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Kaulig Racing to field second entry in Indianapolis Xfinity race

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Kaulig Racing will field a second entry for the first time in its three-year history in the Sept. 8 Xfinity race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, team owner Matt Kaulig told NBC Sports.

The entry, the No. 10 Chevrolet, will join the No. 11 that is driven by Ryan Truex. The No. 10 will be driven by a “big driver.”

The news comes after Kaulig Racing earned its first top-five finish last week at Mid-Ohio, where Truex finished fifth. It came in the team’s 87th Xfinity start and was in Kaulig’s home state of Ohio, where his company, Leaf Filter Gutter Protection, is headquartered.

“It’s very (significant), it shows how our organization is growing,” Kaulig said. “A lot of these teams are getting smaller, are cutting people, are just cutting back and we’re growing. We’re just getting started. When you look at a team like ours, that’s just two-and-a-half years in, it’s all upside, it’s all of our great stuff that’s ahead of us. Not behind us. We just want to win trophies.”

The addition of a second car for the Indianapolis race follows the team building a 15,000-square foot addition onto its shop, which is located in Welcome, North Carolina, on the campus of Richard Childress Racing.

Kaulig’s time in NASCAR began as a sponsor of Blake Koch in 2015 when he drove for TriStar Motorsports.

Through 21 races, Truex is eighth in the point standings and has nine top 10s in addition to his first top five.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. to serve as honorary pace car driver for Brickyard 400

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Fans will get to see Dale Earnhardt Jr. in a car going around Indianapolis Motor Speedway next month, it just won’t be going very fast.

Earnhardt, who serves as a NASCAR analyst for NBC Sports, has been announced as the honorary pace car driver for the Sept. 9 Brickyard 400.

The race, which was held in July for its last 11 runnings, will be the regular-season finale for the Cup Series for the first time.

Earnhardt will drive a 2018 Camaro ZL1.

“I am honored that Chevrolet asked me to drive the Camaro ZL1 Pace Car in one of the biggest races of the year,” Earnhardt said in a press release. “The fan in me was already looking forward to this event. It’s a big race. There is a lot at stake since it’s the final chance for the teams and drivers to make the playoffs. So, I hope to do a good job leading the field to the green flag, but I can promise you I’ll soak in every minute and enjoy the Brickyard in a way I never have before.”

Earnhardt made 17 starts in Indianapolis between 2000-17, with a best finish of fourth in 2012 among his five top-10 finishes.

Fans will be able to see Earnhardt drive a little bit faster two weeks later. Earnhardt will compete in the Sept. 22 Xfinity race at Richmond Raceway. It will be his first race since retiring from full-time Cup competition at the end of 2017.

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Bundle of Joy provides families with play date they never could have imagined

Photo: Dustin Long
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HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. — They made noises, happy grunts, screams and squeals as they ran, climbed, swung, jumped and bounced around as toddlers do.

A few others too small to play, including one born July 31, rested in the arms of their parents and were admired by others.

Four years ago none of these adults would have been at this children’s gym and didn’t know if they ever would have a child. Infertility issues left them unable to conceive and the costs for treatments were beyond the means of many.

Tuesday night, they gathered as one big family, recipients of grants from the Bundle of Joy fund. Kyle and Samantha Busch started the Bundle of Joy fund after their struggles to have son Brexton, who was born May 18, 2015. They wanted to help infertile couples by providing financial gifts to pay for fertility treatments.

Since the program started in September 2015, the Bundle of Joy Foundation has distributed nearly $400,000 and had 14 children born with two more on the way this year.

All but one family, which moved to Colorado, that has had a child through Bundle of Joy grants were together for their first play date Tuesday, something Samantha Busch said two years ago she hoped they could have some day.

“I don’t think words can explain this,” Samantha Busch told NBC Sports on Tuesday. “Having them all here together and just seeing them all playing and interacting and the parents sharing their (In Vitro Fertilization) battles and journeys, this is what I always hoped for. This is why God had us go through IVF because look at all these families that are created through it.”

Among the newest couples with a child there was Ashley and Jeremy Rhoney with daughter Karoline, who was born May 9.

They had tried to have a child for five years. Doctors couldn’t explain why they were unable to conceive. Their lab work looked good but they still weren’t able to have a child.

Jeremy, Karoline and Ashley Rhoney. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Making it more difficult was that for the past four years Ashley has been a nursing assistant in the labor and delivery department at the Catawba Valley Medical Center in Hickory, North Carolina. There she had seen the joys of childbirth while unable to experience that herself. She admits it got to a point she considered switching jobs because of the constant reminder of what she couldn’t have.

They tried various treatments, including one that cost more than $5,000 that didn’t work. The next alternative was In Vitro Fertilization, which would cost Ashley and Jeremy more than $20,000, money they didn’t have. Then they heard about the Bundle of Joy fund and completed application just before the deadline.

When Samantha told Ashley and Jeremy that they would receive a $15,000 grant for additional treatments, Ashley could not speak. She cried when she got to the car.

Last September, she and Jeremy waited at home for lab results to determine if the treatment worked and she would be pregnant. Eventually they had to go to work. As they drove, Ashley got a phone call. She immediately declined it so it would go to voice mail when she saw the number. She waved her arm out the window to her husband in the trailing car, pulled over and called him to come to her car and listen to the voice mail. Even now, Ashley admits when she passes that patch of land on her way to work she thinks about the phone call that told her she was pregnant.

Also playing on Tuesday was Willie Lee Carswell III — call him Lee. He arrived April 12, 2017, ending a years-long journey for Will and Susan Carswell to have a child. 

Susan, Lee and Will Carswell. Photo: Dustin Long

Three treatments had failed. The costs were escalating for Will, a state police investigator, and Susan, who owns an embroidery business. They applied for a Bundle of Joy grant and received $12,600. When they found out Susan was pregnant, she noted that they had waited 1,116 days for that moment.

No moment can compare for Susan then when she held their son for the first time.

“My worst fear was … I thought oh my gosh, they hand me this child and I can’t get him to quit crying?” Susan Carswell said. “What am I going to do?

“As soon as they put him down on me and I said, ‘Hey baby, I love you,’ he quit crying immediately. It was like he knew I was his momma. I just could not believe that he could sense that I was his momma already and he knew that he was safe laying on my chest. That was the greatest feeling in the world that I’m his momma and he knows it.”

Will calls fatherhood: “Absolutely the best thing in my life.”

They both laugh as they recall when Lee was born and the first thing Susan said after seeing her son.

“We have to do this again,” she said.

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NASCAR updates tire transfer policy

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NASCAR has issued an update to its rulebook regarding the transfer of tires between teams during a race.

New tires may now be transferred between teams twice in a given race, but only if the second team that possessed the tires retires from the race due to an incident or mechanical issues.

Scuffed tires can only be transferred once.

Inside look at Richard Petty Motorsports’ Bristol game plan

Photo: Dustin Long
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EDITOR’S NOTE: Dustin Long is spending this week with Richard Petty Motorsports to give fans a behind-the-scenes look at how a team prepares for a race. He will be with the team at the shop and at Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend. Watch for his stories beginning today and running through Sunday.

WELCOME, N.C. — Tuesday’s competition meeting could have been held anywhere at Richard Petty Motorsports and often is.

Sometimes it is held in crew chief Drew Blickensderfer’s cozy office where a picture of Richard Petty and Dale Inman from Martinsville in 1971 watches over the room.

Cars on the shop floor at Richard Petty Motorsports. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Sometimes the meeting can be held on the shop floor where some of the team’s 12 cars are in various stages of dress, including the car — still in its primer black — that Bubba Wallace will race Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Tuesday, the meeting took place in a conference room in the front of the 20,000-square foot building that sits on the Richard Childress Racing complex.

Outside the room along a narrow hallway is a picture of a young Petty from about 60 years ago. NASCAR’s Elvis stands with his right hand in his back pocket and left hand leaning on the hood of a No. 43 convertible that Inman, who walks by, says is from Darlington in the late 1950s. Petty wears a white open-face helmet and the driver’s uniform of the day, a striped button down shirt with the sleeves rolled to his elbows, jeans and boots.

Just a few feet from that picture, Wallace — the future of RPM — leans back in a leather office chair in his uniform of the day, a blue Air Force T-shirt, dark jeans and sneakers. Blickensderfer sits across from Wallace in the conference room. Engineer Derek Stamets is to the right of Blickensderfer, who looks over notes on his laptop.

Sometimes there are a few more who sit in on the meeting but not many for this single-car team, which has 12 people working on the cars at the track and nine who solely work on the cars at the shop.

This is a pivotal time for Richard Petty Motorsports. While it has had sponsorship from World Wide Technology, STP, Click n’ Close and the U.S. Air Force, among others, the team does not have a primary sponsor for seven of the remaining 13 Cup races, including this weekend at Bristol. For those races, the car will be adorned in the team’s Petty blue and Day Glo orange with the logos of Medallion Bank and Petty’s Garage, companies operated by team owners Andrew Murstein and Petty.

Mechanic Joey Forgette (left), car chief Jason Sheets and crew chief Drew Blickensderfer talk as they stand over the car Bubba Wallace will drive at Bristol this weekend. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Trying to compete against teams with bigger budgets is not easy — Wallace has an average finish of 22.6 this year. But Bristol can be an equalizer because success at the high-banked short track is not as reliant on aerodynamics and dollar signs.

Wallace drove to the front and led six laps — the first laps the 24-year-old rookie had led as a Cup driver — at Bristol in April. A blistered left front tire relegated Wallace to 16th that day, but that doesn’t dampen the anticipation in the shop for this weekend. A similar run, without the tire blistering, would be a great way to showcase the team to potential sponsors it will have as guests Saturday night at the track.

So it is with that at stake the team’s weekly competition meeting takes place.

Blickensderfer gives Wallace a flash drive at the start of the meeting for his homework.

“That’s got (Kyle Larson’s) in-car (video),” Blickensderfer says. “I got that for you, at the end of the day when we had the struggle with the left front tire, we were never really able to get to the top (groove). Those guys could so I thought was worth watching.

“Yep,” Wallace said, nodding.

“That’s got qualifying on it, just to review what everybody did.”

Blickensderfer tells Wallace they will stick with their base setup from the spring race but will try three or four things to try to “tighten entry and … help that left front tire. We’ll try those in practice and see if we can figure out things.”

The blistered left front tire ruined a performance that could have rivaled Wallace’s runner-up finish in the Daytona 500, a result that left Petty smiling broadly and the now 81-year-old hustling through the crowd to bear hug his driver.

Knowing how close he had come to such a strong finish at Bristol, Wallace said he was “absolutely devastated, dejected, defeated” in a video he posted on Twitter shortly after that race.

Wallace was 12th on Lap 256 in the spring, climbed to sixth by lap 273 and worked his way to second on Lap 368 when he passed Kyle Busch. Wallace passed Brad Keselowski for the lead on Lap 375, holding it until Busch, who went on to win, got back by him six laps later.

Wallace soon fell back. As the left front tire blistered, it kept Wallace from running the bottom line because the car wouldn’t turn as well. By the time the caution came out on Lap 471, Wallace had fallen outside the top 10 and was no longer a factor for the win.

Crew chief Drew Blickensderfer and Bubba Wallace discuss their game plan for this weekend’s race at Bristol. (Photo: Dustin Long)

It was with that in mind that Wallace asked Blickensderfer what happened to the tire that day.

“Do you think the setup was the cause of the left front?” Wallace asks.

“I don’t think so,” Blickensderfer says. “I don’t know if it’s chicken or egg. I don’t know if the left front got worn because of the (traction compound was put down in the corners of the track) differently than it should have. There were other teams that had a similar left front issue. Us and (Keselowski) were running in the top five and 40 laps later we were getting lapped.

“It could have been brake related. Did we have something go on where you had to dial more front brake in because you were loose in?

“Yeah,” Wallace says.

“Then all of a sudden when tires wear, you locked up the left front one time.

“Yeah, yeah.”

“It takes some tread off and then from then on it gets worse.”

“Yep.”

“Or did the tread start coming up, which caused it to lock up more.”

“Gotcha.”

Blickensderfer notes that tire was worn in the center. Had it been worn on the inside edge or outside edge, it would have been a sign of a camber issue. Also, Blickensderfer says they had run further earlier in the race without an issue.

Blickensderfer also tells Wallace that they’ll have a 15-minute penalty at the end of the first practice Friday morning because they went through inspection twice before last weekend’s race at Michigan. The plan is to do a couple of mock qualifying runs in Friday’s morning session. Wallace was 16th in the first round of qualifying and 20th in the second round there in the spring. Wallace’s car had been loose in the corner in the first round and “really loose in” Blickensderfer notes in the second round.

“We’ll make sure to give you a couple of mock runs, especially on older tires to see if that loose in gets worse as it goes,” Blickensderfer says.

“OK,” Wallace says.

They discuss more about the race, go back to qualifying with Blickensderfer noting other videos he’s placed on the flash drive of drivers for Wallace to study, mention the weather and how that could impact their plans and make final notes. They end for lunch but the discussions won’t stop. The search for speed doesn’t take breaks.

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