After racing in rain, Blaney looks to win his way into the Chase
LEXINGTON, Ohio--- Ryan Blaney qualified third and finished third in the NASCAR XFINITY Series Mid-Ohio Challenge at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course , but it was far from that simple or cut and dried on Saturday afternoon. "Not a bad day, lots of ups and downs and luckily it ended on a high note," Blaney said of his day at the 2.258-mile track. The downs of the day came early as the Team Penske driver had to start at the rear of the field for unapproved adjustments but he wasted no time navigating his way to towards the front. By Lap 30, he had cracked his way back into the top five. That was not the only adversity Blaney battled through. Wet weather came early at Mid-Ohio, bringing out a caution on the opening lap that allowed teams to put on rain tires. "It was such a weird race, starting fairly dry and then raining," Blaney said. "Everyone has to learn how to rain race right away and then it drying back out and trying to figure out when to put slicks back on or stay on the wets and then it started pouring again." While Blaney held his own in the rain, the No. 22 car was at its best when the track was drying out. The 22-year-old led six laps (Laps 48-53) just past the midway point of the 75-lap event. But then the rain began falling again and after restarting on the front row on Lap 56, Blaney had some contact with the No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet of Sam Hornish Jr . After going off track briefly, Blaney was in 12th place on Lap 60. He made up some ground late in the event, gaining nine spots over the final 15 laps for his first top-five finish (in just his fourth start) of the season in the XFINITY Series. The rain and the constantly evolving strategies made for an interesting day for the young racer amid his first time racing in the rain. "There's some moments where it's fun and some moments where you're ready to rip the steering wheel off," Blaney said of of the task. "I had a handful at moments. At the end of the day, it was a lot of fun and you get to experience a race in the rain. "…There was some calamity at some points but I thought it was overall pretty fun. Just to get that experience and go back and forth between slick and rain (tires). That was really challenging, and drivers like challenges. Just nice to race in the rain finally. That's my first time." This start came on the final off weekend for the NASCAR Sprint Cup p Series, where Blaney pilots the No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford. Blaney enters Saturday's night race at Bristol (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) outside of the 16-driver Chase Grid with just four regular-season races left before the postseason field gets set. He sits 18 points back of Kyle Larson for the last spot, with Trevor Bayne and Kasey Kahne between himself and Larson. Should Chris Buescher claim a spot in the top 30 in points by the end of the Richmond race on Sept. 30, Blaney would be in a deeper hole to make the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . Entering the 0.533-mile track, Blaney's mindset is focused on joining Buescher as a rookie winner. "We are going to go into the last four races trying to win just like we always do every week," Blaney said of his pursuit of a Chase spot. A win over any of the final four regular-season Sprint Cup races (Bristol, Michigan, Darlington or Richmond) would essentially lock the Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate into the postseason field.
Unfazed by struggles, Knaus confident 'everything is going to be just fine'
CONCORD, N.C. -- Chad Knaus acknowledges that his No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team with driver Jimmie Johnson has endured "a tough, tough summer," but remains confident that the team can and will again be a contender when this year's NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup arrives. "It's been horrible; we could have just stayed home," the longtime crew chief said Wednesday at the organization's No. 48 shop. "We've had great performances … Indianapolis we were running really, really well, thought we had a great shot at it. Michigan … Dover we should have won, we had a transmission problem there and crashed. "We've had a lot of really weird things happen. Some by our own fault, and others by things that happened like last Sunday at Watkins Glen. … But the beauty of it is going into the Chase, those are tracks that we are really comfortable with. "Chicago? We're great there. Dover (where Johnson has 10 career victories); Loudon, we sat on the pole (in July). Name 'em. Martinsville? We love it. All those races kind of cater to us so we're excited about it." Johnson and Knaus have won six Sprint Cup championships since the team's debut in 2001, and Knaus called the shots for 75 of Johnson's 77 career victories. Two of those came earlier this year, at Atlanta and Auto Club Speedway , and Johnson sat third in points after the season's first 13 races. But in the nine races that have followed, there has been just one top 10 and an uncharacteristically-high four DNFs. While he secured one of the 16 spots in this year's Chase field with his third-place finish at Indy, Johnson has fallen seven spots in the points, and currently sits 10th overall. His two victories this season extended Johnson's streak of multiple-win seasons to 15. But early-season wins aren't unusual for the series' winningest active driver. Thirty-eight of his 77 career wins have come between the months of February and June. He's been just as successful late in the year, with 31 victories between September and November. July and August haven't been as kind with just eight career wins during the annual summer stretch. This year, Team Penske driver Brad Keselowski won back to back at Daytona and Kentucky to kick off July; Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Matt Kenseth , Kyle Busch and most recently Denny Hamlin swept three of the last four Sprint Cup Series events. JGR drivers have won 10 of 22 races this season. "You can't compare yourself to (JGR)," Knaus said. "We don't really look at their performance; we look at ours. That's what we have to do. If we try to focus our efforts outside of what it is we’re doing, we’re just taking away from what it is that we do. So we look internally and try to improve upon what we have and don't worry too much about what everybody else has." Resistance to change isn't the problem, he said, noting that, "We try things every weekend, everywhere. "That's just what you do," Knaus continued. "If you don't, you're never going to be competitive. … That's just the nature of our industry. "What else are you going to do? Are you going to change your driver? No. Are you going to change me? I hope not. We’re not going to change our pit crew, they're solid. "Our cars (are) always evolving. We're always changing and ever-changing." The winner of a NASCAR-record five consecutive championships (2006-10), Johnson added a sixth in 2013. However, he's finished 10th and 11th in the two previous seasons, years in which NASCAR officials re-tooled the Chase to include an elimination-style format. Four races remain before the start of this year's Chase, beginning with the Aug. 20 running of the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR). From there, it's a return trip to Michigan, on to Darlington and finally Richmond before the green flag falls on this year’s 10-race Chase at Chicago. Recapturing that early-season momentum has almost become expected from the No. 48 team. That doesn't make it any less difficult. "You've got to get your feet," Knaus said. "Obviously right now it's pretty darn difficult. "But the good thing about this group is (while) we have some young players on the team, the core group of guys is pretty solid, have been here for a long time. So they understand what it is that we are going through. They understand the ups and the downs, the ebb and flow of racing. "So. once we get going it's not going to be that big of a deal I don't think. We throw in a couple of top 10s, then a top five and then I think everything is going to be just fine."
Runner-up finish leaves Dillon heartbroken at Iowa
RELATED: Results " Chase Grid " Standings NEWTON, Iowa -- Ty Dillon's face shone with sweat and slight disappointment as he climbed out of his No. 3 Chevrolet and exchanged a quick word with crew chief Nick Harrison on pit road following a runner-up finish to winner Erik Jones in Saturday night's U.S. Cellular 250 at Iowa Speedway. His Richard Childress Racing ride was dominant, leading 83 of the 250 laps -- but it wasn't enough for the checkered flag, leaving Dillon a bridesmaid for the second time this season in the Hawkeye State. And for a driver who hasn't won since Indianapolis in 2014, that certainly stings. "It's heartbreaking, I really wanted to win ever since two years ago at Indy," Dillon said on pit road. "We've had so many ups and downs and so many second-place finishes. "To lead a lot of laps here is encouraging, but man, it just hurts." His No. 3 was aggressive all night, moving through the field with purpose since the drop of the green flag. By the time the first caution flag was waved at Lap 29, Dillon had already moved into the top 10 after starting 15th. As the race continued, the 24-year-old driver looked poised for Victory Lane when a strong pit stop won Dillon the race off pit road at Lap 152. He held onto the lead for 83 laps, but Jones' powerful No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota eventually overtook Dillon's No. 3 Chevy. "I was pushing so hard, I just started to get a little bit loose and a little bit looser and his car was just a little bit better at that point," Dillon said. "I could make it work for a couple laps there, but every once in a while I'd just get a little too free and he'd make a gain on me. There were other cars in front of me and I don't know if it just kind of took a little air off us or what, but I could not get to them, could not get past them and let Erik get a good run on us. "I knew he was going to try the top and he was just better than me, so he could run whatever line I wasn't. I tried to block him and he made a good move and got by me." The Joe Gibbs Racing fleet has flexed its muscle this season across all series, winning 13 of the 19 XFINITY Series events alone. Daniel Suarez won the Coors Light Pole for the organization and remained near the front of the field for the much of the race's first half until a run-in with Josh Berry's No. 88 left the No. 19 with too much damage to continue. "You've just got to be so perfect to outrun them and when you get the lead, you can't give them any inch cause they're there," Dillon said of the Gibbs cars. "I try to be perfect all night and just came up 10 laps short." Joe Gibbs Racing's continued success begs the question: What is everyone else missing? According to No. 3 crew chief Nick Harrison, not as much as it appears. "I don't think Gibbs has got anything else that we don't have -- I just think that they're a little bit better in a couple areas right now," Harrison said in the garage post-race. "It's not that we don't notice -- we've got everything they've got and we're making gains. I feel like come time to shine, we'll be right there for the sun to get on us." While the runner-up finish stings, the team's dominance and aggressiveness throughout the night also sings praises -- and provides encouragement as the Chase draws nearer. "We were in second tonight and showed we could compete with those guys," Dillon said. "We know we've got to get better, we know we can get better. If we execute like that we'll have a great shot going in the Chase." And Harrison can see his driver's motivation -- and appetite for victory -- growing. "These second-place finishes, they've not all been so bad because they probably make Ty that much more hungry, make my guys that much more hungry," Harrison said. "... And come time for it, we're going to be there to get our meal." MORE: Photos from the day
Bubble watch: 2016 XFINITY Series Chase
Check out which drivers have secured a spot in the 2016 XFINITY Series Chase and which drivers find themselves fighting for position with only six races remaining.
Hornish wins with family after road trip, teaching stint
RELATED: What rust? Hornish's Iowa win " Hornish returns to racing Sam Hornish Jr . didn't even have his official NASCAR license or "hard card" when he received a call from Joe Gibbs Racing last week asking if he'd like to drive the team's No. 18 Toyota in the Iowa Speedway XFINITY Series event on Father's Day Sunday. After the deal was formalized last Wednesday afternoon for the 36-year-old to make his first NASCAR start of the year -- five months into the 2016 season -- the former XFINITY Series championship runner-up hastily arranged to take the NASCAR mandated drug test. Fortunately, he had turned in all his other medical paperwork before the season started "just in case" he got the phone call as he did last week. Lastly came the job of quickly packing all his racing gear. Some of it was at the family home in Ohio where the Hornish family was last week, and other parts of it were in the family's North Carolina house. "I didn't want to put all my eggs in one basket, I knew I couldn't carry-on everything, but I did put some things in there in case my checked bag got lost," Hornish shared with NASCAR.com this week, his voice still exhilarated for what turned out to be a thrilling victory at Iowa -- with no preparation other than the event's scheduled time on the track. "It was huge especially after the year we had last year, just to get the opportunity was fun," Hornish said. "I knew with the strength of the 18 car there was opportunity. I was a little bit nervous just because you get into that kind of race car and having been out of the car as long as I was, you just kind of wonder if everything is going to work out the way you think it should. "I don't know how it could have been much better." The best part for the 2006 Indianapolis 500 winner was that it was the first time his young family was all in attendance to see him hoist a trophy. "Ever since first Father's Day in 2008 and Addison was just a baby, I remember waking up at Michigan -- my first year in the Cup Series --and she was sitting there on the bed," Hornish recalled. "I remember thinking how cool it would be to take her to Victory Lane. The other races I won my family (wife Crystal and including his other two children Eliza and Sam Hornish III) they didn't happen to be there. Even my dad, who was there, was driving my bus for me so he'd leave the track when the race started. "It feels good you won, but you want to share it with somebody. I can't remember how many times in the XFINITY Series I finished second and the kids were there. I remember thinking, am I ever going to be able to make this happen?" Even thinking about it half a week later makes Hornish emotional. Many have wondered when the talented driver will give NASCAR another shot after he nearly won the XFINITY Series championship but struggled to post good results in four full Cup Series seasons with the Team Penske and Richard Petty Motorsports operations and several half-season efforts in between. Having had NASCAR success -- challenging for the 2013 XFINITY crown -- and won three IndyCar championships and an esteemed Indy 500 ring, Hornish said this week that he is most proud of having his children present with him in Victory Lane. The time out of the car Hornish has spent in a most unusual -- yet exceedingly gratifying way. He is a devoted member of a prayer group in Charlotte, North Carolina. And in May, he and his father made a long-awaited 11,000-mile road trip to Alaska. It was something the two had talked about doing for half a decade but always put on hold because of racing. Now he had the time. "A lot of other people were saying, 'Too bad you're not getting any wheel time,' and I told them, 'Man I'm getting some wheel time,' " Hornish shared with a laugh. "I did close to 11,000 miles of driving during the month of May." Perhaps the most surprising and interesting thing Hornish has done out of the race car is find a place in the classroom -- as a substitute teacher. He's taught physical education to first-graders and a music class -- yes music -- to students from kindergarten to eighth grade. "Most of the kids just know me as Addison's dad," Hornish said. And right now, that feels pretty good. Even before he drove to Victory Lane last weekend, Hornish had secured two XFINITY starts for Richard Childress Racing and he will be in the No. 2 Chevrolet at the next Iowa race and the series' second Kentucky stop. "That's what I know right now and in a lot of ways, I hope there will be more," Hornish said. "At this point in time, one of the hardest things is explaining to people, I could be out there racing right now, if I didn't want to run well. I'm fortunate that I can be choosy." And he added -- his voice unmistakably filled with emotion, "After everything that happened last week, it's like you got the ice cream sundae with whipped cream and the cherry on top. "I keep thinking how blessed I am all those things got to happen. Without getting too sentimental, I kept thinking to myself for the past six to seven months, if I could just win a race and have them there, that's all I need. "Then I can be happy about everything I've done, whatever the ups and downs were."
Could Sonoma produce first win for Larson?
SONOMA, Calif. -- Kyle Larson was all smiles and thumbs- ups at Sonoma Raceway prior to Friday's opening practice on the challenging 2.52-mile Northern California road course. The scenic course is a little more than an hour drive from Larson's hometown of Elk Grove, California, and the 23-year old driver has proven himself a talented road course racer in his young career with a win in the 2015 Rolex 24 at Daytona and a victory here in Sonoma in the 2014 NASCAR K&N West Series race. All that aside, however, Larson is quite simply, just ready to win in the Sprint Cup ranks. He has two top-five finishes in the last five races, including a runner-up at Dover and a third place finish in the Sprint Cup Series' most recent race at Michigan. "I don't know about pressure, but it would be nice to be the next new person to win a (Sprint) Cup Series race," said Larson, driver of the No. 42 Target Chevrolet. "It's been a long time since a new person has won. There are a crop of us young guys in our early 20s that would like to get a win. Chase (Elliott) is probably realistically got the best chance. He has been so close week after week now. Austin (Dillon) started the year out really strong. But I like road courses a lot. So, we will try and get it this week." Larson has proven himself at Sonoma , setting the Sprint Cup Series track record during early round qualifying last year. He's had a pair of top-four starts but never a top-10 finish. His best Sprint Cup Series finish on a road course is fourth place at Watkins Glen during his 2014 rookie season. He was fastest in opening practice at Sonoma on Friday. "I'm getting more experience, but still I probably ran a little over 10 road course races in my life," Larson said with a smile. "But I like them because you can feel the car kind of move around a lot more. You can feel the suspension, so it feels more similar to kind of a dirt track. I don't know if it's the dirt track, but just sprint cars and stuff the suspension moves around a lot and you can feel the balance of the car. On this stuff you can too. "Where on the ovals our cars are so stiff and rigid you can't really feel a whole lot with them. I think that is why I can feel the a little bit better and these tracks get really slick and you have to hit your marks every lap which is something I feel like I'm okay at." Larson is also finding his groove with new crew chief Chad Johnston. The veteran came to Larson's team this year from the Stewart-Haas organization and Larson thinks a large reason he is running better is because the two are getting into sync now. After four finishes of 30th or worse in the first 11 races, Larson hasn't finished worse than 13th in the last four races. He's ranked 21st in the standings, 38 points behind 16th place rookie Ryan Blaney in the final Chase spot. "I haven't had any experience with a new crew chief coming in before Chad," Larson explained. "I haven't been in the sport very long, so I think when somebody new like that comes in from an established or championship winning race team like that or any race team really. It's hard for them to come in and make all the changes that they want right away. "It's kind of a process. It took some time, a couple of months and now we are building race cars the way Chad wants them built, the bodies all that stuff. It has made our level or speed in the race cars get quicker. I think that has been the main thing is Chad's influence has been key the last couple of months and we have been building the cars how he wants them. "I think Chad and Phil (Surgen) my engineer they have probably learned me now and the way I communicate and how big of an adjustment I need or how small. I just think it takes a little bit of time to get working together right and now we seem to be clicking." Nine times Larson has finished in the top-three and he had eight top-five finishes in his rookie season. He's led laps in three of the last four races. "We all want to win so bad," Larson said."We are all working hard to keep our cars fast and keep up with an ever-changing garage area. So, I guess the pressure is there to get the win while we are running well. "You look at Chip Ganassi in the past, they are probably that team you describe where we get so close and then we lose it and have to spend a year or half a season regrouping and getting back to where we need to be. "We have made huge gains so far this season. We just have to stay on top of it and hope we get a win."
Jeff Gordon set for longer sub stint in No. 88, if needed
RELATED: Weekend schedule for Pocono, Iowa LONG POND, Pa. -- Jeff Gordon maintains that he is looking at his stint in the No. 88 Chevrolet for Hendrick Motorsports "as a very temporary thing," but adds he's willing to remain in the role "as long as they need me." "I say that very loosely," Gordon quickly added Friday at Pocono Raceway, site of Monday's Pennsylvania 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, where he will line up 24th on the grid (11 a.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. is said to be making progress in his recovery from concussion-like symptoms that sidelined him following the July 9 race at Kentucky Speedway. Alex Bowman drove for the team the following weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway before Gordon took over last weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "It was great last Friday to see him say 'hey I feel good today and made some progress,'" Gordon said of Earnhardt. "We want to just keep going with how he is feeling. The doctors are evaluating. I'm not speculating anything at this time. "I wouldn't be here in Pocono if I wasn't committed to be there for Hendrick Motorsports and this team in any way that they need me. I think there is a balance between trying to make this transition. First of all you want Dale to have the comfort of knowing that somebody is there for him. He doesn't have to worry about that aspect of it through this process. "… Then there is the side of who is the best person to be in the car to get the most points. And then there is the sponsorship side of it as well. So far from what Rick (Hendrick, team owner) is telling me that seems to be me. That is why I was at Indy and that is why I'm here." The series travels to Watkins Glen International next weekend, with an off-weekend before heading to Bristol, Tennessee. HMS officials have not indicated who would be in the car if Earnhardt Jr. is unable to return for next week’s event. Gordon, a four-time series champion who moved from the driver’s seat to the television booth after the 2015 season, finished 13th at Indy; Bowman was 26th at New Hampshire. There have been "a couple" of conversations between Gordon and Earnhardt Jr., Gordon said, noting that his former teammate "likes to FaceTime." "It seems like he is always on the treadmill every time I see him or talk to him," Gordon said. "He is just real interested in what we are up to and how it's going and things we are working on. I think also a lot of it is … evaluating where they are at as a team and some of the set- ups and whether I'm going to be making the same comments as he was making when he was in the car. "So far, I feel like it's been very similar. Definitely, any amount of information that I can get to help me prepare for every time I'm on the track is great information. I'm asking everybody questions just trying to get up to speed everywhere we go including Dale." RELATED: Latest updates on Dale Jr. Prior to competing at Indy, Gordon was able to reacquaint himself with the track through simulation programs; he also pulled information from teammate Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 team, which tested at the 2.5-mile track the previous week. That hasn't been the case this week. "Get fitted in the car, debrief with the team from Indianapolis and then preparation for Pocono," he said. "Didn't have test video from some of our teammates for here like we did last week at Indianapolis and I didn't have time to get in the driving simulator either. "The first few laps today were definitely again a steep learning curve. This is a very challenging race track so it's going to be a tough, challenging weekend, but I do like this track and (there is) a little bit to learn with this new package." Earnhardt's absence has resulted in a fall from 13th to 17th in the points standings. He will need to either a race win or be 15th or higher (based on the current list of winners and their respectively point standing) in points to potentially earn a position in this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. He would also need a waiver from NASCAR, something that would not be determined until he has officially been cleared to return to competition. &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Fan writes on winning Richmond grand prize
Editor's note: The article below is courtesy of Ashley Miller, who won an all-expenses-paid trip to the Richmond race weekend. The photo is via Harrelson Photography, Inc. My mom, Susan, and I have been watching NASCAR races for the past 15 years. We've been going to Daytona International Speedway in February and July for the past 11 years. We consider our Daytona weekends our mother/daughter time, and always look forward to spending the weekend with each other no matter what it holds -- rain or shine! We also have been to Homestead-Miami Speedway several times, and sat in the rain to watch Tony Stewart win the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship. However, this race season has been a difficult one for us with Tony announcing his retirement. I wanted to go to as many tracks as I could to see him one last time before he puts up his helmet. I asked my mom last Christmas for tickets to see Tony at another track this year and tried again last month for my birthday. My mom is fighting blood and bone cancer, so she reluctantly told me she couldn't handle it right now because she is much weaker. I understood, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to see Smoke in his last race of his career. So, I bought her tickets to Homestead-Miami Speedway for Mother's Day. After all we have been through, between the ups and downs, we have remained Smoke fans to the very end. It just wouldn't be right for us to not be there when he takes his final checkered flag of his NASCAR career. No matter what occurs at the track, we have always built the most wonderful memories. However, I don't think this past Daytona trip will ever be topped! We started the Coke Zero 400 weekend like we normally do, hanging around the Sprint FanZone watching everything from practice to qualifying on Friday. We were on the FanDeck when Tony walked by the garage just underneath us. I screamed "We Love You, Tony" and he looked up, smiled and waved. My day was made. I told my friends and even said to my mom, "OK, we can go back to the hotel now!" Of course, we stuck around and continued our day shopping and watching the NASCAR XFINITY Series race. Fast forward to Saturday afternoon. We arrived early to sign up for one of the garage tours that fill up so quickly, and then we had some time to kill in the Sprint FanZone. Two Richmond International Raceway staff members approached us there and asked if we had ever been to Richmond before, and if we would like to participate in the first-ever Fan Appreciation contest to win an ultimate trip to RIR in the fall. Of course, I said yes. We had a couple come sit with us and we talked as the rain continued to fall. That's the great thing about NASCAR fans, they are like long-lost friends you haven't met yet! My mom was worried I wasn't going to be back in time from the garage tour and suggested we give the tickets to our new friends. They were ecstatic as they had tried to sign up and it was already full. They wished us luck and told us we hope you win, and off we went to find the RIR staff. Well, they must have been good luck because we won! We met Dennis Bickmeier, the President of Richmond International Raceway , who told us we were the Grand Prize winners, and it was an "Oh my gosh, are you really serious right now?" moment followed by some tears and hugs. Dennis was headed to the Daytona Media Center to announce Fan Appreciation Weekend at Richmond and invited us to join him on stage. It was a bit nerve-wracking looking out at a group of people who had no idea who I was, but were about to tell my story. One question that stuck out was when a man asked me, "Why do you like Tony? What is it about him that makes you like him?" My initial response was, "Do you really want the real story?" I explained to him that in my junior or senior year of high school, I had a group of friends who were into NASCAR. They would come over on the weekends and watch the race at our house, and they told me I had to pick a driver to root for. At that time, I had a big crush on a guy named Tony, so when I heard the name Tony Stewart it stuck with me. From that moment on, I have been a Tony Stewart fan. Kimberly Meesters with Sprint also was on hand, and she asked me if they were keeping us from doing anything. In my head, I thought "Absolutely nothing!" because this was the coolest thing ever; but I told her we actually have an area we go to every Daytona race to see the drivers en route to the Drivers’ Meeting. Kimberly asked if we had ever attended a Drivers’ Meeting, and I told her we hadn’t. To our surprise, she then invited us to attend the Drivers’ Meeting — and with a great big smile I said, “Sure!” Before I knew it, the meeting was over and Kimberly flew up out of her chair to grab Tony to come over and meet my mom and me. Dennis and Kimberly explained to him I had won the first Fan Appreciation giveaway, and was excited to see him at the track where he had gotten his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win. Tony told us Richmond was his favorite track. We also chatted about the Coke Zero 400 race that night, and how he needed to play it smart to get those nine points. He signed my winning case and our hats, and it was the greatest moment for my mom and me to talk to him and have his undivided attention. After wishing Tony good luck, we went back to the media center and Kimberly had one more surprise for us. On behalf of Sprint, she told us, our tickets were upgraded to the Daytona 500 Club. This is one of those things my mom and I have said we were going to do one day, just to say we did it. We very graciously accepted, and with a great deal of thanks, we headed to the Daytona 500 Club. As we settled in at the Club, I assume we looked like we didn't have any idea what we were doing, but the staff was very accommodating and made sure we knew all the ins and outs. We finally had a minute of downtime when I could call my husband and my mom could call my dad, and then we sat back and just enjoyed a Coke. My mom's Coke can had the song lyrics, "A moment like this," and it truly was a moment some people wait a lifetime for. A moment that we just had that might never have been, but everything aligned and it was our moment. We went to the top of the Daytona 500 building to listen to the national anthem and watch the flyover and then took our seats on the start/finish line inside the Daytona 500 Club. We watched the cars race by, pit stops so close it felt like we were in the box with the crew, and a beautiful sunset over the track. The craziest part is I still get to take another amazing trip to a state and racetrack I've never been. I have a countdown clock going on my phone to let me know how far away our trip is. I can't wait to have another amazing experience with my husband, but I'll probably be just as excited to call my mom and tell her all about it! For now, my awesome fan experiences are coming to a pause, but will soon pick back up again when my husband and I get on a plane to Richmond in September. No matter what happens in Richmond or who wins the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship, we will be NASCAR fans. We will probably never have a connection to another drive like we do to Tony, and it will take some time to get used to not seeing him on the track. But we will continue to spend our weekends watching races, and making memories as a mother/daughter racing duo for as many years as we can! Thank you again from the bottom of my heart to all the staff at Richmond International Raceway and Sprint who made the most amazing weekend for my mother and me. You have no idea how much it meant to us!
UPS Game-Changing Moments: Richmond
Moments that changed the course of the 26th race of the 2014 season
UPS Game-Changing Moments: Kansas
Moments that changed the course of the 30th race of the 2014 season