreements related to a $1 billion Ponzi scheme, the impact of which saw Chip Ganassi Racing close its Xfinity Series program in 2019.

Jeff Carpoff has agreed to plead guilty to one count each of wire fraud and money laundering while Paulette Carpoff will plead guilty to one count each of conspiracy and money laundering.

According to the plea agreements filed with the Eastern District of California, the government will recommend an initial sentence of 30 years in prison for Jeff Carpoff and 15 years for Paulette Carpoff prior to any co-operation they provide with the case.

The agreement outlines a Ponzi scheme that operated from March 2011 to December 2018, ending with the raids on the Carpoff’s residence in Martinez, California, and DC Solar’s headquarters in Benicia, California.

DC Solar was a company that built and leased solar energy equipment and also sponsored Chip Ganassi Racing in the Cup and Xfinity Series. It was the primary or co-primary sponsor for Kyle Larson in 16 Cup races and for three races with Jamie McMurray in 2018. It also sponsored 10 Xfinity races with Ganassi and announced in November 2018 it would sponsor Ross Chastain’s full-time ride in 2019.

It also sponsored Xfinity Series races in 2018 at Phoenix Raceway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway and the infield “FanGrounds” at Richmond Raceway.

In the wake of the raids and the company filing for bankruptcy in January 2019, CGR was forced to close its Xfinity operation.

During the nearly eight-year scheme, the plea agreement says the Carpoffs used the money generated from it to buy their NASCAR sponsorships, 150 luxury and collectible vehicles and luxury real estate in Lake Tahoe, Las Vegas, the Caribbean and Mexico.

They also purchased a suite at a professional football stadium, a subscription private jet service, the Martinez (California) Clippers minor league baseball team and a 2018 performance by an internationally known rapper at a company holiday party.

Funds were also used to make illicit payments to their co-conspirators and others.

As part of their respective plea agreements, the Carpoffs have agreed to pay restitution to their victims, totaling between $800 million and $1.6 billion.

Jim France bullish on the future: ‘We’re getting some momentum back’

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – In a rare interview Friday, NASCAR CEO and chairman Jim France said he’s bullish about the momentum of his racing series, particularly since last year’s ISC merger.

“Very much so,” France said when asked if he’s looking forward to the return of stock cars to Daytona International Speedway next month for Speedweeks. The Daytona 500 will kick off the Cup Series season Feb. 16.

“We’re coming off of a very good year I felt like last year where we’re really getting some momentum back,” France said. “It’s exciting now going into this coming year.”

Much of the focus has been on the discussions around a possible revamping of the 2021 schedule.

“(NASCAR President) Steve Phelps is working diligently on that,” France said with a laugh. “There’ll be announcements coming in the not-too-distant future.”

France said last year’s merger of NASCAR and International Speedway Corp., which had been publicly traded before the deal, provides more flexibility on the schedule.

“It makes a big difference,” he said. “It gives us an opportunity to respond quicker to the changing environment out here with the economy and all the things that are going on that impact motorsports. It was a major big step that we needed to make probably for quite a while.”

France spoke with a small group of reporters after a major news conference at Daytona involving the IMSA Series that will create a bridge for the premier sports car classes at Daytona and Le Mans.

“The way I view it is if you ever catch the Ferrari vs. Ford movie where the cars went back and forth with Le Mans, that’s the era that we’re getting ready to enter into here is my optimistic hope,” said France, who is also the chairman of IMSA.

Kaz Grala returning to Richard Childress Racing for select Xfinity races

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Kaz Grala will return to compete for Richard Childress Racing in the Xfinity Series this year in select races, the team announced Friday.

Grala, 21, will be one of three drivers to pilot the No. 21 Chevrolet during the full season, joining Myatt Snider and Anthony Alfredo.

Grala made five starts in the No. 21 in 2019, earning a best result of fifth at Road America.

“I learned a lot as a driver working with RCR last year, so I feel confident that our existing chemistry as a team will lead to even better results in the NASCAR Xfinity Series this season,” Grala said in a press release. “RCR’s Xfinity Series program is top-notch, and with the No. 21 car running all year, I am excited to be a part of the team chasing yet another owner’s championship. I’m very grateful to Richard Childress for giving me this opportunity to further my career.”

No sponsors were part of the announcement.

“Kaz showed quite a bit of speed and promise in the No. 21 car last year for RCR,” Richard Childress said in a press release. “I’m confident the results will show in 2020, especially after a year under his belt in our proven Xfinity program.”