RELATED: NASCAR official: We believe we did our job today LOUDON, N.H. -- Race restarts have been a hot-button issue in NASCAR this season and ironically, one of the teams most vocal about restart officiating was penalized for an illegal start Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway . Team Penske driver -- and Chase contender -- Brad Keselowski was ruled to have jumped the restart on Lap 242 and penalized with a pass-through penalty that dropped him from second place at the time to 25th. NASCAR officials say that video shows Keselowski's Ford accelerating through the marked restart area ahead of then race leader Greg Biffle 's Ford and called the decision to penalize Keselowski "very clear cut in our mind.'' "We did get 100 percent confirmation from our official that was on the ground as well as by all the data that was available to us,'' said Richard Buck, NASCAR's managing director of the Sprint Cup Series. The 2012 Cup champ Keselowski said he felt like NASCAR was making an example of him saying he was "the first person to ever be penalized for jumping a restart when I don't pass anyone, so that's a new one." "But we moved on and we made the most of a good day with the Miller Lite Ford and got a solid finish that hopefully will make our Dover (race) a little bit easier, so that was good," said Keselowski , who rallied to a 12th place finish. Biffle, for his part after the race, seemed a little puzzled by the call as well. "To be perfectly honest with you, I didn't notice," Biffle said. "I saw Brad kind of going a little bit and I waited until about the middle of the zone maybe. I didn't go right at the two marker, but I maintained my speed and I didn't speed up or slow down and I took off when I felt like it was time for me to go. "I wasn't really paying that close attention to the 2 ( Keselowski ) or what he was doing. We were pretty even getting down into (Turn) 1. I don't knew what they called him for, but I'll have to take a look back I guess. "I feel bad for Brad . I wasn't playing any games. I wasn't doing anything. I just went in between those two marks like we're supposed to.'' Keselowski recovered well from the penalty and is ranked eighth of the 16 Chase drivers with next week's elimination round after Dover cutting the field to 12. Still his team owner Roger Penske wondered what might have been on Sunday as Keselowski ran up front most of the afternoon. "I didn't see it, but his car was ahead of the 16 (Biffle) at the second line and I guess that's how they called it,'' Penske said. "He ( Keselowski ) didn't pass him, so I thought he was all right. I've got to go back and look at it. The race is over; there's nothing we can do about it. "I don't think he tried to jump it all. The way it looked in the box and they're going to call it when the first car doesn't cross the second line ahead. We'll just have to deal with it. Brad did a great job. The car ran well. We were running second at the time, with the 4 ( Kevin Harvick ) running out of fuel it would have been interesting. We're still in decent shape going into the next phase.'' WATCH: Keselowski black-flagged after restart Buck spoke with reporters after the race to further explain NASCAR's position on the restarts. He said there has been a lot of communication about the standard and the punishment. He said officials even warned teams on the radio during the race when it looked like the start was in position to be compromised. "We have made the rules very clear to everybody in the last couple drivers meetings and made sure everyone was informed,'' Buck said. "In fact today during the race, we reminded them before the race and during each restart of the rules. "If we saw something creeping toward the end we informed the spotter and crew chief so they knew what we were seeing and that's what brought us to the decision. "We're very clear and the drivers agree. The language is: there is a double red mark on the wall and a single red mark on the wall. The leader is the control car and has the right to restart the race and he must restart the race in that zone. The 16 was the leader at that point. The 2 car restarted before the 16 did." While NASCAR felt confident in its decision, it took some criticism from others on social media during the race. Ricky Craven, a NASCAR analyst for ESPN and a former Cup driver called the ruling "a horrible decision" because Keselowski did not ultimately pass Biffle on the start. A precedent was set today black flagging the highest running Chase driver @ keselowski For gaining nothing ? 6:15p @SportsCenter — Ricky Craven (@RickyCravenESPN) September 27, 2015 Keselowski actually brought up the subject of restarts two weeks ago in the pre-Chase media availability. "I have said it before but I still view restarts as rock-paper-scissors and you have to counter the moves of the person next to you,'' Keselowski said prior to the Chicagoland Chase opener last week. "As has happened it starts with the leader and the zone not being allowed to dictate it. If the guy in second place is lagging back then the only defense to that is to go early, both of which are illegal by the definition. Neither of which have been consistently called as an infraction. If one guy lags back and beats you when you do everything legal, then you have to defend it. That is your job. "I felt like as the leader at Darlington, I probably had half a dozen or more attempts at controlling the restart and I kept the lead the majority but not 100 percent of the time. The few times where I lost the lead it was very obvious that the car next to me had lagged back significantly and there was no call made. That forces your hand the next time you have the lead to do something to react to it. In a sense it is kind of vigilante justice. That is just how you have to play it." This time, however, Keselowski overcame the penalty and is still in good shape for the postseason. "I'm really proud of my guys to come back and get a top-12 out of that without getting another yellow or catching any other breaks after the black flag,'' Keselowski said. "I'm really proud of my guys.''
RELATED: Hear what Kes had to say " Watch the restart Steve O'Donnell, NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer, said Monday that he disagreed with criticism lobbied by Brad Keselowski , who became the first driver penalized by the sanctioning body's renewed emphasis on restart management Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway . O'Donnell's remarks came in a Monday morning debrief with NASCAR.com the day after the second event in the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs. NASCAR issued Keselowski a pass-through penalty on Lap 242 of Sunday's Sylvania 300 after series officials ruled he had inched ahead of leader Greg Biffle on the final restart. Keselowski dropped from second place to 25th after the penalty but rallied to finish 12th. In a post-race interview with NBCSN, Keselowski voiced his displeasure, saying, "It's a pretty basic understanding. It's an entertainment sport, not a fair sport," comments that O'Donnell later dismissed. "I think that was a heat of the moment comment from Brad ," O'Donnell said. "I would look at what we've said in the past, is drivers are certainly going to disagree with the calls we make and that's OK. I disagree with Brad's comments. I think we make this as fair as possible each and every race. We've got to make calls, and no one's going to agree with every call we make. … We'll certainly have a conversation just about where we want to go and what are some of his thoughts. That's our job to listen as well, but we've got to make calls. "I'd expect drivers to have some passion. That's what they do. This is world-class racing and there's a lot on the line. Passion is something that really drives us overall." RELATED: No. 2 black-flagged after restart Keselowski's No. 2 Ford was ahead of Biffle's No. 16 Ford at the start/finish line when green-flag racing resumed on the final restart, but Keselowski was unable to complete the pass once the field shuffled out. Replays showed Keselowski gaining an advantage, but also showed Biffle maintaining a slower pace in the restart zone, causing three cars behind him in the outside lane to stack up and make slight contact. O'Donnell explained NASCAR's judgment, referring to the series' repeated reminders leading up to and during the race. "It really starts in the drivers' meeting where we talk about restart rules repeatedly, and it's the leader's prerogative to restart the race in the restart zone," O'Donnell said. "We repeat that to the drivers, we reiterate that over the radio during any caution or restart to tighten the field, and what we saw in this case was Greg Biffle had the option to start the race and really wasn't given the opportunity to do so within that restart zone and in our opinion, utilizing the additional technology we've put forth with cameras and personnel on the ground, we made the call and believed the 2 jumped the restart and went ahead of the 16 in this case." Restarts have come into greater focus in recent weeks, with Matt Kenseth 's unpenalized jump of Joey Logano in the regular-season finale at Richmond becoming a turning point in NASCAR's governance of the procedure. After that event, NASCAR dedicated a camera and a senior official to monitor the restart zone for the duration of the Chase playoffs. O'Donnell has said in the past that he would like to leave restarts in drivers' hands, but that the sanctioning body would step in if it needed to make a ruling. He said he planned to speak with Keselowski later Monday to discuss the procedure and solicit his feedback. "It's our job to utilize all the technology we have available to us and make the call," O'Donnell said. "Not everyone is going to agree with that. There's a ton on the line each and every race, and so ultimately we've got to make a call. It's difficult to do, but that's our job. We'll certainly seek feedback from the drivers. We'll talk to Brad obviously today, get his feedback, which I'm sure we'll disagree but that's part of it, and then we'll head into Dover."
Brad Keselowski is shown the black flag after a restart with Greg Biffle.
At least four NASCAR drivers have crashed hard into walls not protected by SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction) barriers this season, with two sustaining injuries that required medical treatment. Camping World Truck Series driver Austin Theriault was the most recent victim, as the Brad Keselowski Racing driver suffered a 10 percent compression fracture of the lower back after crashing during the Oct. 3 Rhino Linings 350 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway . Theriault's No. 29 Ford struck the wall nose-first in approximately the same spot hit by Erik Jones ( Joe Gibbs Racing ) earlier this year during an XFINITY Series event. Jones was not injured as a result of his crash. Tuesday, team owner and 2012 Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski said he had not seen Theriault, "but I spoke to him and I know he's going through all those stages with the protocol you have to go through for NASCAR. Until that's done, I think it would be a little premature for me to say anything as to how he’s doing." Keselowski , whose organization fields two full-time trucks, said he is hopeful his driver will be "ready to go" when the series heads to Talladega Superspeedway in two weeks. On Thursday, Talladega officials announced "significant safety enhancements ... will be in place" before the track's Oct. 23-25 race weekend. In a statement posted on the track's web site, officials said "we have installed more than 8,000 linear feet of (SAFER) Barrier in 2015. We are covering the entire outside and interior retaining walls of the 2.66-mile facility." The fact that another driver hit in an unprotected area at a track, Keselowski said, does make him cringe, "but then I get back in the race car and say 'What are my options?' "As a team owner I have no ability to affect chance on the tracks, and as a driver I'm consistently told how lucky I am to have a spot as a race car driver and I need to shut up and driver the car. "There are no options available for me to remedy the situation, so I move on to things I can affect change on." Steve O'Donnell, Executive Vice President and Chief racing Development Officer for NASCAR, told NASCAR.com on Monday that the installation of SAFER barriers and other safety enhancements is "something that we've been very diligent about. "We were very vocal coming out of Daytona (in February)," he said. "We've worked with each of the facilities to have an aggressive plan in place for the SAFER barriers. In this case we've already had those conversations with Las Vegas and you'll see some changes heading into the 2016 season. "It was very unfortunate ... but the tracks have made some big investments in terms of from the first race to the second and I expect that to happen again as we look at Las Vegas and heading into the Cup weekend for 2016." Las Vegas Motor Speedway officials, contacted this week, said that plans are in place to have SAFER barrier installed in the area of the Theriault and Jones crashes before next season and that those plans were in place before this most recent incident. JGR driver Kyle Busch suffered a broken right leg and fractures to his left foot when he hit the inside wall nearest to Turn 1 during the season-opening XFINITY Series event at Daytona International Speedway in February. Busch, who competes full-time in the Sprint Cup Series, missed the season's first 11 races while recuperating. DIS president Joie Chitwood said that SAFER barrier should have been in place where the Busch accident occurred, but added after the incident, "we're going to fix that" and that the energy-absorbing barrier would be installed "on every inch at this property." By the time the Sprint Cup and XFINITY Series returned to the 2.5-mile track in July, additional barriers had been put in place beyond the exit of pit road (where the Busch impact took place), along the entire backstretch and at the entrance to pit road beyond Turn 4. More than 20,000 square feet of grass areas inside the track, between the racing surface and interior walls, was paved as well. "My thing about it is they do need to work faster," Busch said of additional SAFER barrier being installed at facilities. "I know there's a plan, but there's no reason why some of these race tracks -- like Bristol for instance had (SAFER barrier on) the walls on the straightaway" before this year's spring events at the track. "And at a place like (Las) Vegas, it's been eight months and ... they don't have (SAFER) walls. It's frustrating sometimes. "I've said it before and I'll say it again ... we'll figure out how to crash in the stupidest ways in the weirdest spots and get hurt. That Austin (Theriault) crash, that was so weird and never should have happened, but it did. We all need to stop playing God and protect as much as we can protect and let the rest take care of itself." Fellow Sprint Cup driver Jeff Gordon was not injured when he crashed at Atlanta Motor Speedway , a week after Busch's wreck, hitting a portion of the backstretch wall not covered with SAFER materials. Incidents such as Theriault's "points out how important it is to have every single wall covered at these race tracks," Gordon, a four-time Sprint Cup Series champion, said. "You know, for whatever reason, somewhere along the way somebody said 'we can put it here and we don't need it here' and that just proved that it doesn't matter what stats show. ... These incidents can happen at any time," said Gordon. According to AMS officials, additional SAFER barrier will be installed in January of 2016 along the outer wall on the front and backstretch as well as portions of the inside wall and in the turns.
RELATED: Complete race lineup CONCORD, N.C. -- For a driver who keeps insisting that qualifying isn’t his strong suit, Matt Kenseth continues to excel on NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coors Light Pole days. Touring the 1.5-mile Charlotte Motor Speedway in a blistering 27.759 seconds (194.532 mph) on Thursday night, the driver of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota earned the top starting spot for Saturday night’s Bank of America 500 (7 p.m. ET, NBC, PRN, SiriusXM), the first race in the Contender Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . Kenseth was .198 seconds quicker than JGR teammate Kyle Busch (193.154 mph), who put the No. 18 Toyota on the outside of the front row. Busch's car is sporting a pink paint scheme this weekend to bring attention to the work of his foundation in fighting breast cancer. The Coors Light Pole Award was Kenseth's fourth this year -- a personal best for a single season -- his second at Charlotte (and second consecutive) and the 17th of his career. Kenseth didn't have a perfect lap, but as he crossed the start/finish to complete the circuit, he knew he had a shot at the pole. "It was a heck of a lap," Kenseth said. "I knew I had a lot of speed. I kind of changed it up in (Turns) 1 and 2 a little bit, and I just got a little tight in the middle of (Turns) 3 and 4. I knew the car was fast. Our Dollar General Camry has been fast all day, and it was a lot of fun to drive." Kenseth gave the car and crew chief Jason Ratcliff's setup much of the credit for his pole-winning effort. "I knew it was going to be real fast," Kenseth said. "I didn't know we were going to sit on the pole by any means, but it had the feel and everything that I wanted. It's funny, this place, if you can get it to drive just like you want, you can really perform well here, but it's so hard to get that feel ... "But today he (Ratcliff) got it to drive that way. I was going to have to mess it up to not get it, as good as he had it there." Joey Logano (193.023 mph) qualified third, followed by Greg Biffle (192.947 mph) and Denny Hamlin (192.912 mph). With Carl Edwards claiming the eighth starting spot, JGR put all four of its drivers, all of whom are Chase contenders, in the top eight. All told, Chase drivers grabbed nine of the top 12 positions on the grid, with Biffle, Jimmie Johnson (seventh) and Aric Almirola (ninth) the only non-Chase drivers able to advance to the final round of knockout qualifying. Busch, who fought his way back into the Chase with a second-place finish last Sunday at Dover, was pleased with his effort in time trials. "I don't know -- Matt Kenseth , he was better than me, that's for sure," Busch said. "He got more out of it than me, but our pink M&M's Camry is awesome. We were able to post some good speed there. I'm real happy with it ... and I'm looking forward to the race on Saturday night." All 12 Chase contenders advanced through the first round, but Brad Keselowski (13th), Martin Truex Jr . (15th) and Jeff Gordon (22nd) weren't fast enough to make the final elimination session, which is restricted to the top 12. Keselowski ran an identical lap to 12th-place Carl Edwards but lost the final spot in the third round on an owner points tiebreaker. Josh Wise and Timmy Hill failed to make the 43-car field. The Sprint Cup Series is back on track on Friday for practice at 3:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN/Live Extra).
RELATED: See the full lineup Austin Dillon ruled qualifying for the NASCAR XFINITY Series on Friday afternoon, securing the Coors Light Pole Award at Charlotte Motor Speedway . Dillon drove the Richard Childress Racing No. 33 Chevrolet to a fast lap of 183.524 mph on the 1.5-mile track. Dillon will start first in Friday night's Drive for the Cure 300 Presented by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM) after claiming his sixth pole position of the season and the 16th of his XFINITY Series career. Fellow Sprint Cup Series regular Kasey Kahne will start the JR Motorsports No. 88 Chevy alongside Dillon after posting the second-fastest lap at 183.150 mph. Erik Jones was third-best with series points leader Chris Buescher fourth and Kyle Busch completing the top five. Defending race winner Brad Keselowski was among the drivers failing to advance to the final round of qualifying, posting the 13th-fastest time. Defending series champion Chase Elliott was 17th-fastest, also missing out on the final cut. Buescher enters the 29th of 33 races this season with a 24-point lead over Elliott and a 36-point advantage over Regan Smith , last week's winner and the 12th-fastest qualifier. Cale Conley brought out an early stoppage in the first round of qualifying with a long spin out of Turn 2. Conley's No. 14 Toyota made slight contact with the inside retaining wall on the backstretch before he was able to limp back to the XFINITY Series garage.
RELATED: Was Harvick's burnout done to hinder inspection? CONCORD, N.C. – NASCAR officials are not expected to "regulate" post-race celebrations following events, calling the long, smoky burnouts done by many race winners a part of the sport today and something that fans have come to expect. "Post-race burnouts have been a part of the sport for a long time as they give the winning driver the opportunity to express their enthusiasm for their win and give fans an exclamation point to the victory," NASCAR spokesperson Kerry Tharp told NASCAR.com Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway , site of Saturday's Bank of America 500 (7 p.m., NBC, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR). "We don't really see them being anything beyond that." Concerns about intentionally damaging a race-winning car came to light this week after defending Sprint Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick made contact with the inside wall while celebrating his victory in Sunday's AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway . Harvick led 355 of the race's 400 laps to advance into the Contender Round of this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup . Two days after the victory, the Stewart-Haas Racing driver said he wasn't aware that the back end of his No. 4 Chevrolet had hit the inside wall during his Dover celebration. His car passed post-race inspection at the track, as well as a more thorough inspection at the NASCAR Research & Development Center two days later. "That's what you're supposed to do," Harvick said when asked about comments that he had purposely damaged his vehicle to avoid the prying eyes of NASCAR officials. "You're supposed to try to create commotion. "I don't remember even actually hitting the wall. I remember the tires blowing out, but I don't know if I actually even hit the wall." Fellow Sprint Cup Series driver Denny Hamlin ( Joe Gibbs Racing ) said he was taking nothing away from Harvick's victory at Dover, "because what he did was really, really impressive." "But obviously, as all the other competitors, whoever doesn't win each week wants to make sure they're on a level playing field with whoever did win," Hamlin said. Former series champion Brad Keselowski said intentionally damaging a winning car has "been going on for a long time." "I'm not making any accusations," he said. "It's not anything new to this sport." On Thursday, crew chief Rodney Childers said he wasn't surprised that some had seized on something so innocent after his driver's strong performance. He also once again stressed that his team's cars had been to the R&D center more than any other vehicles this season without officials uncovering any irregularities. The No. 4 team has made 14 trips to the center for final inspection this season and passed on each occasion. NASCAR officials transport the winning and second-place entries, as well as a random selection, to the center following each race where engines, fuel cells and other pieces (such as transmissions) are removed and more closely inspected. A computerized device known as a Romer Absolute Arm, the same equipment used to certify each chassis before competition, is used to check each piece for any changes or any inconsistencies.
Standing on stage holding his arms high above his head giving double peace signs, 10-year-old Elijah Aschbrenner looked like a rock star -- bright red hair, high wattage smile and unmistakable attitude. A year after being diagnosed with a rare childhood cancer, Epithelioid Sarcoma, Elijah struck the pose after joining NASCAR stars such as Dale Earnhardt Jr . and Danica Patrick walking the runway as part of the Martin Truex Jr . Foundation's "Catwalk for a Cause" pediatric cancer fundraiser this past May. Predictably, Earnhardt and Patrick got rousing cheers, but Elijah clearly stole the show -- afterwards be-bopping around the Mooresville, North Carolina, venue shaking hands with donors, grabbing snacks with his little brother Sam, 9, and posing for photos with the race car drivers. It was difficult to tell who was the celebrity and who was the cause célèbre. That was only five months ago. Unfortunately, a recent CT-scan revealed that despite the chemotherapy and the radiation and the surgeries -- despite great courage and faith -- Elijah's cancer has spread. And after a brief and hopeful time participating in a clinical trial in Atlanta last month, doctors have decided there is no further treatment to prescribe. A hospice nurse visits Elijah every Tuesday at his home outside Charlotte making sure he is comfortable. A hospice social worker also stops by regularly to counsel Sam and Elijah's friends, whom his mom, Becky Hughes, says "are having a real tough time with this." Though Elijah would much rather be riding a Ripstik outside with his brother and friends, he mostly spends his days in a wheelchair building elaborate Lego creations or watching television -- "Wheel of Fortune" is one of his favorites. "My mom and I are really good at it," he says. He loves the occasional trips to Target or Toys "R" Us, and the steady stream of visitors who bring prayers and love. The cancer has taken a real toll on Elijah's young body. His voice is softer and strained, his stamina greatly diminished, but cancer has not sapped his incredible spirit or lessened his intense resolve. "There are so many days I could just cry and let myself get buried in that, but I can't," his mom explained. "Elijah is strong and Sam is strong, always there to make us laugh and smile. "I have prayed to God to just give me this tumor. I would do that in a heartbeat. The worst pain in the world is seeing your child going through something like this, and you can't fix it, you can't do anything. "I could be an emotional wreck, but Elijah only allows me three minutes of crying a day. Some days I don't need it, but if I start to, he'll say, "Three minutes, Mom." Hughes has worked in the racing industry for years both as a driver public relations representative and now with sponsor Great Clips. She has been buoyed by the outpouring of support from the NASCAR community but not surprised. This weekend Elijah and his family will be guests of Ann and Ken Schrader at the Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway . After some souvenir shopping -- his favorite part of the day -- Elijah is looking forward to stopping in the garage area and seeing his "friends" from the Catwalk event. So many of them have provided help to Elijah and his family. Drivers have lent their private airplanes to transport Elijah to various doctors around the Southeast. They have donated money to cover the escalating medical bills and sent messages of support using the hashtag #prayersforelijah on social media. More significantly, they have given their time and attention. Truex and his girlfiend, Sherry Pollex, herself undergoing treatment for ovarian cancer, are essentially on speed dial with the family and have been constant support for Elijah. Pollex organizes the Catwalk event and had been raising money ($300,000 this year) for childhood cancer long before she was affected personally by the disease. Team Penske put Elijah's name over the door of both of its Sprint Cup Series Chase contending cars last week. And 2012 Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski devoted one of the entries on his popular blogs to remind people about "perspective" in life. He used Elijah as a shining example. Roush Fenway Racing and Richard Childress Racing are among the organizations to publicly offer good wishes -- the entire team from shop foremen to drivers posing with a "Prayers for Elijah" sign. And while it is all a bit overwhelming and "very cool," Elijah joked this week that it does cause a minor problem when it comes to picking a driver to cheer for. "That's the hard part," Elijah said. "They are all so good to me. "The fact they know me is outstanding, I don't know how a kid like me would get that lucky to meet them. Just knowing them means a lot to me." His mother begins to cry when trying to explain the impact of those relationships. "He really looks up to Martin (Truex) and Dale Junior and Kasey (Kahne) and Jeff Gordon and feels like they are all his buddies because they have done events with him," Hughes said. "After the Catwalk, he'll talk about how Dale Junior is his buddy. During a race, he'll ask me to call Dale Jr. and get him to do this or that. I'll laugh. It shows how great these guys have been to Elijah. "Even if they were just with him for half an hour it made such an impact on him and made him feel comfortable and like a friend.That means everything to me. To see how happy he gets thinking he has all these buddies in all these different avenues of sports." Taking the cue from NASCAR's best, other sports have rallied about Elijah, too. WWE wrestling star Titus O'Neil changed a flight to detour to Charlotte and pay a visit to Elijah. Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton surprised Elijah at a block party in his honor -- a Halloween theme because that's Elijah's favorite holiday. News outlets from People Magazine to "The Today Show" shared the story. "I'm in disbelief. Every day we'll hear of another athlete doing something for him, last night someone sent us a picture of Kirk Cameron holding up a sign saying 'Prayers for Elijah,' " Hughes said. "It's just amazing to me, the outreach and the people that have been impacted throughout all this, from NASCAR, to WWE to the Panthers. Everyone's just put their arms around us and are supporting us. "He is definitely a loved little boy, and I am so blessed that God chose me to be his mom. He is the bravest little boy I know and I just pray for many, many more years to watch him grow up." It's not just famous people who have recognized and rallied for Elijah. Classmates from school visit him. The community organized a golf tournament fundraiser, and even local restaurants designated certain nights to donate funds. In some ways, "Prayers for Elijah" has grown from a sentimental hashtag or well wish into a movement. It is a plea for more funding and research into childhood cancers, which currently receive a very small portion of the overall funds. It is an inspiration reminding us if a 10-year-old boy can be this strong and positive despite all he's going through, then we should have great courage and a better attitude, too. It is a lesson in living in the present each day. As a breast cancer patient myself, I feel a special connection to Elijah. I was diagnosed a couple months after him and our chemotherapy treatments and surgeries often coincided. In fact, I had radiation treatment the morning I flew from Florida to Charlotte to attend May's Catwalk event. And I had to leave early the next morning to be back in the cancer center for my next round. That evening I asked Elijah what advice he had for other cancer patients. "Keep fighting," he said. "And breathe." His mom considers that evening a gift -- a time of pure happiness and excitement. How proud to know her son was an inspiration to every soul in the room. And still is. "He was amazing, he just shined that night," Hughes recalled. "It was like, 'Here I am and I'm not going to let cancer get the best of me.' And he's had that attitude from Day 1. "There have been many days when my faith is down and I’m scared and worried and he'll look at me and say, 'Mama, we're going to get through this.' So never once has his faith been in question. A few months ago he coined the phrase, 'Faith and believing are your cure.' And he really means it. "He is amazing and he gives me strength every day." He does the same for all of us.
RELATED: See the full Chase Grid Entering the Contender Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup , something looms over the remaining 12 drivers in the sport's championship battle -- massive Talladega Superspeedway . Yes, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is at Charlotte Motor Speedway for Saturday's Bank of America 500 (7 p.m. ET, NBC, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) and from there the series moves to Kansas Speedway for the Hollywood Casino 400 . Yet the 2.66-mile track, which hosts the CampingWorld.com 500 on Oct. 25, is firmly on the minds of all the competitors even though it's two weeks away. "I think this round is probably the most stressful because of Talladega," Martin Truex Jr . told reporters earlier this week at Contender Round Media Day at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. "I think everybody is really putting a lot of pressure on themselves to do good in these first two and try to get a win so you don't have to worry about Talladega." And Truex is not the only driver who feels that way. "Yeah, nobody wants to go to Talladega ‑‑ even if you're Dale Earnhardt Jr . and you feel like you're the most dominant car on those restrictor-plate tracks, and we've been, I think, as dominant as he has been just without the victories, I still don't want to go there and have to be in the top 10," four-time series champion Jeff Gordon said during media day. "You know, it's just one of those tracks where there's too many variables that can reach out and grab you." Carl Edwards simplified the approach even more, saying that he looked at the Contender Round as a "two-race series" instead of three races because of the uncertainty with Talladega. The two-time 2015 winner predicted drivers would be going even harder to try to get a win at Charlotte or Kansas to secure a spot in the Eliminator Round of eight drivers. "If you have a shot, if you can see the win at one of these next two races, you are going to see just some really tough racing for that win because nobody wants to go to Talladega with the uncertainty," Edwards said on Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway . "There's going to be a lot of nerves at Talladega." Last year Kansas hosted the opening race of the Contender Round. That event saw Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr . find trouble they ultimately could not recover from, while Brad Keselowski had to score a walk-off win at 'Dega to overcome his Kansas trouble. But simply navigating the opening two races of the Contender Round doesn't make drivers immune to Talladega trouble, either. Kyle Busch scored top-five finishes at Kansas and Charlotte in 2014 before being caught up in a 10-car wreck at the Alabama track that sent him to a 40th-place finish and ultimately knocked him out of the Chase -- something that wasn't lost on the Joe Gibbs Racing driver this week. "Last year we played it right, we were the top point total scorer of the first two rounds and we were seeded the highest guy without a win and we went to Talladega and we sure learned how to throw that away," Busch said. "I think what we can do a better job of instead of being one of the only guys to race at the back of the pack and get ourselves caught up in something that none of the other Chasers were involved in, is race with all the rest of the Chasers and if they all get caught up in a wreck and we do too then hopefully our point total will all be lower, but all the same instead of me just being the only guy down at the bottom of the totem pole." The value of winning early in a round of the Chase is raised to an even higher level in the Contender Round with the uncertainty of Talladega on the horizon. "When you look at Charlotte and Kansas -- the first two races of this round -- they're super-important," Joey Logano said. "If you can win, you're going to be sleeping a lot better at night."
RELATED: Complete results from Charlotte CONCORD, N.C. – Where Charlotte Motor Speedway is concerned, Austin Dillon doesn't mind being a creature of habit. After experienced veterans Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne knocked themselves out of contention on Lap 151 of Friday night's Drive for the Cure 300 NASCAR XFINITY Series race at the 1.5-mile track, Dillon streaked away from Erik Jones to win by 2.809 seconds over the Joe Gibbs Racing driver. With the victory, Dillon completed a season sweep at Charlotte, both wins coming from the pole position. The triumph was Dillon's fourth of the season in the XFINITY Series and the sixth of his career. Dillon's closest call came not on the track, but during the pre-race ceremony. A fireball from one of the skyrockets used to liven up the proceedings dropped out of the evening sky and singed Dillon's firesuit. "I was actually praying, and the fireworks hit me in the back," Dillon said. "I didn't know if it was a sign from God or what. But it got me going right there with a firework in the butt." Now that he's completed a season sweep in the XFINITY Series, Dillon will go for a weekend sweep on Saturday night, but he'll have to win his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race to achieve it. "We going to do our best (on Saturday) to do the same thing we did tonight," Dillon said. Brad Keselowski ran third, followed by Daniel Suarez and Regan Smith . Chris Buescher came home seventh and extended his series lead to 26 points over defending champion Chase Elliott , who finished ninth. Busch lost several positions after a Lap 147 restart, and he and Kahne raced aggressively for third place -- with repeated side-by-side contact between the two cars, before Busch pulled ahead. But Kahne drove hard into Turn 3 on Lap 151, tapping Busch's Toyota twice and sending it up into the outside wall. Kahne's Chevrolet also sustained damage in the incident, but he managed to finish 12th. Busch took his car to the garage on Lap 154 and retired from the race in 31st-place. "Kyle got mad because he got into it with his teammate (Jones) off Turn 2 on the start," Kahne said after the race. "That shuffled him back to where I was, and I'm racing to try to get by him." By Kahne's account, the hard racing soon escalated. "He started beating on me down the back and on the front, and I overdrove Turn 3 and got into him," Kahne said. Busch was not available to comment after exiting his car. Before the incident, Busch had led a race-high 102 laps, taking over the all-time lead in the series at Charlotte with 1,288 laps led. Mark Martin was the previous record holder with 1,257.