Comcast has announced the three finalists for this year’s Community Champion of the Year Award, which recognizes the philanthropic efforts of individuals within the NASCAR industry.
Through the award Comcast has donated $600,000 to 15 different NASCAR-affiliated organizations to honor their efforts and help further the impact of their causes.
The three finalists are:
Artie Kempner, NASCAR on FOX Coordinating Director and Co-Founder of Autism Delaware
David Ragan, Cup Series driver and Ambassador for Shriners Hospitals for Children
Mike Tatoian, President and CEO of Dover International Speedway and USO Delaware Chairman
The award winner will be selected by a panel composed of Comcast and NASCAR executives, as well as defending Cup Series champion Joey Logano, who won the award in 2018. Comcast will award $60,000 to the winner’s affiliated charity, and $30,000 to each of the two remaining finalists’ selected charities.
The winner will be announced Nov. 14 at W. South Beach Hotel in Miami in conjunction with the NASCAR Championship Weekend.
Artie Kempner (Wilmington, Delaware) – In 1998, a small group of parents got together in the living room of Marcy and Artie Kempner’s house in Wilmington, Delaware. The Kempner’s had three boys and their middle son, Ethan, had been diagnosed with autism a year earlier. All of the parents at the table had children on the autism spectrum. That gathering was the beginning of Autism Delaware and Artie became the group’s first president. The organization started as a simple support group, but 20+ years later it’s a statewide service agency, fielding more than 1,500 calls from families annually, offering lifespan services, as well as social and recreational program for families in a safe and welcoming environment.
Kempner’s work on the Drive for Autism Celebrity-Am Golf Outing, helped the group raise the necessary money to launch its critically acclaimed adult vocational and employment program known as POW&R, Productive Opportunities for Work & Recreation. Now in its 11th year, POW&R assesses an individual’s strengths and vocational goals, and matches them with community-based employment, volunteer and recreational opportunities. Today, the program serves over 150 adults with autism in paid employment.
David Ragan (Unadilla, Georgia) – Since 2012, Front Row Motorsports driver David Ragan has been dedicated to supporting Shriners Hospital for Children as a part of their ambassador program. Ragan spends much of his off-time visiting hospitals, fundraising, as well as inviting patients to the race track for once-in-a-lifetime experiences at NASCAR events. Ragan’s passion for the hospital goes beyond just the bare-minimum appearance, he makes an effort to remember each patient’s name + story and will continue to stay in touch long after he meets them. Ragan knows the children and families he meets are likely struggling and wants to do what he can to put a smile on their face. His association with the Shriners, as well as being a Shriner himself, has not only brought attention to the hospitals and the great work they are doing, but has increased donations from race fans and team partners. Many people aren’t aware of the great work that the Shriners do, but Ragan has been a strong voice for them for the past 10 years and has changed countless lives because of his great work.
Mike Tatoian (Dover, Delaware) –Mike Tatoian has been a staple of the Delaware and mid-Atlantic charitable communities, particularly with local military organizations at Dover (Del.) Air Force Base, since he began his tenure at the “Monster Mile” in 2007. One of his longest commitments has been with United Service Organizations. Established during World War II, the USO supports U.S. service members wherever they are, including on-base, deployed abroad, passing through an airport or in local communities at more than 200 locations around the world. One-particular duty that distinguishes USO Delaware is it’s the only USO in the world that shares the responsibility of bringing home fallen service members, working alongside other units such as the Air Force Mortuary Affairs, Armed Forces Medical Examiner System, the Joint Personal Effects Depot and the Families of the Fallen. For 13 years, Tatoian has assisted USO Delaware with countless programs and currently serves as the Chairman of the Advisory Council for the organization.
Ryan: Even without plates, Talladega still served up a spectacular show
It’s the bedrock upon which superspeedway racing happily has rested for three decades in the interest of entertainment (and, ostensibly, safety in ensuring speeds are manageable enough to prevent cars from sailing over catchfences with disturbing regularity at Daytona and Talladega).
After an off-year in 2018, NASCAR found its sweet spot in Sweet Home Alabama this season.
The most arbitrary form of racing delivered by NASCAR’s premier series again felt as predictably unpredictable as it ever had since the restrictor-plate era began in 1988. There were colossal crashes, double-crossing duplicity and razor-tight finishes.
That was great for fans. It wasn’t necessarily good for Cup drivers.
Of course, it rarely is in the finicky and violent environs of Dega, which was unusually tame last year with only two wrecks of at least a half-dozen cars across 1,013 miles (this year, there were three times as many).
The knock on plate racing in 2018 was the lack of driveability. It’s hard to make passes when cars aren’t stable at 200 mph-plus in the draft.
NASCAR addressed this by raising spoilers to 9 inches with the advent of the spacers. That didn’t do much for handling, but it did punch a bigger hole in the air that caused massive acceleration in the draft and eradicated the “aero bubble” barrier that drivers said made it difficult for trailing cars to pass last year.
So the ability to catch the leader improved … even though handling didn’t nearly as much (look no further than Joey Logano’s in-car camera, which was a furious blur of hands manhandling the steering wheel on every shot).
That was a recipe for the return of the huge wrecks that felt like Dega of yesteryear. Holes in the draft vanished much more quickly, and blocking became futile as drivers scrambled (and often failed) to adapt to the higher closing rates.
As analyst Dale Earnhardt Jr. noted in the NBC broadcast, though the bumpers don’t line up as well with the Gen 6 as in the previous iteration (which spawned the nefarious tandem drafting), the bump-drafting has become even more aggressive in the era of stage points and playoff berths tied to wins.
With bigger runs coming from every direction, an increased susceptibility to being passed and cars just as unstable when in a pack, the lead no longer was the place to be at Talladega.
There were more lead changes Sunday-Monday (46, up from 38 in the April 28 race) than the combined total (40) for both 2018 races. There were 22,214 green-flag passes (59 per lap) at Talladega in 2019, up from 13,294 last year (35 per lap).
A NASCAR without restrictor plates?
Talladega still served up the action for fans — on a silver platter strewn with twisted sheet metal, of course.
The situations weren’t entirely analogous, but NASCAR’s non-call on the final lap Monday was reminiscent of its controversial non-call on Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s winning pass of Matt Kenseth in the April 6, 2003 race at Talladega. In both instances, officials claimed the spirit of the yellow-line rule wasn’t violated even though the letter clearly was.
Here’s how the rule was presented in the drivers meeting at Talladega: “Drivers, this is your warning. Race above the double-yellow line. If in NASCAR’s judgment, you go below the double-yellow line to improve your position, you will be black-flagged. If in NASCAR’s judgment, you force someone below the double-yellow line in an effort to stop someone from passing you, you may be black-flagged.”
It’s indisputable that, just like Earnhardt did in passing Kenseth 16 years ago, Ryan Blaney went below the yellow line before taking the lead for good Monday from Ryan Newman. It’s possible that contact with Newman caused Blaney to dip below the boundary, and that seems to be NASCAR’s explanation in why no call was made.
But it also seems like the rule demands that (as it did in 2003) a penalty should have been called on either Blaney or Newman. NASCAR can rule that “in its judgment,” Blaney didn’t intentionally go below the yellow-line to improve his position … but if that’s the case, it means he had to have been forced there, right?
As many have noted, manufacturer alliances at Daytona and Talladega were invented long before the 21st century. In the 1990s, Chevrolet and Ford drivers regularly worked together – when possible — to try to ensure their makes won the race.
Chevrolet’s decision to call an in-race meeting at Garage Suite 3 in full public view was ill-advised, at best. The references afterward to shilling Corvettes and watching PowerPoints were too clever by a factor of maybe 100, and they also were indicative of why the optics were problematic.
Chevy’s extremely disciplined approach felt too corporate, and it seemed micromanaged to the point of making Michael Scott blush. Chastising drivers for racing three wide instead of single file while still in Stage 1 is hardly palatable to anyone in NASCAR, which has an appealing undercurrent of cutthroat intensity (especially at Daytona and Talladega).
The focus on manufacturer alliances wasn’t all bad, though.
It forced some good discussions on awkward topics into the open, and it raised important issues about how much influence manufacturers and teams should have in effectively determining race winners. If younger drivers for midpack teams essentially are told to subjugate themselves for the greater good (or risk being stripped of perks), is that a just sacrifice at a track that might offer their best opportunity at winning all year?
That conversation got shoved to the forefront by the weekend’s manufacturer debate. And it was nice that none of it actually mattered at the conclusion of a race that featured a passel of unheralded underdogs vying for the checkered flag.
It also could be indirectly good for NASCAR while continuing to court new manufacturers to enter with its next generation engine (which probably won’t happen until 2023). With the overall decline in the corporate sponsorship spend over the past decade, there are few entities investing as much in stock-car racing as the automakers.
At least they got good bang for their bucks at Talladega, particularly if you ascribe to the idea that there is no such thing as bad publicity.
Ryan Blaney still isn’t a favorite to reach the Championship 4 this season, but Monday might be remembered as a turning point if the No. 12 driver eventually wins a Cup title.
There is enormous pressure on the 25-year-old to perform at Team Penske, which has been enjoying a worldwide results bonanza well beyond NASCAR that is impressive even for this storied organization. Never mind championship teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, Blaney also is competing against winners of the Indianapolis 500, Bathurst 1000 and Rolex 24. If he makes the playoffs but still goes winless this year, it gets noticed more than it would at a less successful team.
The confidence-booster of making every right move over the final two laps (including the bold decision to choose the outside for the lead on the final restart) should go a long way toward making Blaney feel his place is secure at one of racing’s greatest teams.
The tumult of Talladega is behind and that final lap changed things significantly.
Had Ryan Newman won the phone finish instead of Ryan Blaney, then Blaney would not have secured a spot in the next round and it would have changed the cutline, putting Alex Bowman in the final transfer spot.
Instead, Blaney won, secured a spot in the next round and moved the cutline up, creating a gap between Joey Logano, who holds the final spot, and those behind.
Here's the difference .007 seconds makes for both a single driver and the entire playoff field.
Ryan Blaney (Talladega) and Kyle Larson (Dover) don’t have to worry about anything this weekend because their wins in this round have put them into the Round of 8. Enjoy it now before the next round begins the following week and the pressure intensifies.
FEW WORRIES INDEED
Denny Hamlin is 56 points ahead of Alex Bowman, the first driver outside a transfer spot to the next round. It would take quite a series of circumstances for Hamlin not to advance to the next round.
SEE YOU DOWN THE ROAD
Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammates, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch, also are in a good spot to advance to the Round of 8. Truex is 48 points ahead of Bowman and Busch is 41 points ahead of Bowman.
DON’T FORGET ABOUT ME
While Kevin Harvick didn’t have a memorable Talladega — few playoff drivers did — his 17th-place finish left him 36 points ahead of Bowman. Harvick also should be in good shape to advance provided nothing catastrophic happens to his car at Kansas.
JUST AVOID TROUBLE
Team Penske teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano hold the final two transfer spots entering this weekend. Keselowski is 20 points ahead of Bowman. Logano is 18 points ahead of Bowman. Keselowski won at Kansas in May.
“Brad and I are l looking OK,” Logano told NBC Sports after the race. “It’s better than being 18 behind. We’ve just got to be smart (at Kansas) … and no crashing.”
Somehow, someway Joey Logano left Talladega Superspeedway Monday with an 11th-place finish
He also left the 2.66-mile track with two runner-up stage finishes and an 18-point advantage on the cutoff spot to advance to the Round of 8.
But his No. 22 Ford left looking like it had gone through the spin cycle at Martinsville Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway all in one day.
It had instead survived involvement in an eight-car wreck at Talladega and thanks to the MacGyver-like skills of his Team Penske crew, finished ahead of eight other less fortunate playoff drivers.
“Everyone fought hard. My whole team fought hard today. I made everyone work,” Logano said after the race won by his teammate Ryan Blaney. “Things were going well, we had two second places in the stages. … And that’s really what gets us 18 points above the cutline right now. That was huge for us.”
A three-time Talladega winner, Logano entered the race tied with William Byron in points for the last transfer spot, but Byron owned the tiebreaker (best finish in this round). That was after a mechanical failure right before last week’s Dover race began and resulted in Logano finishing 25 laps off the lead.
“Just bam in the middle of the straightaway,” Logano said. “All things considered, the hood was blown up, I got hit in it felt like all the corners. The team did a good job. We lost one lap fixing our car. Then we got the lucky dog and got a few more (spots) before the end there. Proud of everyone to get what we can out of that. It’s what we needed to do. We’re 18 points ahead of where we were when we came into this on the cutline. That’s important. You want to be better than that, but considering the situation it was an OK day.”
Now Logano’s attention shifts to Kansas Speedway – where he’s won twice – for the second elimination race.
“It helps,” Logano said. “Does it mean we’re in? Absolutely not. We’re far from it. We don’t have many cars behind (us). We’re the last car in. If one of those guys wins, we’re the first one out. So we just got to be mindful of that next week because there’s a lot of cars back there that have some speed and can possibly win. It’s not a very comfortable situation, but it’s better than where we were when we came in here. The way we control our destiny is go out there and win and bring a fast car next week.
TALLADEGA, Ala. — A weekend that started with its cars starting at the front ended in disappointment for Hendrick Motorsports’ three playoff teams and left each essentially in a must-win situation next weekend at Kansas Speedway.
Blaney’s victory assures him a spot in the next round, joining Kyle Larson, who won last weekend at Dover.
Bowman, Elliott and Byron — along with Clint Bowyer — are all outside the cutoff spot. Bowman is 18 points behind Joey Logano, who holds the final transfer spot. Elliott trails Logano by 22 points and Byron is 27 points behind Logano.
While anything is possible, it will be difficult for any of the Hendrick cars to outpoint Logano for the final spot at Kansas.
“We’ve got three cars that really need to win to get in,” Jeff Andrews, director of competition at Hendrick Motorsports, told NBC Sports. “I think the points thing right now is kind of irrelevant. The focus is to win.”
Should all three Hendrick cars fail to advance after next weekend’s race, it would leave Chevrolet one driver left (Larson) in championship contention.
Alex Bowman’s race ended when he triggered an 11-car crash by blocking Logano two laps from the end of the second stage.
“I just misjudged how much of a run (Logano) had there,” Bowman said. “That’s on me. These cars are tough to see out of and I didn’t do a good job of it. Probably shouldn’t have attempted to block that.”
Bowman finished 37th.
As for his plan at Kansas?
“We’re just going to go lead the most laps, win both stages and win the race,” Bowman said.
Byron was next to exit Monday, eliminated when he was hit from behind by Kurt Busch. Byron finished 33rd.
“It was just cars everywhere, drafting at 200 mph,” Busch said.
Byron said the contact was an “accordion effect (after) I had kind of lost momentum for whatever reason.”
While Elliott finished eighth, his car was damaged in the crash triggered by Bowman’s block of Logano. Elliott also failed to score any stage points.
“Just a train wreck,” crew chief Alan Gustafson said of the team’s day. “I don’t know what else to say about it.”
There really wasn’t much to say for Hendrick’s drivers except they need to win now.