‘Best Buddy’ Daniel Noltemeyer wins Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award

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In one of the more emotional moments of Friday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Awards Banquet, Daniel Noltemeyer was named winner of the fourth annual Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award.

Noltemeyer is a founder of Best Buddies Kentucky, an organization devoted to social inclusion for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Noltemeyer, 32, of Louisville, Kentucky, has Down syndrome, yet has overcome his disability to be an advocate whose reach spans both the U.S. and internationally as an ambassador for Best Buddies International, founded by Anthony Kennedy Shriver.

“I am so honored [by this award],” Noltemeyer said in a statement. “I helped found Best Buddies Kentucky five years ago [and] I want to give back to an organization that has changed my life. I have learned to be a strong advocate for myself and others with disabilities, but most of all, I have made special friendships.

“I want to expand programs to make friendships possible for everyone. It’s like a dream come true to win this award to show the world how much someone with intellectual and developmental disabilities can accomplish.”

Noltemeyer was one of four finalists for the award. Best Buddies Kentucky will receive $100,000 for Noltemeyer receiving the most votes in a ballot of readers of NASCAR.com.

“Daniel says he is honored by winning the award; I want to emphasize that the feeling is mutual,” Betty Jane France said. “He is a remarkable young man, an inspiration to not only people with IDD, but everyone.

“Daniel was part of a very elite group of finalists this year, a group that NASCAR fans really responded to, as we had the closest voting in the award’s four years of existence.”

Three other finalists received $25,000 each for their organizations:

* Tammy Anderson-Lee, representing the Autism Society San Diego where she has developed adaptive swimming programs for children with Autism.

* Amber Larkin of Windermere, Florida, founder of the Noah’s Light Foundation, which is involved in the fight against pediatric brain cancer.

* Chris McElwee of Fort Washington, Pennsylvania, founder of Michael’s Way, which provides financial assistance to families dealing with expenses resulting from children’s cancer.

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Cadillac, Acura battle for top speed as cars back on track for Rolex 24 at Daytona practice

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The new hybrid prototypes of Cadillac and Acura battled atop the speed chart as practice resumed Thursday for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Richard Westbrook was fastest Thursday afternoon in the No. 02 Cadillac V-LMDh with a 1-minute, 35.185-second lap around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway.

That pace topped Ricky Taylor’s 1:35.366 lap that topped the Thursday morning session that marked the first time the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was back on track since qualifying Sunday afternoon that concluded the four-day Roar Before The Rolex 24 test.

Punctuated by Tom Blomqvist’s pole position for defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing, the Acura ARX-06s had been fastest for much of the Roar and led four consecutive practice sessions.

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But the times have been extremely tight in the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) category that has brought hybrid engines to IMSA’s premier class. Only 0.9 seconds separated the nine LMDh cars in GTP in qualifying, and though the spread slightly widened to 1.378 seconds in Thursday’s practices with teams on varying strategies and preparation, Westbrook still pooh-poohed the importance of speeds.

“It’s always nice to be at the top, but I don’t think it means too much or read too much into it” Westbrook said. “Big fuel tanks in the GTP class this year, so you have no idea what fuel levels people are running. We had a good run, and the car is really enjoyable to drive now. I definitely wasn’t saying that a month ago.

“It really does feel good now. We are working on performance and definitely unlocking some potential, and it just gives us more confidence going into the race. It’s going to be super tight. Everyone’s got the same power, everyone has the same downforce, everyone has the same drag levels and let’s just go race.”

Because teams have put such a premium on reliability, handling mostly has suffered in the GTPs, but Westbrook said the tide had turned Thursday.

“These cars are so competitive, and you were just running it for the sake of running it in the beginning, and there’s so much going on, you don’t really have time to work on performance,” he said. “A lot of emphasis was on durability in the beginning, and rightly so, but now finally we can work on performance, and that’s the same for other manufacturers as well. But we’re worrying about ourselves and improving every run, and I think everybody’s pretty happy with their Cadillac right now.”

Mike Shank, co-owner of Blomqvist’s No. 60 on the pole, said his team still was facing reliability problems despite its speed.

“We address them literally every hour,” Shank said. “We’re addressing some little thing we’re doing better to try to make it last. And also we’re talking about how we race the race, which will be different from years past.

“Just think about every system in the car, I’m not going to say which ones we’re working on, but there are systems in the car that ORECA and HPD are continually trying to improve. By the way, sometimes we put them on the car and take them off before it even goes out on the track because something didn’t work with electronics. There’s so much programming. So many departments have to talk to each other. That bridge gets broken from a code not being totally correct, and the car won’t run. Or the power steering turns off.”

Former Rolex 24 winner Renger van der Zande of Ganassi said it still is a waiting game until the 24-hour race begins Saturday shortly after 1:30 p.m.

“I think the performance of the car is good,” van der Zande said. “No drama. We’re chipping away on setup step by step and the team is in control. It’s crazy out there what people do on the track at the moment. It’s about staying cool and peak at the right moment, and it’s not the right moment yet for that. We’ll keep digging.”


PRACTICE RESULTS:

Click here for Session I (by class)

Click here for Session II (by class)

Combined speeds