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Auto Racing
Sideshows aside, 2019 Speedweeks start NASCAR needed
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Sideshows aside, 2019 Speedweeks start NASCAR needed

Sideshows aside, 2019 Speedweeks start NASCAR needed
Denny Hamlin, crew chief Chris Gabehart, and team owner Joe Gibbs and the No. 11 team pose with the Daytona 500-winning car, as it is inducted into the track museum until 2020.

Sideshows aside, 2019 Speedweeks start NASCAR needed

Sure, people complained about the type of racing NASCAR drivers delivered through most of Speedweeks. The single-file, follow-the-leader parades that were the Advanced Auto Parts Clash, the Gander RV Duels, and the Xfinity Series race were boring and even some drivers didn’t understand why more of their brethren weren’t taking chances passing on the low line. And then there was the bloodbath of a Gander Outdoors Truck Series race that saw only nine of 32 entries finish. And a litany of late race wrecks made the last ten laps last an hour in Sunday’s Daytona 500. But the Great American Race delivered a show on levels many weren’t expecting. 

First, most of Sunday’s 207 laps (remember that seven were run in NASCAR Overtime) saw the pack staying two-wide and many rows deep. Passing the leader was still difficult, as the two lead cars could usually push themselves away from the pack enough to keep the challenging rows at bay. But, save a large portion of the 60-lap Stage 2, this Daytona 500 displayed the kind of racing many expect at this track and Talladega. Pit strategy, handling, and executing the precise moves also came into play, meaning the race would not crown some random winner.

The Daytona 500 belched more storylines than a clogged interstate does smog on a summer day. First, Denny Hamlin’s second triumph in the sport’s biggest race helps silence the whispers about his future in the No. 11 FedEx Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, after a winless 2018 campaign. Hamlin ran near the front most of the day and did so with Chris Gabehart in his first race as the No. 11 team crew chief. Hamlin won the 2016 500 in Mike Wheeler’s first race in the same role. 

The Joe Gibbs Racing angle may be the biggest story of the weekend and is certainly the most sentimental. Gibbs’ son, J.D., passed away at age 49 in January. J.D. ran the team for over two decades, until a neurological illness began diminishing him mentally in 2015. There was a tribute to J.D. Gibbs on lap 11, because that is the number Gibbs used when he raced part-time. To have not just a Gibbs car win, but the No. 11 of Hamlin’s is what Coach Joe called the greatest night of his occupational life. He has won three Super Bowls as a head coach and now three of NASCAR’s “Super Bowls”. JGR cars finished 1-2-3, only the second a time a team has done that in Daytona 500 history. 

Speaking of, racing virtuoso Kyle Busch finished 2nd and was leading for much of the later part of the event. In fact, the No. 18 M&M’s Chocolate Bar Toyota led 37 laps. But Hamlin grabbed the lead right before the last yellow flag and held him at bay until the end. Busch has 51-career Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series wins, placing him 11th-most of all-time and second only to Jimmie Johnson (83 wins) among active drivers. But Busch is now 0 for 15 in the Daytona 500, a race that has held many of the sport’s greats at bay. He has come close before and likely will again. Regardless, his frustration was awfully palpable post-race. 

The race’s giant wrecks eliminated many entries, leaving only 19 running at the finish and 14 on the lead lap. But damaged cars still got good finishes. Erik Jones (3rd) drove up from 7th in the last two laps and came back from being a lap down and having heavy rear end damage. Johnson (9th) had the left rear shredded from his car as he came to pit road and Tyler Reddick got wrecked into him. The fuel nozzle was dangling. Then Johnson got damage on the other corners of his No. 48 Ally Chevy in the race’s other big wrecks. He rallied back to score a top 10 in his first race with new crew chief Kevin Mendeering. Kyle Larson (7th) was in about four different wrecks and Ryan Newman (14th) rode the last nine laps (two under green flag) on the inner liner of his tire that he cut down with the damaged part of his car. His damaged vehicle policy clock was down to 30 seconds and he wasn’t able to run a full lap at minimum speed to reset it. 

And, as is often the case in plate races, underdogs shined. Matt DiBenedetto’s first race in the JGR-affiliated No. 95 Leavine Family Racing Toyota saw him lead the most laps in the race, but get turned by Paul Menard with ten laps to go, triggering the 22-car melee that eliminated both them and many others. Michael McDowell finished 5th, driving from the back to the front after a pit penalty. Rookie Ryan Preece must play darts or sew, because he drove right through the heart of two big wrecks to put his No. 47 Kroger Chevy in 8th. And Ross Chastain brought Premium Motorsports a 10th-place finish, also rallying from two laps down at one point. Chastain ran all three races on the weekend and placed well. 

Conflict arose post-race, as Joey Logano (4th) confronted McDowell verbally for making the wrong move and costing both Ford drivers the win. McDowell told the media afterwards that his job isn’t to push Logano to the win. He also said that other Fords were not friendly to him during the race. 

Saturday’s Xfinity Series race crowned a first-time winner in journeyman veteran Michael Annett. After a couple of years of struggling in good equipment, team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. said that he and others had to get Annett into a more confident mind state. Annett had driven for years in backmarker cars and was arriving at races just absolutely thinking he couldn’t win. Annett said that he saw the trophy in the driver’s meeting and thought he absolutely could win this race. And the win was redemptive for crew chief Travis Mack, who left the Hendrick Motorsports umbrella in 2018 to partner with Kasey Kahne at the No. 95 Leavine team; he left mid-season and joined Annett. 

Friday’s NGOTS race also crowned a first-time winner in Austin Hill, a youngster who was getting his first NASCAR opportunity in good equipment. He’s had doubters, since he supplanted 2018 NGOTS champ Brett Moffitt, due to funding. And while Atlanta and the coming races are the start of the real season, Hill proved he could make race-winning moves and earn his salt with Hattori Racing Enterprises. 

The crowds were large all weekend. The Daytona 500’s grandstands sold out for the fifth-straight year, after the track renovation eliminated many seats. Still, the crowds came. The campgrounds were packed. The infield fan zone was bumper-to-bumper with flesh. And there were many Gen-Z and millennials, decked out in new race gear. Chase Elliott, Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Blaney...fans are buying the shirts and hats. 

Finally, owners, drivers, manufacturers, and NASCAR executives have made clear that a new era in the 71-year-old sport is on the horizon. A new schedule with possibly shorter races, less races, and more short tracks could start taking form in 2020. The Gen-7 racecar in 2021 is supposed to attract new OEM brands into the sport, because the bodies and engines will more resemble the consumer models. The new aero package that debuts at Atlanta Motor Speedway this coming weekend will reduce horsepower and bunch up the field, though reviews have been mixed on it in tests. And the newer drivers are continuing to mature into contenders. 

The 2019 Daytona 500 was the beginning of a new season, but it also could be the beginning of the end of an era of sorts. Tapered spacers replace restrictor plates at Talladega in May, though the racing on these tracks will stay similar. The real racing season begins in just a few short days and how the aero package plays out will be pivotal in how the aforementioned steps advance. But the buzz leaving Daytona International Speedway is as good, if not better than it has been in years. Momentum is important in racing - both on the track and off of it. 

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News

  • A new study on the effects of medication prescribed to those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder suggests that teens and young people could face an increased risk of psychosis with certain drugs. >> Read more trending news   The study, conducted by researchers at McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School, looked at teens and young people who had recently begun taking two classes of drugs – amphetamines (marketed as Adderall and Vyvanse) and methylphenidates (marketed as Ritalin or Concerta) – used to treat ADHD. The study showed that while the chance of developing psychosis – a condition that affects the mind and causes a person to lose contact with reality – is low, there is an increased risk of developing the disorder in patients taking the amphetamines. “The findings are concerning because the use of amphetamines in adolescents and young adults has more than tripled in recent years. More and more patients are being treated with these medications,” said Dr. Lauren V. Moran, lead author of the paper. “There is not a lot of research comparing the safety profiles of amphetamines and methylphenidate, despite increasing use of these medications,” Moran said. Moran said that clinicians have long observed “patients without previous psychiatric history” developing psychosis “in the setting of stimulant use.” The study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health, looked at insurance claims on more than 220,000 ADHD patients between the ages of 13 and 25 years old who had started taking amphetamines or methylphenidate between Jan. 1, 2004, and Sept. 30, 2015. According to the study, researchers found that one out of every 486 patients started on an amphetamine developed psychosis that required treatment with antipsychotic medication. One in 1,046 patients started on methylphenidate developed psychosis. The study showed that the development of psychosis appeared in people who had recently begun taking the amphetamines. Moran stressed that “people who have been on a drug like Adderall for a long time, who are taking the drug as prescribed and are tolerating it well, are not likely to experience this problem (psychosis).” The paper, “Psychosis with Amphetamine or Methylphenidate in Attention Deficit Disorder,” is set to be published on Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine. 
  • Do you like your tea served piping hot? Beware— you could be doubling your cancer risk, according to a new report.  >> Read more trending news  Researchers from Tehran University of Medical Sciences in Iran recently conducted a study, published in the International Journal of Cancer, to determine the association between drinking hot tea and esophageal cancer. To do so, they examined more than 50,000 people, aged 40-75, in Golestan, a province in northeastern Iran. They followed the participants for 10 years, tracking the temperature of the tea they drank as well as their overall health. During the follow-up, 317 new cases of esophageal cancer were identified.  Furthermore, they found those who drank tea warmer than 60 degrees Celsius or 140 degrees Fahrenheit and consumed more than 700 ml of tea daily were 90 percent more likely to develop esophageal cancer, compared to those who drank less tea and at temperatures below 60 degrees Celsius. >> Related: Drinking this type of tea could ruin your teeth, study says “Many people enjoy drinking tea, coffee, or other hot beverages. However, according to our report, drinking very hot tea can increase the risk of esophageal cancer, and it is therefore advisable to wait until hot beverages cool down before drinking,” lead author Farhad Islam said in a statement. Tea is rarely consumed at temperatures above 65 degrees Celsius in the United States or Europe. However, in places like Iran, Russia, Turkey and South America, it’s more common to serve tea at that temperature or hotter, Peter Goggi, president of the Tea Association of the USA, told CNN last year. The scientists do not know why drinking hot tea is linked with esophageal cancer, but this isn’t the first study of its kind.  A 2018 study, published in Annals of Internal Medicine, found that consuming “hot” or “burning hot” tea is linked with a two- to five-fold rise in esophageal cancer, but only among individuals who also smoke or drink alcohol. >> Related: Black tea helps you lose weight with gut bacteria, study says The analysts from that evaluation believe hot beverages may damage the tissue lining the esophagus, which could increase the risk of cancer from other factors, such as repeated irritation of the esophagus and the formation of inflammatory compounds.
  • Gov. Brian Kemp’s proposal to devise health care “waiver” programs that might ease insurance for some poor and middle-class Georgians passed a special House committee on Wednesday. The measure, Senate Bill 106, has already passed the state Senate. Its next step is to be seen by the House Rules Committee, the gateway to the House floor. Then, if passed without amendments, Kemp would have before him the legislation he first suggested word for word. “I’m very pleased with it,” said state Rep. Richard Smith, R-Columbus, who is chairman of the House Insurance Committee and led the Special Committee on Access to Quality Health Care, which heard SB 106 Wednesday. The committee voted for it 11-3, with at least one Democrat in favor and no Republicans opposed. The often positive testimony from witnesses reflected the findings of Atlanta Journal-Constitution polls expressing a desire to figure out how to insure the hundreds of thousands of Georgia poor who are currently not eligible for Medicaid. The legislation would give Kemp the authority to request federal “waivers” to Medicaid and Affordable Care Act rules in order to design programs tailored to the state. It is possible that the waiver programs could end up insuring hundreds of thousands of poor childless adult Georgians who are currently ineligible for Medicaid. Or it might do something much less. The choice would be Kemp’s. The near unity among witnesses in favor of a waiver broke down over what exactly such a waiver should do. A parade of advocates testified to Smith’s committee that they supported the effort to expand coverage. But several, including Democrats, said the measure didn’t go far enough, and they either spoke against it or wouldn’t urge a yes vote. Many are concerned that as Kemp decides how best to shape the state’s Medicaid program, the bill limits him to dealing only with the population up to 100 percent of the federal poverty level, or those who make about $12,000 a year for an individual. Federal law encouraged expansion of Medicaid to all poor people up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line, or about $16,000 for an individual. Several groups, including the American Heart Association and the American Lung Association, praised the possibility of expanding Medicaid and asked for it to go to 138 percent of the poverty level. Georgia Watch’s Laura Harker praised the benefits of Medicaid coverage to the poor and to the economy. “We are, however, struggling with consternation about the 200,000 or so just above the poverty line that may miss out,” Harker said. State Rep. Debbie Buckner, D-Junction City, is not on the committee but did testify. She said she was concerned not only that the bill stopped short at the number of poor people it would include, but also at the amount of power the bill gives the governor. There is no requirement for him to run his eventual decisions by the Legislature. One speaker, with the libertarian group Georgians for Prosperity, opposed the bill for the opposite reason, because he said insuring so many more poor people with Medicaid would encourage unemployment. Many said it was worth doing something rather than nothing. State Rep. Patty Bentley, a Democrat from Butler, was among them. “What we have on the table right now, my friends, I see as a way to help my area,” Bentley said. “So, my friends, I respect you, I honor you, but I’m voting for this bill.” Asked why they would restrict the governor to considering a smaller group of people, the committee chairman, Smith, and state Rep. Matt Hatchett, R-Dublin, who made the motion for the bill, both said that was simply what the governor requested. Stay on top of what’s happening in Georgia government and politics at ajc.com/news/georgia-government/.
  • The American Kennel Club's annual ranking of the most popular dog breeds found that the Labrador retriever once again is the nation's top dog for the 28th year in a row. >> Read more trending news The AKC released its 2018 rankings on Wednesday. After Labs, the top five breeds nationwide are German shepherds, golden retrievers, French bulldogs and bulldogs. Rounding out the top 10 are beagles, poodles, Rottweilers, German shorthaired pointers and Yorkshire terriers. All held their same positions on the top 10 with the exception of that German shorthaired pointer and Yorkshire terrier swapping the ninth and 10th position. Labs have been on top since 1991 when they unseated Cocker Spaniels from the number one slot and their reign is the longest of any breed since the AKC began the popularity ranking in the 1880s. At No. 9, the German shorthaired pointer notched its highest ranking since getting AKC recognition in 1930. These strikingly speckled hunting dogs are also versatile — some work as drug- and bomb-detectors — and active companions. “I think people are learning about how fun the breed is,” AKC spokeswoman Brandi Hunter said. The listings come from 2018 AKC registration data, and do not include mixed breeds. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • Wildlife officials in New Mexico are warning hikers and other visitors about a potential danger on a trail in the Sandria Mountains east of Albuquerque: mountain lions. >> Read more trending news  Although the chances of actually encountering a mountain lion are low, officials have fielded numerous calls recently over sightings of the big cat on the La Luz Trail, according to KOB-TV. Forest workers want people to take precautions, especially around dawn and dusk when jogging and running can trigger the big cats’ instincts to chase and attack. “We do not want to discourage people from visiting the forest,” wildlife biologist Esther Nelson told KOB, “but we do want to make people aware and offer some precautionary measures to keep visitors and their pets safe.” A few other tips include keeping children and pets close at all times and don’t hike alone. Although mountain lions are usually quiet and elusive animals, the National Park Service offers recommendations in case of an encounter. If you see a lion, stay calm, don’t approach it, don’t run from it, and don’t crouch down or bend over. >> Related: Jogger kills attacking mountain lion with bare hands If a mountain lion moves toward you or acts aggressively, do everything you can to appear intimidating. Speak in a loud voice and try and appear larger. If that doesn’t work, park officials suggest throwing stones or branches at the cat to try and scare it off. If it does attack, fight back however you can. Also don’t forget to report any attack to a forest ranger.    
  • A Wisconsin woman was arrested for handing out marijuana cookies at a St. Patrick’s Day parade, police said. >> Read more trending news  Cathleen Krause, 57, has been charged with delivering THC, possession of THC and three counts of possession of a controlled substance, WBAY-TV reported. A witness told sheriff’s deputies that while she was attending a St. Patrick’s Day parade on Saturday, a woman dressed in a leather coat and green hat gave her a cookie with marijuana in it, according to a Shawano County Sheriff's Office arrest affidavit. The witness turned the cookie over to the deputies. The deputies later tracked down Krause, who was 'visibly intoxicated' and smelled of alcohol and marijuana, according to the affidavit. When asked about the cookies, Krause pulled out a gallon-sized bag that contained cookie crumbs, WBAY-TV reported. The deputies then searched her and found a container with pills and some gummy candies, the news station reported. The Sheriff’s Office said the cookie and the gummies tested positive for marijuana. Krause appeared in court on March 18. As a condition of the $1,000 bond, she must remain sober, according to court records.