NASCAR Illustrated takes a look at odd jobs around the sport. In this eipsode, Dr. Lynne Kushnirenko talks about how she helps keep the garage in line.
Driver, sponsor 'Go Pink' to support breast cancer awareness RELATED: Subscribe to NASCAR Illustrated Danica Patrick , at just a shade over 5 feet tall, was fidgety. Sitting on a couch overlooking the lobby of Stewart-Haas Racing , her feet failed to touch the ground. But there's no denying the big impact this diminutive driver has had on breast cancer awareness. In her sophomore season as a full-time Sprint Cup driver, Patrick and sponsor GoDaddy continued their "Go Pink" campaign in the fight against the disease. Patrick, as she did last season, competed in a pink No. 10 Chevrolet during the month of October. On a typically busy day, Patrick took time out between photo shoots to talk with " NASCAR Illustrated " about this year's program. NASCAR Illustrated : This has become a special initiative for you and GoDaddy. What are some of the highlights for 2014? Danica Patrick : Well, the same beautiful pink suit is back. I do love the rich pink color of it and what it signifies. If you go to GoDaddy.com/donate, you can donate $10 or more and you can put someone's name on my Martinsville car. To honor someone who's been affected or maybe not made it. It's a good way to donate and help the cause and be part of a NASCAR race. NI: Do you have any friends or family who've been affected by the disease? Patrick: I do. I have a friend who I grew up with who benefitted from the technology of being able to detect the breast cancer gene. She preventively had a double mastectomy in her mid-20s. For me, I'm grateful for everything that people have done for so long with donating and just making the general public so aware of this disease. NI: The pink color really pops and it's synonymous with this cause. How prominent is pink in your personal wardrobe? Is it a color you usually gravitate towards? Patrick: The pink and green go really good together. They're a nice color package. I probably stayed away from pink for a long time at least around racing anyway. It's pretty obvious I'm a girl. I don't need to slap pink on and make it even more obvious. It's kind of funny actually about putting this suit on and it being pink and saying I love it, how I steered away from making it so obvious I'm a girl. It just shows me how much I'm thinking about the cause as opposed to anything else, what it stands for to wear pink in October. I mean, if football players can go out there and wear pink on game day then so can I. NI: Do you get a different type of satisfaction from this compared to a typical sponsor relationship? Patrick: I see it as working with your partners to do more together and deepen that relationship by giving back together. For me, obviously, using the platform of racing and what I do and doing things like this to just having that pride that your sponsor is doing something to give back as well, giving up their whole car livery and color scheme to raise awareness for something else other than them. NI: It would seem one of the big perks of your job is being able to use your celebrity in an effort to help others. How gratifying is that for you on a personal level? Patrick: I feel like it's a responsibility maybe more than anything that so many people pay attention, that there are so many NASCAR fans and fans of mine, I'm very fortunate, and I feel like it's a pretty cool privilege to use that for other things. So I feel a responsibility to it. I feel it's part of the deal. I get so much from so many other people; it's a responsibility to give back. NI: You've done ride-alongs and met a lot of survivors. Has there been one story that's really resonated or is it more just a collective impact? Patrick: With breast cancer, it's just a vibe within the group. They're always in a great mood. They have such camaraderie, such optimism and they do really cool and empowering things along the way like go out and ride 130-140 mph in a car with me around a race track without a helmet on and just a seatbelt. They're doing things that I've been told in the past, that this is stuff that I'd have never done or been brave enough before breast cancer and now I am. It's just stuff to make them happy, smile and get together and have that sense of community around it because they're all going through the same hell, to be honest. There's a certain level of comfort for them to be around other people that are going through it and can share. NI: What's going to make this a successful campaign for you, how will you know you've made the impact you've wanted to? Is it numbers or feelings? Patrick: I've been involved in lots of different awareness campaigns and you don't see the fruits of your labor now, next year or the year after. It's stuff that just over time -- it's a movement. I don't think we're going to see the efforts that we've made in the very moment or right away in the immediate future. I think that's something that you see later on. Probably the most immediate stuff would be the funds raised to do more research and to learn more about the disease and to try and find a cure. But over time, 10 and 20 years later, what did that movement do to the general public and how much of an issue is the disease now? And we can't know that yet. Thanks 4 backing NBCF @GoDaddy Oct. drive 2 ‘Put the Brakes on Breast Cancer’ we raised $29K to add to the big check! pic.twitter.com/gYAH2BnZcs — Danica Racing Online (@danicaracing) October 31, 2014 SUBSCRIBE NOW!
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!
Richard and Kyle Petty honored for their work as Victory Junction turns 10 RELATED: Subscribe to NASCAR Illustrated Weave your way through Randleman, North Carolina, past its verdant pastures and timeworn gas stations, and you'll happen upon a magical place. About four miles outside town, a stone's throw from Richard Petty's residence, you’ll find Victory Junction. But it might as well be at the intersection of healing and hope. The 80-acre camp, situated on land that Petty roamed as a child before donating it a dozen years ago, celebrated its 10th anniversary this year. Since it opened in 2004, Victory Junction has enriched the lives of children with serious illnesses by providing life-changing camping experiences at no cost to them or their families. It has also honored the memory of Adam Petty in a most fitting way. Due to that incredible achievement, NASCAR Illustrated is naming Richard and Kyle Petty the 2014 Persons Of The Year. Although they would surely prefer the award go to the thousands of people who have helped turn Adam's idea into reality, we honor these two for their tireless efforts and singular contribution to children. Grandson of Richard and son of Kyle, Adam developed the idea of this camp. The notion came to him some two years before his death in an accident at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2000. Shortly after, the seed that Adam had planted started to take root. "This was just land that I grew up on," Richard Petty said recently. "We brought four-wheelers over here and went hunting and all this kind of stuff, so we knew the land. We had some boys from [ Richmond International Raceway developer] Hugh Hawthorne and he brought a bunch of guys down from Richmond. Dale Inman [long-time Petty crew chief] got on a bulldozer, never been on a bulldozer before, and just cleaned everything. For two years, they just cleaned everything trying to get things lined up." On a recent, resplendent autumn day, the King gazed out on the finished camp, taking stock of just how far it had come. "The place really looks good now because it looks like it belongs here," he said. "When we done it to begin with, it was pretty but it was naked. Now everything's hidden. Beautiful place, man." This is true both literally and figuratively. Victory Junction has welcomed more than 20,000 children and family members from all 50 states and several foreign countries in its first decade of operation. It has succeeded in its mission to create a place that fosters independence, confidence and continuous growth after camp to better the quality of life for children. Adam's legacy is palpable on these healing grounds. "I think you feel his presence," Kyle said of his son. "I've said it before: I see Adam in every child that comes through here in their smile. Adam had a huge smile. So when you see these kids laugh and smile, then yeah, you do feel closer." Victory Junction has always relied on and benefitted from the generosity of its extended NASCAR family. The Pettys started this journey with little more than Adam's vision and a belief that it was meant to be. There were only fields and dreams in the beginning. "We went out then to race fans, to the tracks, to NASCAR , everybody, and said, 'This is what we're gonna do,' " Richard said. "We started with no money; we just started it and said, 'We're gonna do it and they will come.' As you were able to show what you was doing here, then more people came and more people got involved." Evidence of that largesse is everywhere -- Dale Earnhardt Jr .'s Corral and Amphitheater, Kurt Busch 's Superdome, Michael Waltrip 's SportsCenter and Jimmie Johnson 's Victory Lanes bowling alley among others. "It's been that trickle-down effect," Kyle said. "The first two guys that really helped us here were Bobby Labonte and Dale Jarrett, really made a commitment and said, 'Let us do something.' Since then, just about everybody (among drivers). That's all cool and that was big and they built a big building and donated and gave their time and effort to raise their funds and awareness. "But it's the fan that sends $4.50 a month or $45 a year that really keeps the camp going. "So, that's the base. The base is the fan base. Just like the same guys, men and women and kids that go to race tracks all over and pull for Tony Stewart or Jimmie Johnson or Jeff Gordon . They're the people that keep camp alive." Victory Junction Chief Development Officer Mark Schumacher joined the camp this year and only recently realized that his professional and personal lives had crossed without him knowing years earlier. Schumacher's son, a cancer survivor, was a camper at Camp Boggy Creek in Orlando, Florida, in 1998. That year, wildfires ravaged the Daytona Beach area and forced NASCAR to postpone the July race to October. As fate would have it, the Pettys visited Camp Boggy Creek that fall and that is when Adam hatched his idea. He left thinking: Instead of visiting kids in hospitals, as the Pettys had done with the annual Kyle Petty Charity Ride to that point, why not bring the kids to a camp in North Carolina? Schumacher's son's experience -- both good and bad -- helped make the move to Victory Junction a no-brainer. "He said it was the best time of my life during the worst time of my life," Schumacher said. "If that doesn't say it for you, nothing does. We just all believe one thing: A child needs to be a child. This is where they can do that. We're just bringing to them what every other child enjoys. That is what drives everybody on this team." Forged out of loss and sadness, Victory Junction has blossomed over time into a place of great joy. Schumacher sees a common thread running through all the campers that visit. "I think the genesis of this camp and the building of this camp and the experience the campers have is looking at life without a rear-view mirror," he said. "There is nothing we can do to change things. We can't bring Adam Petty back; we can't say to some of these children that your disease, your disability is magically disappearing. But we're not focused on looking back; we're focused on going forward. "So what can we do to make a difference going forward in their lives and how can we make that tragic death of Adam Petty mean something? That's Victory Junction." In the company of others sharing the same condition, kids feel empowered to let their true personalities come out. It's a freedom that -- once discovered -- can liberate these kids from the constraints society places upon them. "When these kids are in school, that's what they're known by is their disease," Kyle said. "That's the little boy in the wheelchair. That's the little boy with spina bifida. That's the little girl that can't play because she has hemophilia or whatever it may be. They become known by their diseases. Here, they are known by their names. Their disease takes the backseat." Victory Junction Camp Director Chris Foster noted that for many campers -- particularly those from small towns or with unique diagnoses -- it's often the first time in their lives being in the presence of others that can relate to what they're going through. The relationships that are formed over the course of a week can last a lifetime. "To come here and spend a week at camp with six or seven other kids in the cabin that have the same diagnosis as you is something they've never experienced in their whole life, and they get to feel normal and just play and be a kid," Foster said. "We don't like to focus on the diagnosis at all. We really just like to focus on the child and allow them to have that great experience. But in the real world, sometimes they are labeled by diagnosis." Michael Deal, who made his sixth visit to Victory Junction this summer, is one of many campers that return to the camp each year. "One of my good friends behind me, Zach, we both have Chrohn's [a bowel disease]," Deal said. "It's just we've been coming here so many years and almost been in the same cabin every time. We're basically best friends. We've done everything together. It's just a lot of fun. Here you can just let it all out. At home, you're afraid if people are going to tease you or make fun of you. And here, you can just talk about it and everybody will understand." In its first decade, Victory Junction has helped thousands of kids like Deal understand, heal and move forward on their way to better lives. Richard Petty, fond of using the word "deal" in everyday conversation, invoked the word to describe what makes this place truly special. "The deal is when you think about being here 10 years and seeing 20,000 kids that wouldn't get a chance to do anything like this," he said. "They can't go to church camp or YMCA camp or anything like that. But they can come here for five or six days and they see people that -- they think they're the only one in the world that's afflicted like that -- they come here and there's another 125 kids just like them. They join the world." The patriarch of the Petty family noted that he’d been blessed with four children, 12 grandchildren and three great grandchildren. His singular success in stock car racing afforded fame, fortune and worldwide acclaim. And yet, at 77, you get the suspicion that what's been built in the rolling hills of Randleman will mean more to him in the end. "This is the place that I come and I look around and say, 'Thank you, good Lord, for letting me be in this position to try to help all these other kids,' " he said. "To me, that's basically what it's all about." For Kyle Petty, the loss of his son served as prelude to healing on a grander scale than any of the family members could have imagined. He was asked what Adam would think, how he might feel, about the number of lives that have been so positively impacted by Victory Junction since it opened. "It's been like dropping not a pebble in still water, it's been like dropping a boulder in still water with the ripple effect and how it continues to just overwhelm you," he said. "I think from that perspective, he would be like us. He would just be humbled by the fact that the boulder that was dropped in the water was him, but when you look at it, the ripple effect still continues this much later." 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!
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!
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!
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!
Pit boss of the No. 13 Germain Racing team explains flaring the skirt out RELATED: Subscribe to NASCAR Illustrated From Dale Johnson (via Facebook): "How does the post-race inspection process work with the body — specifically with the "flare" on the right side, side skirt by the wheel well? I race on a short-track level, and our officials would never let that through tech." Bootie Barker: We flare the skirt out to increase the car's downforce and side force. They're big hitters on just planting the car more. I use the term "capability." A car has two limitations on how fast it can go: the driver and its capability. When you flare out the sides like that, you're adding downforce, you're adding capability to the car. It can physically run faster because it sticks more. How can we get away with it? NASCAR's not blind. They know we’re doing it. You have to go through initial inspection in a certain way, and for whatever reason, they have deemed it acceptable for us to do those things during the race and we aren’t suffering the consequences afterwards. Now, will they one day go, 'This has gotten ridiculous and we have to stop this?' That's really their decision, and we won't know what that "too far" is until one of us does it. So, that's what happens. We just keep pushing the limit until somebody kind of establishes what the limit is. SUBSCRIBE NOW!
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!