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O'Donnell: Rules package tweaks at Charlotte were 'absolutely encouraging'
NASCAR Executive Vice President Steve O'Donnell joined SiriusXM NASCAR Radio to give his perspective on the racing during All-Star weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway as a result of some changes in the aero package.
Hook, line and sinker
After earlier trouble, Austin Dillon gets caught up again in an incident, this time with the No. 32 of Steve Arpin .
All-Star Grid Walk: 'Only Michael Waltrip I know is a dancer'
Michael Waltrip and Bryson Byrnes, son of Steve Byrnes, stroll the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race grid to see if Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin and others can lay claim to $1 million.
Cain: Remembering Steve Byrnes one year later
Karen Goins-Byrnes certainly wasn't anticipating this autograph request as she and her teenage son Bryson walked out of the Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway infield before last Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at the track. It wasn't so much "the ask" she received but the canvas she was offered that really stood out. A race fan asked them to sign a flag right next to the signature of her late husband and Bryson's father, Steve , a NASCAR on FOX broadcaster who died on this day, April 21, one year ago after a courageous and well-fought battle with cancer. "You know that on Father's Day and Christmas and Steve's birthday (just last week) those moments are going to be intense, emotional and sad, but then there's these other moments that you completely do not expect that suddenly take your breath away, like the flag on Sunday," Karen Goins-Byrnes shared this week. "I just wasn't expecting that, and all of a sudden it made you realize, 'Oh my goodness, this person is gone from our life.' "I was walking with Bryson and had not anticipated that when we looked down at this flag, wow, there was his signature. And it was just surreal knowing that at some point he had touched that same piece of material; now we we're touching it. Steve's touched everything in this house, so I don't know why that hit me so hard but it was … I don't know, it was out-of-context, unexpected. "I don't think it was a coincidence. It was very impactful for Bryson and I both to see that." RELATED: Steve Byrnes remembered, 1959-2015 In the past year, the Byrnes family has been "adopted" by those close to Steve and also those who never met the longtime NASCAR broadcaster but were touched by his story of courage and strength battling cancer not once but twice. In the time since he passed away Byrnes, then 56, has been honored at the NASCAR Hall of Fame and received the prestigious Squier-Hall Award for media excellence. His likeness and another tribute hang on a large plaque at the Charlotte FOX studios. " Steve was not a person who sought out a lot of attention, he was not the look-at-me type of person," Goins-Byrnes said. "I know he's up in heaven going, 'I had no idea.' He is completely surprised at all the different things that have happened to remember him and honor him. I'm shocked, I know he's shocked too." Drivers, fellow broadcasters and FOX personnel have joined the broader NASCAR community supporting this family in ways both obvious and subtle. Their "new" way of life is still so greatly influenced by the one they miss so dearly. "We're persevering," Goins-Byrnes said, after pausing to select the most accurate description. She and her son don't know quite what to anticipate today -- their feelings and emotions. It will be a very busy schedule of things to do and that was purposeful. On Wednesday, she and Bryson attended a luncheon hosted by FOX Sports in Charlotte, where they posed for photos alongside close family friends Michael Waltrip and Larry McReynolds. There is a wonderful shot of Bryson standing next to a memorial for his father on the studio's wall. Goins-Byrnes, who is now doing part-time work for Charlotte-based Speedway Motorsports Inc., has a professional commitment for part of the day Thursday and will be escorting champion NHRA racer Erica Enders to a Speedway Children's Charities event at Charlotte's Levine Children's Hospital. "It just happened to be the day she's available," Goins-Byrnes said of the timing. "It was funny, when Erica said the 21st, I was like that's the day, but I decided that's the way it's supposed to be, then. Every single month on the 21st will never be just another day for me. Every 21st of the month, I know it's been nine months, 10 months, 11 months. "But honestly, I feel like not continuing to live dishonors Steve . Somebody was asking me about Bryson and I doing a lot of activities. I feel like if we had stopped doing things, that would have dishonored him ( Steve ). Living and doing things honors him. I certainly know he would not have wanted us to say, 'Oh, I can't do something because it was the 21st of the month.' He would have scolded us and said, 'It's just a date; go and do.' " And actually, Goins-Byrnes concedes, it's the times alone or void of activity that have been most challenging. "People will say, 'It looks like ya'll are doing well, doing good.' But I don't post on social media when we're lying on the floor crying," she said. "There are days that are gut-wrenching and those days you have to keep pushing through, pushing on." Pushing on for Bryson Byrnes has been quite literal. His days, nights and most weekends are filled with sports -- football and lacrosse are favorites. And Bryson isn't only succeeding on the field -- he was inducted into the National Junior Honor Society this week. "People talk about what an amazing young man he is, and I'll be honest," Goins-Byrnes said adding with a laugh. "He makes straight-As and Steve and I never did that in school. Steve and I used to look at his report cards and go, 'Wow. This must be the nurture part,' because the nature part, we're not responsible for this level of achievement. I can promise you. "We have been blessed with a really good kid. I think God knew what path he was going to ask us to walk and so he gave us a child that was well-equipped." "He still battles, sometimes, the unexpected moments," she said, pausing. "You just hadn't anticipated that even if it's a good thing, it's void of Steve being here." As Goins-Byrnes and I were saying our goodbyes we discussed the cancer battles so deeply affecting so many in NASCAR -- family members and extended family. We weren't sure if it was unusually prevalent among our sport or if circumstances made us more aware. Driver Martin Truex Jr .'s longtime girlfriend, Sherry Pollex, finished up her chemotherapy in January, and remains such a positive force travelling around the country to educate others and bring awareness of ovarian cancer. The couple's Catwalk for a Cause event next month -- which raises money for childhood cancers -- is sold out again this year. While the potential for raising funds is high, it will be the most difficult of programs considering four of last year's models and inspirations have passed away -- a first for Truex and Pollex. Among them is my longtime friend Becky's son, Elijah Aschbrenner, 10, who fought a rare Epitheliod Sarcoma diagnosis and passed away on Nov. 11. His family has started the Prayers for Elijah Foundation to raise money and awareness of the disease. RELATED: Cain: Gratitude for Elijah Aschbrenner's inspiration Torie Costa, Scott Zipadelli’s 20-year old step-daughter, died on Christmas day on her second fight with Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma. Grace, 14, passed away after fighting Osteosarcoma. Clint Bowyer 's wife, Lorra, carried an inspirational sign for her at last year's Catwalk because she was too ill to participate. Jeramiah, 8, passed away after battling leukemia, not once but twice. His passing in August was the first of Truex and Pollex's "Catwalk" kids. The great Buddy Baker died in August after being diagnosed with lung cancer. Erik Jones shared last Saturday after his XFINITY Series win at Bristol that his father was recently diagnosed with cancer. Tabitha Burton, Daytona 500 winner Ward’s wife and XFINITY Series racer Jeb's mom, was diagnosed with breast cancer last year and is recovering from the surgeries and treatment. Former NASCAR racer Shawna Robinson continues to recover from her breast cancer diagnosis and treatment as well. And I'm still fighting breast cancer myself, with multiple surgeries ahead this year. My hair is -- slowly -- growing, I've regained the weight I lost in chemo and radiation, and many of the NASCAR drivers I deal with now are completely unaware of my medical situation -- which can feel like an achievement. Those that do know have been incredibly kind and encouraging. Cancer is, at the very least, a maddening disease, and its impact on NASCAR is similar to its impact in general. We have lost influential souls such as Byrnes and Baker and the promises of so many so young, like Aschbrenner and Costa. Perhaps the brightest and most lasting legacy left by my friend Byrnes was a feeling of "never give up," and the firm knowledge that this is a community that cares greatly and perpetually. Today will be challenging for the Byrnes family and all those who cared deeply for Steve . There will be times of sadness, of laughter, of gratitude for the time shared, and unquestionably a sense of knowing that he would want us to carry on and prevail. "He was a very humble person," Goins-Byrnes said. "He never looked at himself as being exceptional, just a normal guy, a husband and a father and a guy with a job he enjoys. "I think the way people have responded in remembering him really has shown what type of a person he is. They comment, 'What a great guy he is.' You wouldn't believe how many pictures I've received from race fans with him stopping for a picture or to sign an autograph. "I don't think he realized the kind of influence he had. I certainly didn't. I don't think he had any idea how many people he touched and what kind of influence he had.' " I still have text messages from Steve on my phone -- we exchanged many while going through our treatments. One in particular makes my heart happiest and I will most likely glance at it often today. On the Monday after last year's Bristol spring race -- named in Steve's honor -- I texted him to make sure he had watched the race, seen all the tributes and enjoyed the love. He responded: "Still smilin."
Matt Kenseth honors late Steve Byrnes' family
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Nearly a year after Matt Kenseth drove to victory in the Food City 500 in Support of Steve Byrnes and Stand Up To Cancer at Bristol Motor Speedway , the former series champion met with members of the Byrnes family for a special presentation at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. On Tuesday, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver presented Karen Byrnes, widow of the former NASCAR broadcaster, and son Bryson with a replica of the sword awarded to Kenseth for last year's Bristol win as well as a framed photograph of the team in Victory Lane. Team members in the photo can be seen holding up signs supporting Byrnes, who passed away two days after the race. "It's something we'd talked about for a while ... just kind of thought with the one-year anniversary of the race coming up and losing Steve shortly thereafter it was a good time to ... come down and get a picture with them and give them a replica of the sword trophy and a picture of everybody with their Stand Up With Steve signs," Kenseth said. Karen Byrnes said she and her son had no idea the presentation was part of Tuesday's appearance. "The NASCAR Hall of Fame had asked us to come down and meet Matt for a photo," she said. "But we didn’t know Matt Kenseth was bringing the framed photo and the sword; that was just really sweet and wonderful." Steve Byrnes was diagnosed with head and neck cancer in September of 2014. His wife said the longtime NASCAR on FOX anchor was "shocked and surprised" at the outpouring of support from the NASCAR industry once others learned of his condition. The past year, Karen Byrnes said, has "been bittersweet." "Obviously ... we've lived through the firsts of everything. This month in particular will be tough because his birthday is on the 14th and his passing was on the 21st . So we've had to live through a first Christmas, a first Father's Day and a first Easter. Those are challenging times. "But we've tried to be purposeful and also living, too, and moving forward and experiencing life. Because I don't think we honor Steve in not. I think we do a disservice to him by not going out and living life." Steve Byrnes, whose broadcasting career spanned more than three decades, was named the 2016 recipient of the annual Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence. "It makes me feel really happy that not only was Dad loved inside the family but was loved by many people outside the family," Bryson Byrnes said. "He was really special to a lot of people and (that) makes me feel really proud of him."
A Year Later: Kenseth Honors Steve Byrnes' Family
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Matt Kenseth honors the family of Steve Byrnes one year after his win in the 2015 Food City 500 In Support of Steve Byrnes and Stand Up To Cancer at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Steve Byrnes wins the 2016 Squier-Hall Award
The family of Steve Byrnes was in attendance as he was posthumously awarded the fifth Squier-Hall Award at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Steve Byrnes honored with Squier-Hall Award
RELATED: Steve Byrnes passes away at 56 CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The NASCAR Hall of Fame honored late broadcaster Steve Byrnes on Saturday at the weather-delayed induction ceremony at the Charlotte Convention Center. His son Bryson accepted the Squier‑Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence earlier this afternoon at the NASCAR Hall of Fame on behalf of his father, who passed away from cancer in April. "This day is about those who paved the way in our sport," FOX Sports broadcaster Krista Voda said during Byrnes' introduction. "Each of us has a person, the one who guided us, who gave us a blueprint. Steve Byrnes was my person, my mentor, my friend. In April, Steve lost his courageous battle with cancer but not before serving as an inspiration to the entire NASCAR community." The Squier-Hall award is named in honor of legendary broadcasters Ken Squier and Barney Hall and has been presented to influential members of NASCAR media for the past three years. Byrnes' wife, Karen, and son, Bryson, were among the many family members present at the induction ceremony. "Just be nice to others," Bryson Byrnes said on lessons his father taught him. "You know, just enjoy what you do, have a great attitude while doing it, and just always going full out when you do do something, and do what you love, and when you do do it, just do it with a heart and a passion of doing it." RELATED: Through the years photo gallery Drivers Darrell Wallace Jr . and Dale Earnhardt Jr . were among those to tweet tributes and remebrances of Byrnes after Saturday's ceremonies at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. I often delete pics but this one has always been in the bank. It's a constant reminder of how great he was! pic.twitter.com/56sgTqRA8A — Darrell Wallace Jr (@BubbaWallace) January 23, 2016 One of the best EVER to cover the sport. Steve Byrnes honored with the Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence @NASCARHall today. — Dale Earnhardt Jr . (@DaleJr) January 23, 2016
France: Collaboration with drivers, council 'better than ever'
NASCAR Chairman & CEO Brian France has gone from Talladega, Alabama, to Los Angeles over the past several days, taking in and sending out a wide view of the sport in the process. France kicked off a Drivers Council meeting at Talladega on Friday, then served on a prestigious speaking panel for sports business leaders in L.A. on Monday The initial stop was well-received by both the drivers and France himself -- the NASCAR Chairman & CEO kicked off the meeting with remarks, and listened to driver discussion on a variety of topics. France also met privately for a one-on-one discussion with driver Tony Stewart , a three-time premier series champion. "The Drivers Council meeting in Talladega was very productive," France told NASCAR.com. "Tony and I also met one-on-one, and it was great to hear his thoughts. I think the key is to build trust with the drivers, and we structured the Council in a way that lets them express their views in a free-flowing manner. "We want them to know that we are listening, trying to understand their issues and that it is important for us to get it right. I think the level of collaboration between us is better than ever." The drivers agree. "It was great Brian came (to the meeting)," Dale Earnhardt Jr . told reporters at Talladega. " … It was just a good, positive meeting, a lot of good things moving in a good direction. ... I think what we are doing is pretty amazing." Stewart, Earnhardt Jr., Kevin Harvick , Joey Logano , Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson were all on the Drivers Council when it was formed last year, and remain members in 2016. Jimmie Johnson , Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch are three new members this year, bringing the total council to nine drivers. The sanctioning body strategically shaped criteria for the Drivers Council so a variety of drivers are included. Four spots are automatically filled by performance the previous season -- the top-finishing driver for Chevrolet, Toyota and Ford, plus the top-finishing driver with less than three seasons of experience. The remaining slots are filled by driver votes from the following categories: Two drivers from the top 10 in points from the previous season; one driver from positions 11-20 in points from the previous season; one driver from positions 21-30 in points the previous season; and one driver with the most votes who doesn't fit into the previous categories. A team can have a maximum of two drivers on the Drivers Council. "The meeting on Friday was terrific," NASCAR Executive Vice President and Racing Development Officer Steve O'Donnell reiterated on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. "It was scheduled for an hour and a half and almost went three hours. Brian was there and talked about where we see the sport going, answering a number of questions that the drivers had, and then we had some great exchanges about what we think of the current rules package, some things we may look at in the future. All in all, my perspective, … but I really believe in the process and think it's paying huge benefits for the sport and ultimately the race fans." The Drivers Council is the latest group to be formed within the industry, joining the NASCAR OEM Council, Tracks Council and the Teams Council. The intent of council creation is for better collaboration across the sport, with the manufacturers and teams -- and now, the drivers -- having an avenue for discussion and a process to elevate those discussions to industry leadership. At the Milken Conference days later, France was on a five-person panel for a session called "Stewards of the Game: The Business Leaders Behind Major Sports" that also included former NBA Commissioner David Stern and New England Patriots team owner Robert Kraft. The NASCAR Chairman & CEO answered broad-ranging questions on his family legacy, the successful Daytona Rising project and the importance of digital and social media to reach and engage new fans.
Recalling Stewart's last win at Dover -- and looking to his next
RELATED: All of Stewart's premier series victories None of us could have -- nor would have -- predicted at the time that Tony Stewart 's win at Dover International Speedway in June of 2013 would have to stand nearly three years as his most recent NASCAR victory. He led only the final three laps -- efficient checkered flag work -- beating Juan Pablo Montoya and Jeff Gordon following a late-race restart. And when Stewart showed up in the media center for his winner's press conference he was proud, but humble. Even a little surprised at the outcome. He was also very "Tony-like" in answering reporters' questions, a little surly here and there, but funny and disarming. It was vintage Tony from his opening remark. "As much as I hate to say it, it's good to be back in the media center," Stewart joked. As the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads back to Delaware for this weekend's AAA 400 , it's a good time to reflect on that victory and wonder where Stewart's next will be as he charges toward a Chase berth in his final Sprint Cup season. Although Stewart missed the first eight races of 2016 recovering from an offseason back injury, he is only 59 points behind 30th- place Regan Smith entering Sunday's race. A win and a top-30 points position gives Stewart a last shot at a fourth championship. His 12th- place finish at Kansas last week in only his second full race back ( Ty Dillon relieved Stewart at Talladega) was especially encouraging considering he had only five finishes of 12th or better all of last season. There is good reason to be hopeful that Stewart will make one last run. And if anything, his 2013 win at Dover proved much is possible in the final laps at the "Monster Mile." That win and Stewart's reaction was so reflective of the "Smoke" this sport has cheered on for the last 18 seasons. Before acknowledging any of his own handiwork behind the wheel, Stewart thanked his then-crew chief Steve Addington for getting the No. 14 Chevy good enough to win. He recognized Competition Director Greg Zipidelli for his work in coordinating the Stewart-Haas team. And Stewart redirected any praise going toward himself. "There should be about 200 people sitting here that are all responsible for this (victory) here," Stewart said. RELATED: Stewart through the years It was Stewart's first win since the summer Daytona race a year earlier and questions about his future, his team's future were starting to rumble in that 30-race span between victories. Looking back, it was a good problem to have. Now he's competed 80 times over three seasons since that Dover win -- easily the longest winless streak in a sure-bet Hall of Fame career. As the press conference continued that summer day at Dover, I remember watching Stewart and listening to him sound so genuinely grateful to hoist the trophy. He consistently deflected the praise, insisting the win was a reflection of his young Stewart-Haas Racing team, not so much his great ability to steer the car. "I'll be honest," Stewart said. "I'm not the smartest guy in the world. You guys have known that over the last 15 years. I've proven that time and time again. I'm just smart enough to know to hire good people." Even today, Stewart is humble recalling the victory. "I remember thinking that if someone had told me we were going to win, I would've told them they were crazy," Stewart said this week. "We just didn't have the car to win the race, but we had great pit strategy at the end. ... We changed only two tires on that last stop to get up front. The car felt a lot better up there and it didn't seem like the guys who took four tires had a huge advantage taking off. When we noticed we were catching the leaders, we kind of got going on the bottom and made up even more time. "It was just a big win for us and really gave us some momentum for the next few races." There was no way to imagine all that has transpired in Stewart's life or his career since then. We knew he was a winner -- only 12 drivers have amassed more than his 48 wins -- but now we have been reminded that Stewart is also a motivated, highly determined survivor. He is one of the most talented race car drivers in history. If you are a believer in happy endings, or just confident that Stewart's great determination equals his great talent, then "Smoke will rise" – as they say. He will make this year's Chase, or at least give one heckuva run.