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Ryan Blaney thankful for support after Daytona 500 incident

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Ryan Blaney said he didn’t want to talk to many people the night of the Daytona 500 after contact with Ryan Newman triggered Newman’s horrific last-lap crash.

But when Blaney got home, his parents were there.

“That was nice of them to be there,” Blaney said Friday at Auto Club Speedway, the first time he’s talked to the media about the Daytona 500 since that night.  

Blaney was ashen when he spoke briefly to the media after the season-opening Daytona 500. As he spoke, an ambulance drove by on the frontstretch, taking Newman to the hospital.

Blaney was intent on pushing Newman, a fellow Ford driver, to the victory when it became clear to Blaney he could not win the race. But as he pushed Newman coming to the finish, the contact unsettled Newman’s car and it turned right into the outside wall. Newman’s car went airborne and was slammed in the driver side area while upside down by Corey LaJoie.

Newman walked out of a Daytona Beach hospital two days later. Newman said last weekend in a statement that he suffered a head injury but did not disclose any details. He has since been to Roush Fenway Racing to see team members and also did a video for one of the team’s sponsors that day. Newman will not race this weekend, missing his second consecutive race but said in his statement he looks forward to racing again.

MORE: Ryan Blaney talks to Ryan Newman, looks forward to seeing him at track

Blaney said several people helped him in the aftermath of Newman’s accident. All that was known the night of the race was that Newman was in serious condition with a non-life-threatening injury.

Blaney said close friend Bubba Wallace spent time with him the day after the Daytona 500.

“We talked about some stuff,” Blaney said Friday of what he and Wallace did. “I stayed off social media and all that stuff. You have people that aren’t even involved and have never even watched the sport that have their own opinion on bad things.

“The outreach I got from the calls from former drivers and current drivers that week was pretty remarkable. Their support was good. Even though it is unintentional and it is racing, it still takes a toll on you when it is off of your nose. You never want to see anyone get hurt in this sport. We are all competitors, but we are also a big family.

“Ryan and I have gotten along really well and that was just a bad circumstance and it is great that it worked out for the best. It was nice to have the friends and family and drivers and teams (offer their) support. That really helped me out.”

Blaney cited a couple of former drivers whose calls were impactful.

Jeff Burton and Bobby Labonte called me, people that I looked up to a lot as a kid,” Blaney said. “It was neat that they called me and gave me their peace of mind. That was good.”

Friday also marked the first time for Blaney to speak publicly since last weekend’s race at Las Vegas. Blaney led but a late caution changed the race. He and Alex Bowman, running second, were among drivers who pitted. Joey Logano, running third, did not pit, inherited the lead and went on to win. Blaney finished 11th.

Blaney said Friday it took him 10 minutes to get over how that race ended.

“Yeah, it was over,” Blaney said. “Moving on. I went and stayed in a teepee and forgot about it.”

About his experience staying in a teepee, Blaney said:

“I already had that planned no matter what happened. I like camping. I was out on a ranch in the middle of the desert for a couple days and just hanging out and all that stuff. It was fun.”

As for what he did, Blaney said: “Go hiking a little bit. Cook by the fire. Clear your head. It is just relaxing. I have always kind of been that way. It was nice to get out there. I was out there. I had to be out there for Tuesday night anyway and figured I would stay somewhere other than the (Las Vegas) Strip. I can’t do the strip for very long. I wanted to stay somewhere opposite to the Strip.”

Friday 5: Matt Tifft on the road to recovery from December seizure

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Even on his honeymoon, Matt Tifft exercised as he prepared to race again this season. But about 30 minutes after his workout, Tifft began to feel “weird.”

The only way he can describe it now is that it felt like he stuck his finger into an electrical outlet.

He tried to tell his bride something was wrong, but he couldn’t speak. His tongue rolled back. And then eyes rolled back.

“I could see it,” Tifft told NBC Sports. “I could actually see my other eye. It was the freakiest thing out of a nightmare movie that you could ever imagine.”

As his body convulsed, he couldn’t breathe.

Eleven weeks later, Tifft describes the Dec. 12 seizure — his second last year — in a way he admits he could not have done so a month ago. But understanding what likely led to both seizures and using a cannabidiol (CBD) product help his anxiety, Tifft says he feels much better and looks forward to two weeks before his 24th birthday when he can return to driving a street car. As for racing again? He hopes to do so but knows there’s no guarantee.

Matt Tifft says the use of a CBD product has helped him in the last month. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

Tifft, a Cup rookie last year, suffered his first seizure shortly shortly before practice Oct. 26 in the Front Row Motorsports’ hauler at Martinsville Speedway. After the Dec. 12 seizure, there was one common theme: Tifft had been off his keto diet both times. He suffered food poisoning that led to what he said was an “extreme stomach infection” about a week before the seizure at Martinsville.

While off his diet during his honeymoon, the combination of eating foods he hadn’t — and forcing his body to process carbs and sugars it had not in some time — along with his body reacting to his workout “spiked me into the danger zone.”

But it took time for that cause to be found. Tifft, who had brain surgery in July 2016 to remove a slow-growing tumor, worried about what was happening to him and panicked about being in public.

“My battle with this anxiety and panic attacks have gotten a lot better … (with) CBD,” Tifft said of cannabidiol, a naturally occurring compound found in the resinous flower of cannabis. “It has actually been, I would say a life-changing thing for me to go from being terrified of leaving my house (to) being able to go in public when I started taking that. It’s made such a huge difference that I can function socially and go to places and do things.

“I find it interesting still that that’s illegal in our sport because I know so many times after intense races or you go to Dover or Bristol and your body is all twisted up and it feels terrible and you just have to take ibuprofen or Tylenol because that is what is legal. If we could take something like (CBD), I think it’s a much more natural and efficient way of helping our bodies.”

The NASCAR Rule Book addresses CBD products in its Substance Abuse Policy in a section titled: Dietary and CBD Supplements.

Section 19.3.4.a states “Dietary and CBD supplements may contain (either purposefully or through contamination) a prohibited substance under this Policy.”

Section 19.3.4.b states: “Any product sold with a warning advising non-use if the purchaser is subject to a drug testing program should be avoided even though such products may be available without a prescription.”

Sports leagues are split on CBD. The World Anti-Doping Agency announced in 2018 that CBD had been removed from its list of banned substances making this year’s Olympics the first in which athletes can legally use CBD.

MORE: Questions and answers about CBD from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency

The Pain Management Committee of the NFL and NFL Players Association held a fact-finding forum in January with manufacturers of products that use CBD in sports medicine. The NFL’s drug policy includes a ban on THC, a substance found in marijuana and some CBD products. Mike Bass, NBA executive vice president of communications, told NBC Sports Philadelphia that “we have regular discussions with the players’ association about a variety of matters, including … CBD. Those conversations are ongoing.”

Tifft said he began using a CBD product in January and felt better about 20 minutes later.

Former New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (right) celebrates after Kurt Busch won the 2017 Daytona 500. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

“I think the thing that initially brought me to it was athletes like Rob Gronkowski, guys who have been advocates of it afterward from their healing and recovery,” Tifft told NBC Sports. “Someone like me, who has dealt with brain issues, it’s known as a neuro protective, so for someone like me, I’ve always been interested from the outside of it and studied the results of it and effects of it.”

Should Tifft get a chance to race again in NASCAR, he knows he could be at a crossroads with CBD.

“If it came down to and I was cleared to race again and that was kind of the choice, I’d have to weigh out, if I go off of this can I feel I feel OK and be fine,” he said. “If that’s the case, I’d be fine with doing that. I think an optimal sense if we can have something that can benefit folks but also be able to come back to racing, that’s the ideal scenario.

“It depends on the time where right now I’m excited to get my normal’s drivers license June 12 because it’s a six-month process (after the last seizure). For me, right now, honestly, driving anything other than iRacing is just far-fetched.”

2. On target for 250

Last March, Kyle Busch collected his 200th career victory among NASCAR’s top three national series — Cup, Xfinity and Trucks — and the idea was posed that he could be on his way to 250 or more career series wins before he retires.

Busch remains on target heading to Auto Club Speedway this weekend with 209 career NASCAR victories, including his Truck win last week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Kyle Busch has won 209 career NASCAR races across the Cup, Xfinity and Truck Series. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

His success in the Truck series — he’s won his past seven starts — led Kevin Harvick and then Marcus Lemonis to tweet that they would give a total of $100,000 to a Cup driver who could beat Busch in the Truck Series. Busch has four Truck races remaining this season. Both Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson will take that challenge

Since 2015, Busch has averaged 13.4 victories a year in those three series combined. He turns 35 in May, giving him plenty of years to reach 250 career wins, but his efforts will be slowed in the future. Busch has stated that once he hits 100 career Xfinity victories (he has 96) he would stop racing in that series except for if car owner Joe Gibbs requested him to drive in particular races.

What Busch is doing is something that won’t be seen again in NASCAR unless series officials relax the rule that limits veteran Cup drivers to no more than five Truck and five Xfinity races a season.

So just as Richard Petty’s record of 200 Cup wins is viewed as one that will not be broken — because the number of races was cut from more than 60 to 36 — Busch’s ever-increasing total also will be one that will never be touched. The next closest active driver to Busch is Harvick, who has 110 combined wins in Cup, Xfinity and Trucks. The active driver after Harvick is Jimmie Johnson with 84 wins (83 in Cup and one in Xfinity).

3. Aggressive driving

Xfinity rookie Harrison Burton had an interesting take on aggressive driving when asked about it earlier this week on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “On Track” show. This is what he said:

“I think that aggression is becoming more and more acceptable in our sport,” Burton said. “From my perspective last year in the Truck Series, Ross Chastain came in and was the most aggressive guy, right? Everyone was like mad at him for like two weeks. After that, it was like ‘OK, why don’t we all race like that?’ and then it just turned up the wick of the flame and everyone kind of rose to that level and it made the racing a lot tougher, a lot more challenging, a lot more fun and it was good for the overall racing in Truck Series.

“I think that has kind of happened everywhere, not necessarily because of Ross, but the packages and the way things have been changing in the sport. It’s super aggressive now, which is super fun. That’s becoming a little bit more acceptable, but you also have to still use your head and respect the guys that have been there for years and years before you and try to find a balance there.”

4. Where’s the tax benefits?

Eddie Gossage, president and general manager of Texas Motor Speedway, raised questions this week during TMS’ media day about the need for a better infrastructure near the track with the development that has taken place.

“Our local, state and federal officials have collected our tax money and spent it somewhere else apparently because they’re not building us roads,” Gossage said, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram“We desperately need roads improved yesterday.”

Gossage went on to say:

“It’s just inappropriate for the elected officials and the bureaucrats to have that kind of development without building the proper infrastructure to support it. I call on all of them to get out here today to start building those roads because it doesn’t matter if you’re a business or a resident, there’s too little concrete out here to get where you need to get going.”

5. Testing

William Byron will stay in California longer after Sunday’s race to test the Next Gen car on Monday and Tuesday.

He’ll become the fourth driver to test the car. Austin Dillon drove it at Richmond in October, Joey Logano tested it at Phoenix in December, and Erik Jones drove it at Homestead in January.

NASCAR’s next test after the Auto Club test is scheduled to take place March 16-17 at Atlanta.

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NASCAR America MotorMouths 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN: Joey Logano, Fernando Alonso

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America’s MotorMouths will include a special call-in segment with Las Vegas winner Joey Logano.

Speaking of calling in, you can dial us up at 844-NASCAR-NBC or submit your questions/comments via Twitter using #LetMeSayThis.

We’ll also have a report on Fernando Alonso confirmed to race in this year’s Indianapolis 500.

Today’s show airs from 5 to 6 p.m. ET and will have Rutledge Wood, Kyle Petty, AJ Allmendinger and Nate Ryan on the panel.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Winners and losers from Las Vegas

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WINNERS

Paul Wolfe — Great call to have Joey Logano not pit before the final restart. Of course it helped that six other cars stayed out. Still, the top two cars came down pit road and Logano, running third, stayed out and won.

Matt DiBenedettoFinishes second in his second race with the Wood Brothers.

Jimmie JohnsonScored his first top-five finish since last summer’s Daytona race.

Bubba Wallace Decision not to pit allowed him to finish sixth, giving him his best Cup finish on a 1.5-mile track.

LOSERS

Todd Gordon and Greg Ives— For every high, there is a low. Gordon apologized on the radio to Ryan Blaney for calling him to pit road while leading before the final restart. Blaney finished 11th. Ives called Bowman to pit road while running second before the final restart. Bowman finished 13th. Ives tweeted that he was “VERY frustrated with my call at the end not to game on old tires, especially in Vegas.”

19 pit crew — Martin Truex Jr.’s pit crew got him into the lead under caution after Stage 2 but he had to return to pit under that caution to tighten loose lug nuts. Said Truex after the race: “We just need to quit having mistakes on pit road.”

William ByronLined up second on the final restart but contact with Matt DiBenedetto led to a tire rub and Byron falling back before he was involved in the crash that ended race. He finished 22nd.

Decision to pit or not dramatically altered Las Vegas Cup race

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Crew chief Todd Gordon apologized to Ryan Blaney for pitting from the lead before the final restart in Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“I should have left you out,” Gordon radioed Blaney after the race. “My gut told me to. I didn’t. My bad.”

Instead of celebrating a victory, Blaney walked away with an 11th-place finish. It was his teammate, Joey Logano, who celebrated after not pitting.

A caution on Lap 262 for Ross Chastain created consternation among crew chiefs on pit road and dramatically altered the finish of the season’s second race.

With a two-lap shootout for the win expected once the caution car collected the field and cars pitted, crew chiefs were left to decide if to pit for tires or stay out and gain track position.

For some, the crew chief’s decision worked brilliantly.

  • Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who did not pit, finished third for his best result at Las Vegas and JTG Daugherty Racing’s best performance at Las Vegas.
  • Austin Dillon, who did not pit, placed fourth for his best result at Las Vegas.
  • Jimmie Johnson, who pitted for two tires, was fifth, scoring his first top five since the rain-shortened race at Daytona in July.
  • Bubba Wallace, who did not pit, placed sixth, marking his best result on a 1.5-mile track.
  • Ty Dillon, who pitted for four tires, was 10th for his first top-10 on a 1.5-mile track.

Here is how the results changed in the final five laps:

When the caution waved for Chastain’s spin, Blaney led.

This was the running order:

  1. Ryan Blaney
  2. Alex Bowman
  3. Joey Logano
  4. William Byron
  5. Kevin Harvick
  6. Brad Keselowski
  7. Matt DiBenedetto
  8. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
  9. Kyle Larson
  10. Jimmie Johnson
  11. Kyle Busch
  12. John Hunter Nemechek
  13. Tyler Reddick
  14. Denny Hamlin
  15. Austin Dillon
  16. Martin Truex Jr.
  17. Chris Buescher
  18. Erik Jones
  19. Ty Dillon
  20. Bubba Wallace

Blaney and Bowman both relinquished their spots at the front of the field to pit.

Logano stayed out and moved from third to first.

Crew chief Paul Wolfe said he understood why some pitted but felt the decision not to pit was worth it for he and his team.

“The tires were wearing some,” Wolfe said. “Obviously, that’s why we saw a lot of guys pit from the lead. It seemed like the left-side wear was more accelerated than what we we’ve seen in the past. I think that was making guys favor wanting tires, but really, still, the falloff, if you looked at the start of a run to the end, it wasn’t extreme.

“In practice we were out there on older tires … and seemed to re-fire and have decent speed. It was kind of what we talked about. If you can get to the front row and get the clean air, it’s worth the gamble. Obviously we had a lot of cars behind us. I felt pretty good as long as he executed the restart. The guys on [new] tires weren’t going to catch you in two laps. There just wasn’t enough time.”

Byron also stayed out and moved from fourth to second.

Harvick gave up fifth to pit for four tires, Keselowski relinquished sixth to pit for two tires.

DiBenedetto stayed out and moved from seventh to third. Stenhouse also did not pit, going from eighth to fourth for the restart. Larson gave up ninth to pit for four tires. Johnson gave up 10th place to pit for two tires.

As the field lined up to take the green with two laps to go, the lineup was (with the top seven cars not pitting):

  1. Joey Logano
  2. William Byron
  3. Matt DiBenedetto
  4. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
  5. Tyler Reddick
  6. Austin Dillon
  7. Bubba Wallace
  8. Brad Keselowski (first car to pit; two tires)
  9. Jimmie Johnson (two tires)
  10. Martin Truex Jr. (two tires)
  11. Erik Jones (two tires)
  12. Ryan Blaney (four tires)
  13. Kevin Harvick (four tires)
  14. Alex Bowman (four tires)
  15. Kyle Busch (four tires)
  16. Kyle Larson (four tires)

Having six cars between he and the first car that had stopped for tires helped Logano.

“A lot of cars stayed out and that was key to that move,” Logano said.

A crash after the leaders took the white flag to begin the last lap, ended the race and left many of those who had pitted seeing their hopes for a strong finish end.

Blaney was stuck and couldn’t move up before the crash, finishing outside the top 10 in a race he looked as if he’d win before Chastain’s caution.

“It was just a crappy situation,” Blaney said. “We fight our butts off to get the lead there from third and get it.  I had a good shot of holding the 88 off. I thought we could have once we got in clean air I thought our car was pretty decent. The caution came out and we pitted, some guys didn’t, some guys took two and we just end up getting absolutely destroyed with people not knowing how many cars were to the outside of them.  It’s easy to look back on it and say we should have stayed out.  That’s a tough call for Todd Gordon in his position, but I’ve got to thank him for giving me a really good car.”

Bowman also placed outside the top 10 after he appeared to be headed for a runner-up finish and maybe a chance to challenge Blaney for the lead.

“Dang it,” Bowman said in a video he posted on social media after the race. “Man, we had such a good car there at the end. Obviously running down (Blaney) pretty quickly, at least looking at a second-place finish, if not battling for a win there.

“Our car was so good and caution came out and we read it just a little bit wrong, so bummer that we didn’t get the finish that we probably deserved, but, at the same time, I’m just so proud of my guys. We had such a good race car today. We made it better all day. Obviously had it rolling there at the end. … Obviously bummed out to finish 13th after staring at a second place or a win, but it’s part of it.”

While Blaney and Bowman lamented their results, others were more fortunate.

“Luckily, we got the outside (on the final restart),” Austin Dillon said. “Our teammate (Reddick) was doomed on the bottom. The bottom (lane) just seemed to lose spots all day unless you were the leader.”

Said Wallace of the decision not to pit: “It was just a good gamble.”

This is how they finished (and if they pitted before the final restart/positions gained or lost from final restart):

  1. Joey Logano (did not pit/maintained lead)
  2. Matt DiBenedetto (did not pit/gained one spot)
  3. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (did not pit/gained one spot)
  4. Austin Dillon (did not pit/gained two spots)
  5. Jimmie Johnson (pitted for two tires/gained four spots)
  6. Bubba Wallace (did not pit/gained one spot)
  7. Brad Keselowski (pitted for two tires/gained one spot)
  8. Kevin Harvick (pitted for four tires/gained five spots)
  9. Kyle Larson (pitted for four tires/gained seven spots)
  10. Ty Dillon (pitted for four tires/gained 10 spots)