By AMANDA VINCENT
NASCAR honored its finest Friday night with its annual NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards banquet at Wynn Las Vegas. Recently reigned 2015 Sprint Cup Series champion Kyle Busch was the guest of honor, while the sanctioning body also recognized other Chase for the Sprint Cup championship contenders.
“I guess you’ve heard that old saying ‘Break a leg,’ ” Busch said Friday night, joking about his injuries suffered at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway in February that resulted in him missing the first 11 races of the 2015 Sprint Cup season. “In the world of theater, it means good luck. As I stand here today, I can say that breaking a leg works just as good in racing.”
Other 2015 Chasers included Busch’s fellow “Championship 4″ round drivers Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick; additional “Eliminator 8″ round drivers Joey Logano, Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski; additional “Contender 12″ round drivers Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman; and additional “Challenger 16″ round drivers Jimmie Johnson, Jamie McMurray, Paul Menard and Clint Bowyer.
Not all awards went to competitors. Jeff Hanson of Overland Park, Kan., was honored with the NASCAR Foundation Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award for his fundraising a awareness efforts for the Children’s Tumor Foundation. To honor Hanson, the NASCAR Foundation made a $100,000 donation to the Children’s Tumor Foundation in his name.
“Jeff Hanson’s story is inspiring, and his accomplishments are impressive,” Betty Jane France said. “This is a resilient and immensely talented young man we have become proud to know, and even more proud to have as our fifth-annual award winner.”
Previously handed out during the annual Thursday NMPA (National Motorsports Press Association) Myers Brothers Awards Luncheon, the NMPA Most Popular Driver Award presentation was moved to the awards banquet. But one thing that didn’t change was the identity of the award recipient. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was named Most Popular Driver for the 13th-straight year.
In addition to being recognized as one of the “Championship 4″ drivers, retiring Gordon also was presented with the rarely-given Bill France Award. It just so happens that when the award last was handed out in 2009, it went to Gordon’s car owner, Rick Hendrick. Gordon was further surprised when his friend and Hollywood star Tom Cruise took the stage to introduce him as the award-winner.
“You’re the very definition of a champion,” NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France told Gordon from the Wynn stage. “Quite simply, you changed the sport for the better.”
Sentiment also got emotional when “Championship 4″ driver Truex took the stage and dedicated his season to longtime girlfriend Sherry Pollex, honoring her for her brave battle against ovarian cancer.
Pollex’s battle inspired Truex to offer advice to those listening to his speech.
“The only advice I have for you tonight is to enjoy every moment, celebrate life, help others and never give up,” Truex said.
As champion, Busch closed the ceremony, saying goodbye until the start of the 2016 season at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway in February.
“See you in Daytona,” he said.
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