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“He told me on the radio, `Ride in the back and watch them wreck,’” Ward said, laughing at the role reversal. “And then at the last restart, he said, `OK dad, now it’s time to go. You can’t be dilly-dallying around any longer.’”

By the time the team unloaded at Martinsville, Tabitha was confident Jeb was ready, and that helped her, too.

“It’s so much more emotional for me,” she said. “I was always a supporter of Ward, a big cheerleader, but I quietly supported him. I stayed with the kids. We were there, we were always cheering for him, but that was his job, his career. Now with Jeb, I feel like I’m involved. We’re in the middle of it. He’s our child and we’ve done nothing but this the last four, five years. We’ve sacrificed a lot.”

And the way she supports her son is more than a little bit different than that demure racer’s wife of old.

“I feel like I was pretty graceful throughout Ward’s career. I don’t think I embarrassed myself but maybe a couple of times, but with Jeb, I get furious,” she said, speaking of when another driver causes problems for her son. “We were somewhere and someone wrecked Jeb, and we were both on top of the trailer and I said (to Ward), `Go get him!’, and he said, `I’m trying to get down!’”