Photo courtesy Justin Bonnett Racing official Facebook page

Neil Bonnett’s grandson can’t wait to race again, month after fiery wreck

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Less than a month after being seriously injured in a crash, Justin Bonnett can’t wait to get back in a race car.

The grandson of late NASCAR star Neil Bonnett, Justin suffered a broken left leg, three fractures of his left foot and burns on his neck, arm and leg after being caught in a fiery wreck on Dec. 7 during the Snowflake 100 at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida.

“I’m pretty good now that I’ve been able to get home and get everything situated,” the 26-year-old Bonnett told NBC Sports in an exclusive interview Thursday. “It’s a long road to recovery but things are looking up.”

Driving the No. 12 car, the same number his grandfather drove for much of his NASCAR career, the younger Bonnett was running 26th on Lap 54 in the prelude to the next day’s Snowball Derby when he was unable to avoid the spinning car of Jarrett Parker.

The impact tore the fuel cell from Parker’s car, igniting a fireball that engulfed Bonnett’s car.

“I remember pretty much everything (about the wreck),” Bonnett told NBC Sports. “It didn’t knock me out. I remember trying to get the fire off me. I know I was on fire heavily and was trying to get it off me, but I couldn’t get it off me.

“I really was in an unsure state, trying to figure out what was going on, because everything happened so quick. Normally, when a car spins out, they don’t come shooting back up the racetrack. I was still wide-open, naturally, when that happened, I hadn’t lifted yet.”

Russell Brooks, brother of Five Flags Speedway technical director Ricky Brooks, hopped off a rescue truck, was the first to reach the burning inferno and helped Bonnett to safety.

“I couldn’t get my belts undone,” Bonnett said. “Russell Brooks reached in there and pulled my belts loose. I fought my steering wheel, trying to get it off, finally got it off, pulled out (of the car) and about halfway up my back when I realized something was wrong, I couldn’t get out. Russell Brooks reached in and pulled me out and then I saw my foot was broke.

“It’s really a blessing Russell (who was uninjured by the fire) was there because it would have taken longer for someone to get me out. He was the first to get to me and get me out and get me away from the fire.”

But he added, “Hey, it happens, it’s part of racing and you move on.”

Bonnett has undergone three surgeries on his left leg and left foot, as well as several treatments for mild-to-harsh second-degree burns on his neck, entire left arm and left knee and thigh.

It’s an ongoing process, but the racing community has also reached out in a big way to show its support. He points to help from Kelley Earnhardt Miller and NASCAR team owner Richard Childress as being key factors, particularly Childress, who put Bonnett in touch with a noted North Carolina burns specialist for treatment.

Bonnett’s friends also started a GoFundMe page that has already raised over $12,000 to help with Bonnett’s medical expenses.

“The racing community has came together and it has truly blown me away,” Bonnett said. “Yes, it’s hard, because Taylor, my girlfriend and we have an 11-month-old, it kind of makes it tough on her because she has to do everything.

“I’m like a baby now because I can’t walk, I’m on a walker, yes, it’s impacted the around the house part and made it more difficult, but it’s something we can get through. It tests at times, but it helps you in the long run.”

One of the biggest keys to Bonnett’s recovery is the attitude he has.

“You have to try and stay positive on the outlook and the way things go,” Bonnett said. “That’s the way I am, that’s me.

“When something like this happens, it’s very easy to get down. But I’m trying to stay as positive as I can and have a positive outlook on everything as much as I can to keep things going and hopefully, sooner than later, get back in the seat and keep going.”

He then adds with a laugh, “It’s getting lonely sitting in this house, though.”

Doctors have told Bonnett it will take at least six months to make a full recovery. He says with another laugh that he has a faster and more optimistic recovery timeline than his doctors: he’s targeting March 7 and the 56th annual Alabama 200 — one of the largest late model races of the year — at Montgomery (Alabama) Speedway as his first race back.

“I don’t know if I’ll make it,” Bonnett said of his ambitious timeline. “It’s before three months (since his crash, but I’m doing everything on my end and if I get cleared I’ll go back, but it’s all going to depend on the doctors.

“I have thought about getting back. I don’t know what it’s going to be like. It’s probably going to be different at first, it’s going to be a learning curve for me because of everything that has gone on. But I feel once I get back in there and put it all behind me, I feel like we’ll be okay.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas: Start time, TV channel

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The second round of the Cup playoffs begins with the Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The 1.5-mile track kicks off the Round of 12. Winning the race and stage points are a premium for playoff drivers before the races at Talladega and the Charlotte Roval.

Kevin Harvick, who won at Bristol, starts from the pole.

Here is all the info for the Sunday Cup race at Las Vegas:

(All times are Eastern)

START: The command to start engines will be given by Las Vegas Raiders owner Mark Davis at 7:07 p.m. The green flag waves at 7:17 p.m.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at Noon. Drivers report to their cars at 6:50 p.m. The invocation will be given at 7 p.m. by Motor Racing Outreach Chaplain, Billy Mauldin. The national anthem will be performed by Sierra Black at 7:01 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 267 laps (400.5 miles) around the 1.5-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 80. Stage 2 ends on Lap 160

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

STREAMING: Watch the race on the NBC Sports App

FORECAST: The wunderground.com forecast calls for sunny skies with a high of 96 degrees and no chance of rain at the start of the race.

LAST RACE: Kevin Harvick beat Kyle Busch to win at Bristol and claim his ninth win of the season.

LAST POINTS RACE AT LAS VEGAS: Joey Logano beat Matt DiBenedetto and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in February.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the lineup.

CATCH UP ON NBC SPORTS’ COVERAGE:

Kurt Busch seeks first Las Vegas win but without hometown fans

Michael Jordan excited for NASCAR future with Denny Hamlin

Carolina Blue: Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan bonded by NASCAR

Germain Racing sells charter, will exit sport at end of season

Charlotte Roval to host limited number of fans

Friday 5: Team’s departure adds to ‘extremely stressful’ time

NASCAR fines Hendrick Motorsports $100,000

NTSB releases final report on Dale Jr. plane crash

Bubba Wallace to receive Stan Musial award for extraordinary character

Long: 100 days left in 2020, what else can happen?

Kurt Busch seeks first Las Vegas win, but without hometown fans

Kurt Busch
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A win by Kurt Busch in tonight’s Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET on NBCSN) couldn’t come under more bittersweet circumstances for the Chip Ganassi Racing driver.

Should Busch claim the victory on the 1.5-mile track, he’d go from being the last driver on the playoff grid (3,001 points entering the race) to the first driver to advance to the Round of 8.

While it would be his first victory of the year, it would also be his first NASCAR win at his home track in 23 starts across the Cup and Xfinity Series.

More: Stage points critical at Vegas

“The Vegas track has definitely been one of the tough ones for me over the years with results and finishes not where I would have expected them to be,” Busch said this week. “And the teams that I’ve raced for just have never quite found that right magic set-up or combination. And then for me, it’s a track that I just have that trouble with.

“There are a few tracks like Indianapolis and Martinsville; those are a few places where I struggle. And so with Vegas, I always put that little extra hometown pressure on myself and I would love to win there.”

The 42-year-old Las Vegas-native rolls off ninth on the 1.5-mile track. It’s his fourth while driving for Ganassi.

In his 21 Cup starts in Las Vegas, Busch’s best result is third in 2005 when he competed for Roush Fenway Racing. He has just one other top five. That came in last year’s spring race when he drove a throwback paint scheme to his 1999 NASCAR Southwest Series championship.

That day he led 23 laps. It was only the seventh time he’d led laps there and just the third time he’d totaled more than six laps led.

In February, Busch finished 25th.

If Busch were to finally make it to Vegas’ Victory Lane, the celebration would be somewhat muted.

It was announced last weekend that fans would not be allowed to attend the races at Las Vegas due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I would love to win through the spirit of the camera and everything on NBC Sports; and I know the fans there, local, will be watching and cheering on the Busch brothers,” Busch said. “So, that’s where I would connect. And hopefully do it through the TV side of it. We’ll get fans back one day and we’ll come back and race.”

Busch enters the Round of 12 having earned just one top 10 in the first round, an eighth-place finish at Darlington. He finished 13th at Richmond and 15th at Bristol.

“What I like is we have had better lap times at all three races so far compared to maybe the five or six races leading into the playoffs,” Busch said. “We know that our cushion is gone. We ended Bristol with 33 points to the good. And now we start Vegas minus four (points behind Austin Dillon in the cutoff spot). So that’s just part of the system and now we have to be perfect. We have to get every point possible that we’re able to get on our own at Vegas, Talladega, and the Roval. And, that should help us advance.”

Carolina Blue: Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan bonded by NASCAR

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Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan were teammates from 1982-84 at the University of North Carolina and Eastern Conference rivals throughout the 1980s and ’90s in the NBA.

But their friendship was about more than just hoops. While growing up on opposite ends of the Tar Heel State, Daugherty and Jordan both developed a passion for following NASCAR.

Tobacco Road meant fast cars and hard-driving heroes for these two North Carolina natives.

LIFELONG FAN: Michael Jordan explains why he’s partnering with Denny Hamlin

In a NASCAR on NBC feature, Daugherty recalls how NASCAR impacted his life and Jordan’s and led both into team ownership. Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin announced they will form a team to field cars for Bubba Wallace next season.

Daughterty notes in the feature that Wallace “has led a dynamic transformation as NASCAR banned Confederate flags and recommitted to inclusion amidst times of great unrest. This is a huge moment for NASCAR, a cultural momentum shift. This is people of all colors coming together to create an all-American race team already with championship lineage.

“With proper funding, equipment and crewmembers, this will be the best chance ever for a Black driver to win – and while driving for a Black owner. An opportunity to shock the world like Muhammad Ali once did.”

Watch the feature above on Brad Daugherty and Michael Jordan or by clicking this link.

Las Vegas Xfinity results, driver points

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Chase Briscoe‘s victory Saturday night at Las Vegas Motor Speedway sends him into the next round of the Xfinity playoffs.

Noah Gragson led a 2-3-4 finish for JR Motorsports. Gragson was second and followed by Daniel Hemric and Justin Allgaier. Ryan Sieg finished fifth.

Briscoe dominated the race, leading 164 of the 200 laps.

Click here for Xfinity race results

POINTS

Ross Chastain finished 16th, last among the playoff drivers, and fell out of a transfer spot to the second round. He’s two points behind Harrison Burton for the final transfer spot. Michael Annett is 10 points behind Burton. Riley Herbst is 14 points behind Burton. Brandon Brown is 20 points behind Burton.

Click here for driver points report