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Habul donates $100,000 to Nationwide Children's Hospital
A father of a boy and two girls with another baby girl on the way, Kenny Habul balances being a successful business owner, race car driver and family man. While in Ohio last Thursday afternoon, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver and his family visited the Nationwide Children's Hospital (NCH) and made a $100,000 donation on behalf of everyone at his company, SunEnergy1. For more than half a century, Nationwide has partnered with NCH to provide life-saving care to children and their families. The third annual Nationwide Children's Hospital 200 at Mid-Ohio was part of the company's effort to raise awareness and more than $4 million for NCH and its wide-ranging, world-class research efforts. RELATED: Drivers form lasting bond with Patient Champions In his 11th career XFINITY Series start and second of the season, Habul qualified 15th and finished 28th. Last month, Denny Hamlin drove Habul's SunEnergy1 No. 20 Toyota Camry to New Hampshire Motor Speedway's Victory Lane.
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Marks, Dillon pace field Friday at Mid-Ohio
RELATED: Practice 2 results Justin Marks sped to the top of the leaderboard late in Friday's final NASCAR XFINITY Series practice at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, piloting his No. 42 Chevrolet around the road course at 95.574 mph. That was just quick enough to unseat Ty Dillon from the top spot. Dillon, who led Friday's opening practice and was looking for a sweep, had a best speed of 95.538 mph, which looked like it would hold up. That ended up being good for second place. Marks hasn't raced an XFINITY Series car since the season-opening race at Daytona, in which he finished 34th in the No. 29 Toyota. Alex Tagliani (95.205 mph) was third in the No. 22 Team Penske Ford, followed by Chris Buescher (95.152 mph) and Elliott Sadler (94.965 mph). Chase Elliott , who finished eighth in the final session, spent time in the garage so his team could swap his transmission after the driver reported a small vibration on his second run, according to JR Motorsports. Next on the docket for the XFINITY Series is qualifying, which takes place Saturday at 11:15 a.m. ET. The Nationwide Children's Hospital 200 follows at 3:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM). Opening practice RELATED: Practice 1 results A late mock qualifying run vaulted Ty Dillon to the top of the leaderboard in Friday's opening NASCAR XFINITY Series practice at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. In the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet, Dillon topped Brian Scott 's best speed with approximately 90 seconds remaining in the opening 55-minute session with a pace of 95.660 mph. Scott, his Richard Childress Racing teammate, settled for second in the session at 94.937 mph. In a practice session that saw its leaderboard get topsy-turvy as teams made late runs in qualifying trim, Boris Said piloted the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota to third place (94.825 mph). Regan Smith was fourth at 94.755 mph and defending race winner and series points leader Chris Buescher taking fifth (94.736 mph). Buescher enters Saturday's Nationwide Children's Hospital 200 (3:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM) 24 points ahead of both Chase Elliott and Dillon. Elliott finished seventh in the first practice. Dillon, of course, was involved in a pit-road tussle with Smith following last week's race at Watkins Glen. They avoided each other in Friday's opening period of on-track activity. RELATED: Smith, Dillon get physical post-Watkins Glen Seven NASCAR XFINITY Series teams lost 15 minutes of on-track time as a result of recent minor infractions. The following XFINITY Series teams served 15-minute practice time deduction penalties during the opening practice: Richard Childress Racing No. 2 (driver Brian Scott ), Team Penske No. 22 ( Alex Tagliani ), JGL Racing No. 26 ( Tomy Drissi ), Richard Childress Racing No. 33 ( Brandon Jones ), Jimmy Means Racing No. 52 ( Joey Gase ), Joe Gibbs Racing No. 54 ( Boris Said ) and JR Motorsports No. 88 ( Ben Rhodes ). The seven teams were penalized for issues arising at Watkins Glen this past weekend (late exiting garage).
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Kyle Larson, Target give back in many ways
The NASCAR racing season ended last month but someone forgot to tell Kyle Larson . The Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates driver will be on the road for the holidays, traveling with his family to Sydney, Australia to race sprint cars for a week or so. Once he returns stateside, he'll be heading to Tulsa, Oklahoma, for the annual Chili Bowl Nationals Jan. 9-14. There are times when the 24-year-old NASCAR driver isn't behind the wheel. Wednesday was one of those rare occasions. Larson, along with members of his No. 42 team, spent the afternoon at the Milton Boys and Girls Club in Charlotte, handing out early Christmas gifts provided by sponsor Target. "Target (does) a lot for different communities and charities," Larson said. "It was cool to come here and give these kids gifts. … They had a good time; they were all smiling, dancing on (one of the games) over there." A wide variety of board games, electronic games and even a virtual reality unit were among the items delivered. "It feels good to do a small part of giving back," said Larson, who will begin his fourth season as a full-time competitor in NASCAR's premier series in 2017. "Target is the one donating all the gifts, I'm just donating my time and having a good time with it. I've gotten to do a lot of stuff with them this year, donating books to different schools, a lot of toys. … It's been a lot of fun. It's the first year I've really gotten to do this stuff more often and I'm hoping to do a lot more next year." According to team officials, Larson and Target joined together in '16 to provide toys to children affected by flooding in West Virginia; delivered 50 backpacks and back-to-school supplies to a disadvantaged elementary school in Darlington, South Carolina; and visited two elementary schools in Dallas, Texas, to donate gift cards and books in support of Texas Motor Speedway 's Speeding to Read program. Additionally, Larson and Target representatives visited Target House at St. Jude Children's Hospital and also donated library supplies to a school in the Phoenix area. Wednesday's gathering helped Larson, who hails from Elk Grove, California, get in the Christmas spirit. He and his family, girlfriend Katelyn Sweet and son Owen, will move up their holiday visits with other family members due to their upcoming trip to Australia. "My favorite time of the holiday season is just getting to spend time with a lot of the family I don't really get to see throughout the year," he said. "We travel so often that I don't ever really get to go home to California and see them. … So we'll go to California next week and get to hang out with all of them." Larson won his first premier series event in 2016, at Michigan International Speedway , and qualified for NASCAR’s championship-determining Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . Although he was one of four drivers eliminated after the Round of 16, he finished a career-best ninth in the final points standings.
Drivers form lasting bond with Patient Champions
LEXINGTON, Ohio -- Perspective. A week ago, Regan Smith was caught up in a fiery post-race fracas with XFINITY Series championship rival Ty Dillon after an on-track mixup at Watkins Glen International. On Thursday, he walked with eyes wide and jaw agape through the neonatal intensive care unit at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, which cares for infants born as young as 24 weeks -- roughly five and a half months. Smith, a recent first-time father to a nearly 6-month old son, Rhett, and JR Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott toured the hospital on behalf of the Patient Champions program, which pairs drivers with children who have completed or are undergoing treatment at the hospital . "Talking about perspective, if (feuding with Dillon) is the worst thing we have going on ..." said Regan, before trailing off. "We're standing here in a hospital right now with kids that have a lot of serious things going on. It was a race. We'll move onto the next one. Naturally, there's a lot bigger things going on in the world." The program, which pairs 10 drivers with 10 "Patient Champions" from the hospital , is in its third year in NASCAR since the sanctioning body began racing at the road course in the XFINITY Series in 2013. Patients, who are afflicted with diagnoses ranging from Autism to Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis to Pre-B Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia and everything in between, have a hand in designing their drivers' respective paint scheme themselves -- Smith's purple, giraffe-embroidered No. 7 Chevrolet is a sight, for sure -- and are recognized throughout the weekend at the race track. Front and center at the Nationwide Children's Hospital 200 driver/crew chief meeting on Saturday, the group of children received a 30-second standing ovation from some of the biggest names in the sport, before breaking off to the garage area to hang out with their paired driver and, yes, sit in their actual race cars. Through its The 1989 World Tour partnership, XFINITY gifted each of the Patient Champions with a Taylor Swift-themed canvas bag filled with an iPad mini, CD, signed photo, thumb drive, t-shirt and third row tickets to her show when she rolls into Columbus in mid-September As the race prepared to get underway, the Patient Champions held one of the most important jobs of any race weekend -- co-grand marshals. Giving the command to start engines is certainly a moment that will stick with these children throughout their lives. Visiting the hospital is one that is sure to linger in the minds of Smith and Elliott. "I think more than anything, it's just knowing that these kids have gone through a lot and continue to go through a lot and just being able to hang out with them and mess around and play with them," said Smith, who legitimately could not wipe the smile off his face after receiving a tin of cookies from his Patient Champion, Laynie Roll. "I think, for me, the NICU hit close to home. Just because we're not far removed from having a baby that small. I shouldn't say 'that small,' but having a baby of that age. To see some of the 24-week-old babies that are that premature, it's incredible to even think that 30, 40 years ago, it probably would've been a different outcome. As they've learned, as this hospital has grown and as we've gotten smarter as a whole, to see that they're able to have a baby that is that little surviving, some of them breathing on their own is incredible." For Smith, the experience was one that brought up many questions, invoking his inquisitive, curious side as the hospital's neonatology chief Dr. Edward Sherman brought he and Elliott through the department. The new father clearly has an invested interest in the well-being of children overall and wanted to make sure he brought as much joy as possible to every patient he came in contact with, enthusiastically drag racing toy cars in the lobby and later, painting wooden toy chassis in the arts and crafts room with patients. Elliott, still just 19 years old, maintained a reserved, tentative approach. The sobering experience was a lot to take in for anyone, let alone someone who just graduated from high school last year. It was a similar, somewhat intentional pairing to 40-year-old Brendan Gaughan and 20-year-old Dylan Kwasniewski 's visit last year. Needless to say, the reigning series champion walked out of Nationwide Children's Hospital differently than when he walked in. "I think (their strength) is the key to it all. Seeing these kids and what they go through makes you sit back and realize how fortunate we are to really do what we love to do," Elliott said. "Don't take anything for granted, because you don't know when anything can happen at any given point. That's just life. Just very fortunate to be here and come see things first-hand. This hospital and Nationwide , the things that they do for them to make this happen is huge. It's cool to see it and be a part of it. "I got to see this race weekend last year and ran the race and got to see … (last year's race-winner) Chris (Buescher) had a young boy on his car. I didn't have anybody on my car and we obviously didn't win that day, but it was cool to see the joy that brought. It makes you sit back and realize that a bad day at the race track could be a lot worse." ******* At the conclusion of the 2014 running of the Nationwide Children’s Hospital 200 , Luke Benner stood in Victory Lane in front of a giant trophy with a No. 1 finger in the air. Standing next to him was race-winner Chris Buescher , who'd just picked up his first career NASCAR victory -- but let the spotlight shine on Benner, his Patient Champion. "It was a really humbling win for me," Buescher said Friday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. "(I did feel extra pressure to win) and it probably had something to do with the fact that they said 'We're on the car now and we expect you to win, so you better.' They were not shy about what they were hoping to get out of the weekend. "They've been awesome. The whole Benner family has been a lot of fun to deal with and be around. To create a friendship and follow Luke's progress … they (came) back this weekend even though we have a new Patient Champion on the side of our car. We'll have William Schaffer on board and his family out here this weekend, but we'll also have the Benners, so we (had) a lot of kids running around our area trying to keep everything going forward. It'll be exciting that there's that little bit of extra pressure but at the same time, there's 10 of us that have the extra pressure so it evens out, I'd say." And that's what it's all about. Creating a special bond between patient and driver -- a mutually beneficial relationship that truly represents the communal spirit that makes NASCAR such a unique sport and experience through and through. It's clear that the sanctioning body, its teams and, most importantly, its drivers value and care for its fans and the relationships bonded -- especially with those in need. Even for Nationwide , which gave up its entitlement sponsor position of the series at the conclusion of last season, to remain so visible and charitable is nothing short of incredible. "These are kids that have gone through a lot, but because of the hospital and what they can do there, they can come out of it as a success story and they're special, unique kids that can talk through the challenges and what they've overcome," said Jim McCoy, director of sports marketing for Nationwide . "For us to highlight those stories in a national way through a race, putting (the patients') face on the car, having them come out to the race track and just enjoy time not thinking about whatever ailment that they have, it brings a lot of meaning to what we do and why we look forward to this race every year." All in all, while Saturday's race was won by Smith, the ones that walked away champions were Aiden VanWagner (Patient Champion of Elliott Sadler ), Alexandra James (Patient Champion of Ben Rhodes ), Dominic Clarke (Patient Champion of Darrell Wallace Jr .), Evan Kern (Patient Champion of Chase Elliott ), Kylee Leonard (Patient Champion of Alex Tagliani ), Laynie Roll (Patient Champion of Regan Smith ), Michael Galiher (Patient Champion of Ryan Reed ), Owen Mattie (Patient Champion of Brian Scott ), Roger "Mikey" Allen (Patient Champion of Brendan Gaughan ) and William Schaefer (Patient Champion of Chris Buescher ). Roll, race-winner Smith's Patient Champion, received an extra special experience, as she helped Smith celebrate in Victory Lane after the race at Mid-Ohio. "To come out here, they get to experience something that they're not going to get on a daily basis or in any normal sport," Buescher said. "You're not going to get the all access, come in the garage, sit in the cars, be on the pit box during the race. It's all stuff that is very unique to our sport and is very close up and all the Patient Champions get to do that this weekend." "It's very cool that we were able to carry it on."
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