Learn more about the sister of Ryan Blaney and the daughter of Dave Blaney RELATED: Subscribe to NASCAR Illustrated Editor's note: Photo by Jim Fluharty Hometown: "I was born in Warren, Ohio, but moved to High Point, North Carolina, when I was 7. High Point is a small town that is fun and friendly. I've recently moved in with my parents in Concord, North Carolina — they love having me home, I'm sure. Charlotte is one of my favorite cities, so I'm happy to be so close." My boutique: "In March of 2014, my mom and I opened EmLeigh’s and Mama B’s in Concord. It's been a dream come true. I wake up every day excited to go to work. I am working in my dream closet. What 24-year-old girl (Emma turned 24 on Tuesday, Jan. 20) wouldn't love that?" Fashion: "I have always been the girl who isn't afraid to wear just about anything. Fashion and style are just ways of being yourself. You need to show you through anything you do, and one of the easiest ways to speak without saying anything is through what you wear." Favorite midnight snack: "I can tear up some edamame and some Cosmic Brownies. I have the appetite of a 5-year-old, so you'll always see me with Nerds Rope, Pop-Tarts, honeybuns or chocolate milk." Favorite app: "Instagram or Vine. I can easily waste two hours looking through pictures or watching hilarious videos." Music that moves me: "Physically, hip-hop or rap. I do an awful lot of unattractive dancing, but it's just so fun for me. If good music is playing, I'm dancing. Mentally, John Legend. In my head, he is singing all those cute love songs to me, and it turns my bad days into good ones." Favorite movies: "My all-time favorite is 'The Sandlot.' I watched it growing up and it never gets old. But I also love just about any movie starring Jim Carrey." Favorite websites: "I am married to a little thing called Pinterest. I know it is just so typical 'girl,' but whoever thought of Pinterest deserves Edible Arrangements every week because they are making the female population very happy." Habit I'd like to kick: "Putting on workout clothes but never actually working out. I find myself putting on workout clothes and walking to the Waffle House all too often." Biggest influence in my life: "My family. I have a dad who has worked hard his entire life, has never given up on what he loves and would do anything for our family. I have a mom who has kept us all in line. She has a lot on her plate but makes sure all of us are always taken care of. I have a younger brother who is doing big-boy things and living out his dream. And I have a younger sister who is always supportive of everyone and can make anyone smile at any time." SUBSCRIBE NOW!
Hendrick Motorsports driver talks offseason plans, 2015 goals RELATED: Subscribe to NASCAR Illustrated Kasey Kahne had an up-and-down 2014. The 34-year-old driver won for a third consecutive year at Hendrick Motorsports , notching the victory at Atlanta Motor Speedway in the penultimate race of NASCAR's regular season. That late win vaulted the No. 5 team into the Chase and ensured that all four of Hendrick's teams were in it. But Kahne and longtime crew chief Kenny Francis didn't consistently flash the speed that their fans have been accustomed to seeing. The rumor mill began churning with talk of Keith Rodden possibly leaving Chip Ganassi Racing and returning to HMS next year to lead Kahne's team. That move was confirmed shortly after Homestead, as was a new three-year-deal for Kahne at Hendrick Motorsports . NASCAR ILLUSTRATED : What do you have planned for the offseason, anything you're particularly looking forward to? KASEY KAHNE: I'm excited mainly just to have a little break. I need a break away from racing. Looking forward to going home for a few days back to Washington in Enumclaw, hitting a Seahawks game and then heading to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, for a week to ski, snowmobile and shop. I'm looking forward to that. NI: Your Atlanta win was the high point of the season. How would you describe the relief of getting into the Chase? KAHNE: It was definitely a highlight as a team and stepping up and working together. Getting a win that night was really nice for us, nice to make the Chase and get in. But I think the win meant more than anything just to show that we're capable if we do things right. When we do things right, we're still capable and we have a lot to look forward to in the future. NI: What are your thoughts on the new Chase format now that you've been through it? KAHNE: It's been really interesting and I personally like it because both winning and consistent teams will advance. In each round, both have advanced, so to me it's kind of like the points system but it's also like a playoff. So I like that. And it's also put more pressure on the teams and drivers every single race, which has created more drama. The fighting, the running into each other, I think it's really made it more intense. It's actually been pretty damn exciting. NI: You and Russell Wilson raised $220,000 in two days during "The Drive" this summer. What does the future look like for the event? KAHNE: Russell's excited and I'm excited about our first tournament together and the first time we worked together on charity. We're gonna do it again next year and try to make it an annual deal. The golf tournament was great and the course and the people involved. We expect to grow it and want to work and make sure it's bigger and better each year. RELATED: Kahne, Super Bowl MVP team up for 'The Drive' NI: What specific areas of your team's performance need to be better in 2015? KAHNE: Really the first thing I look at is speed in practice, qualifying, race. We don't have those fast laps like we've always had in the past. We have to look at that; I have to look at that, we have to look at that as a team. Our pit stops have to be better. You can't lose spots every time off pit road and expect to do well in this series. It's way too competitive. I think both of those things and just the communication and working together, normal things that you have to have as a team. I just think we all need to get a little better at that. I think it will all take care of itself once we get the speed back, once we know we’re putting up fast laps whenever we're on the track. SUBSCRIBE NOW!
Drivers provide insight into racing for NASCAR's smaller teams How small is your team compared to the elite teams? Michael McDowell , Sprint Cup driver @Mc_Driver "There are a total of 12 guys in our shop -- going against teams that have anywhere between 150-300 people. The biggest difference is just the sheer ability to maximize all the details. At the same time, the sport does allow us to be fairly competitive. We have an alliance with Team Penske that allows us to stay closer to the game and stay relevant. You've got to start somewhere. Who knows, five years from now, we might be one of those teams with 50-100 people." Joe Nemechek , Sprint Cup driver @FrontRowJoe87 "There is no comparison. At one point, I drove for Felix Sabates and we had a three-car team. I drove for Andy Petree, where we had two cars. And I drove for Rick Hendrick, who had four cars. This team [for the Atlanta race], I just met these guys on Monday. I want to say they have six or eight guys. It's virtually impossible to be competitive, but we can put on a good show for smaller sponsorship dollars. We have to work, dig and claw for everything. I'm not saying the big teams don't do that, but it's unbelievable hours and a lot of work." Derrike Cope , XFINITY Series driver @DCopeTeam70 "We are pretty small. We have five full-time people, including myself. We all try to do a multitude of things. I do shock absorbers, we rebuild our own engines and we pretty much outsource all the fabrication work. It's a tough go." Mike Harmon , XFINITY Series driver @hrmn8ter "Besides myself, I've got two full-time employees. So I guess that would make us 10-times smaller." Big teams come to the track with totally fresh cars. Do you ever come to the track with a car that is just plain worn out? McDowell: "Over the years, I definitely have -- mostly with chassis and bodies. In years past, I've gotten into cars that I'm not sure I should have gotten into without getting a tetanus shot. Of late, it's not been like that." Nemechek: "You can always do things better. I've been doing this a long time, and you learn what's important. A lot of time, you can outsmart some of these guys." Cope: "We do that about every weekend, to be quite honest. We have to run the old engine and we're just basically trying to run on a limited amount of tires. We run a lot of used tires in the race. We buy used parts and pieces that have been discarded by other teams and try to assemble something that will be better than what we had before." Harmon: "As a racer, you always want to have the best equipment. In Nationwide , I've never been able to have that." For top teams, 12 seconds is a good time for a pit stop. How long does it take your crew? McDowell: "With our Team Penske alliance, we use some of their development guys to pit the car. That's big for us because they are very good." Nemechek: "We just have a bunch of misfits. We're on a 25-second pit stop cycle, but that's fine. As long as they get all the lug nuts on tight, we're good." Cope: "We're probably doing pit stops in the 15-16 second range. We rent a few pit crew members from other teams." Harmon: "We're looking at trying not to lose a lap when we pit. At places like Daytona or Talladega, where we can run in the draft, I hire a Sprint Cup crew. Anywhere else, we're here to make the show, run and keep the team alive." SUBSCRIBE NOW!
Once an outlet, does racing provide same comfort? RELATED: Subscribe to NASCAR Illustrated The news on that Sunday morning shocked the NASCAR world, and soon the rest of the country was horrified, too. In a dirt-track race in upstate New York, Tony Stewart struck and killed another driver. From beginning to end, the Kevin Ward Jr. tragedy was unprecedented. Even with racing's history of being cloaked in death, nothing like this had ever happened. Ward crashed after contact with Stewart. He left his wrecked car and walked down the track to confront Stewart while Stewart turned laps under caution. Stewart's car hit Ward, and he died a short time later at a hospital. That happened late on Aug. 9, a Saturday night. By Sunday morning, video of the accident had been posted on YouTube. The tragic death was bad enough. The attacks on Stewart were dark and disturbing, too. It was as if people on social media took sides on a story that had no sides. They seemed to decide they couldn't mourn for Ward and feel empathy for Stewart at the same time. All of which made this the worst story of this (and almost any other) season. The "sports as escape" idea is a cliché that also happens to be true. Drivers, football players, baseball players, whomever, all speak of the field of play as a respite from the pressures of everyday life. But what if that field of play is also the source of those pressures? It seemed impossible Stewart would find any calm when he climbed back into his No. 14 Sprint Cup Chevy for the first time in Atlanta after missing three races. He was dealing with crushing guilt and grief. What difference could racing make with pain like that, considering racing caused the pain? But there Stewart was, taking the first laps in the restart of his life. All of his fellow competitors welcomed him back, and many of them said getting in the car would be a key step for him in his healing process. Stewart seemed to think that, too, if for no other reason than being in the car would give him something else to think about, something else to do for a few hours. Stewart remained composed while reading a prepared statement in front of the media, but it was obvious that he was a mess, that grief still gripped him. He looked broken, pale, washed out, like he hadn’t slept since the accident. He looked like a man wondering what he should do with the rest of his life. Stewart normally lives his life in NASCAR ’s public eye, but he nearly disappeared after Ward’s death. He looked and sounded much better when he took questions from reporters on Sept. 29 than he did in Atlanta. He looked better still when he was interviewed after the fall race at Martinsville, his only top-five after his return. He had been invisible for so long that his sudden appearance on TV to talk about having a fast car was almost jarring. When Stewart-Haas Racing driver Kevin Harvick won the Sprint Cup championship, Stewart joined the celebration and the postrace press conference. "There's a lot of things I would love to change about the last 18 months of my life, but tonight is not one of them," Stewart said. "I'm going to enjoy this moment." What's next for Stewart? Nobody knows. On and off the track, his life remains unsettled. He has said he probably won't race in sprint cars again, and that seems like a wise move, considering the August accident and a previous one that left him with a broken leg that caused him to miss 15 races last season. His average finish in Cup races in 2014 was 20.0, the worst of his career by nearly four positions. He went winless for the first time, and it's fair to ask (and impossible to answer) how much of his struggles were tied to the Ward accident. He wasn't having a good season before Ward's death, and he was even worse after. There are questions off the track, too. He could face a civil suit from Ward's family. Perhaps the only closure so far came when the criminal case ended. Ontario County District Attorney Michael Tantillo sent the case to a grand jury, which declined to pursue charges against Stewart. In announcing that, Tantillo also said Ward had marijuana in his system at a level high enough to impair his judgment. In the court of public opinion, that closed the case. With the absence of charges, the public moved on quickly. But Stewart didn't. He said several times that the tragedy would follow him for the rest of his life. Racing had brought Stewart the greatest joys of his life. Now it has wrought his greatest sorrow. SUBSCRIBE NOW!
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Boxing legend opens up about whether he'd give NASCAR a try
'Fast 'N Loud' host (Mondays, 10 p.m. ET on Discovery) discusses his passion for racing
FOX Sports personality discusses battling cancer, positive perspective Photo credit: Jim Fluharty/ NASCAR Illustrated RELATED: Subscribe to NASCAR Illustrated Steve Byrnes has been a stalwart presence in NASCAR for three decades. Whether it was most recently co-hosting " NASCAR Race Hub" or roaming pit road and the garage for so many years previously, Byrnes operated at the highest level of his profession and built a reputation for fairness along the way. Byrnes, who is on medical leave from FOX Sports battling the reemergence of head and neck cancer, discovered the disease had returned this fall. "It is the same cancer," he said. "Doctors were shocked and stunned. They thought I was completely in the clear." It's been said that no man walks alone, and in Byrnes' case, that has rung true with support coming from all sides of the NASCAR community. From drivers such as Dale Earnhardt Jr . and Jimmie Johnson to fans who've welcomed Byrnes into their living rooms for years and seemingly everybody in between. "The outpouring has been overwhelming, completely overwhelming to me," he said. Byrnes' biggest support system can be found at home in Fort Mill, South Carolina, with wife Karen and 12-year-old son Bryson. NASCAR ILLUSTRATED : You tweeted "Why Not Me?" and that was some powerful perspective. Where does that strength come from? STEVE BYRNES: I'm not gonna say it didn't buckle my knees for a minute or strike fear in my heart. But I'll tell you when my attitude really changed. The first day I had chemo last year, there were probably 12 chairs there. I was sitting across from a 20-year-old college kid that looked healthy as a horse. He went to The Citadel and he had testicular cancer. Next to me was a woman who was 75 years old and she'd been treated for 10 years, and quite frankly, was tired of it. And everything in between -- age-wise, ethnicity-wise and gender. It just hit me that I'm not special. I'm not different than anybody else. Cancer doesn't play favorites. So why not me? NI: The support from the NASCAR community has to be humbling. But is it a tangible thing that really serves as a source of strength to help you keep fighting? BYRNES: Yeah, and I'll tell you why. I've always thought in this business, I always kind of kept a distance from the competitors. Just because I wanted there to be a healthy respect two ways … as opposed to me bragging about, "Hey, I'm friends with Carl Edwards ." It was never important to me. In fact, it was more important the other way that they respect me rather than like me. NI: What are some of your favorite stories or indelible moments through the years? BYRNES: One of the things that stands out is I went turkey hunting with Dale Earnhardt. And to this day I have no idea where we were in Alabama (laughs). I know we were somewhere near Montgomery. We landed and it was just me, him, his pilot and one of the videographers I worked with. I had started seeing Karen at that time and we'd been dating about four months. We're sitting on this concrete picnic table and we'd had a few cold beers -- or several -- and he said, "Hey, Byrnes, you love that girl?" And I said, "I'm pretty sure that I do." He says, "Marry her." And I started laughing and I said, "Wait a minute, you're gonna give me marriage advice?" (laughs) NI: How has this whole experience changed you? BYRNES: I struggle for words because it sounds so cliché but every day is a gift. I'm trying so hard right now to rather than be scared or worried, to live in the moment. Every time I start to worry about the future, it makes me realize particularly this second go-around that … if you wake up in the morning, that's a good thing and you should be grateful for that. It sounds corny or cliché, but there is no promise for tomorrow. NI: What lessons have you learned that you couldn't have realized otherwise? BYRNES: People talk about a bucket list. My bucket list is that my son and my wife know how much I love them, so that when my time does come there will be no mystery. They're not gonna have to wonder how Dad or Steve felt about them. I don't care what kind of cancer it is; that word can buckle your knees. But I'll be damned if cancer is gonna take my passions away. I love watching football, I love watching racing, I love watching my son play football. I'm not gonna let this disease rob me of the things that I love, the people that I love. NI: What would you say to all of those people who've supported you? BYRNES: The biggest thing is -- and I don't mean this as a eulogy by any means -- but what I really want people to know is I really care. The person they see on television is the person I am in real life, that I'm passionate about the sport and the people in the sport. I just want people to know that I care that much back. I wasn't doing this just as a job. I'm doing it and hope to do it again as something I truly care about. SUBSCRIBE NOW!
Johnson, Byrnes: Sport evolves with new format to grow fan base RELATED: Subscribe to NASCAR Illustrated Jimmie Johnson stood outside his motorcoach two days prior to the 2014 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway , expounding on an answer about the new Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup format and its impact on the sport. "Times have changed, the world has changed, there isn't an easy answer for it," Johnson said. "What I'm trying to do is look at the statistics. Is viewership up? Is attendance up? I don't know the viewership answer, I've heard mixed reviews." Johnson was informed that ratings were up the previous two weeks at Texas and Phoenix. "That's a good sign. I know attendance, it looks like, has been up at a lot of tracks in the Chase. Phoenix was sold out, Chicago was really full, that's what I'm really looking at," he said. "Especially when I'm getting older in my career, I want the sport to be around, I want it to be around for generations to come. The world has changed, and we need to change with it." The revolution will, of course, continue to be televised (and tweeted, and instagrammed, etc.). Viewership was up for the 36th and final race at Homestead, which produced a sellout crowd, while the rating remained level with last year. Steve Byrnes, who has been a stalwart presence in NASCAR television for three decades, assessed the state of the sport prior to Homestead. "I still think that we are a work in progress, meaning we had this amazing growth and popularity, and everybody was kind of puffing their chest out," Byrnes said. "Then when the economy staggered, we staggered with it. I think we're still trying to catch up and find out what the fans really want. They’re trying everything they can." Those efforts produced a strong finish to the 2014 season and valuable momentum for NASCAR heading into the New Year. SUBSCRIBE NOW!
See what drivers have to say about keeping friendships on the track RELATED: Subscribe to NASCAR Illustrated Photo credit: Jim Fluharty/ NASCAR Illustrated Is it hard for drivers to maintain friendships with one another? Austin Dillon, Sprint Cup Driver, ( @austindillon3 ) "It's harder for some drivers than it is for others. You just have to learn how to have friendships with those guys because you see them so often. There's a balance between being a friend or just a guy that you know. It can be tough to hit that balance." Brian Vickers, Sprint Cup Driver, ( @BrianLVickers ) "It goes both ways. You have this common interest and respect for each other because of what you do. They are also your competitors. You race with them each week and things happen. You get in accidents, you get mad at each other, so friendships come and go. The respect is probably what keeps friendships together." Kevin Swindell, Nationwide driver, ( @KevinSwindell ) "It can be. A lot of guys go off the old adage, 'If you want friends at the race track, bring them with you.' As you get older, your mindset tends to change. You forgive a little quicker and get to thinking that not everyone is out to get you." Elliott Sadler, Nationwide driver, ( @Elliott_Sadler ) "No, not at all. I've got a lot of friends in this sport. It's almost like a traveling family. You're with drivers more than you're with your own family. You might have an issue with somebody, but you're such close friends, you talk it out and work through it." Have you ever been surprised by how a driver you thought was a friend talked about you or raced you on the track? DILLON: "Yes, at certain times, I've gone, 'Wow, I didn't think he'd say something like that.' Or other drivers have done things after the race that left me saying, 'I don't know that guy.' But you always get over it because there are times when all of us act out of character." VICKERS: "For me, what happens on the track is on the track. I may be mad or disappointed about how someone handled a situation, but that's purely for how they handled things on the track. I wouldn't let it change how I felt about them as a friend." SWINDELL: "There's always something, but you've got to stop and ask yourself, 'Would I have done the same thing to them?' If that's the case, you've got to calm down and let it slide." SADLER: "You run into that all the time, but it’s in the heat of the moment. I'd say 75 to 80 percent of the guys out here are great guys who would do anything in the world for you. But you've got to go out there and race hard and know where to draw the line." Have you ever gotten to know a driver for the first time and come away thinking, "That guy is cooler than I thought?" DILLON: "First impressions are big with me. I feel like I know where someone stands pretty early on when I meet them. I have talked to some guys and come away thinking, 'Man, that's a good guy.' I have also thought, 'Man, that guy is a loser,' and then spent 30 minutes with them and come away thinking totally different of them. I've learned that you've got to be open-minded with everybody. You've got to give everyone a chance." VICKERS: "You have perceptions of people and sometimes that changes when you get to know them. With people in the public eye, you're almost forced to make a judgment of them before you really know them based on what you’ve seen of them. Then you meet them and maybe get a different impression." SWINDELL: "Sure. There are always people that have a reputation one way or the other, and you come away surprised that they are different than you thought." SADLER: "I've had that happen a couple of times, and I've talked to drivers I didn't really know and felt like, 'That guy is going to have a tough time.' " SUBSCRIBE NOW!