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When will the NASCAR Hall of Fame welcome Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart as inductees?

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CHARLOTTE – Just two months after he retired, and Tony Stewart already has a major presence in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

“Smoke,” a tribute exhibit honoring the three-time Cup champion’s broad racing career with artifacts and cars from virtually every series he raced, has greeted Hall of Fame visitors since October and will remain open until Feb. 24.

But with the NASCAR Hall of Fame set to induct its eighth class tonight (8 p.m., NBCSN), the question is when will Stewart be enshrined as a member?

Winston Kelley, the executive director of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, said Stewart could be a part of the class of 2020 after retiring from full-time competition last year. NASCAR Hall of Fame eligibility stipulate that a driver must be retired two years before being considered, which would put Stewart on the ballot for the May 2019 vote.

1-john-deere-lawn-mower_historical-imageAlso in question is the eligibility of Jeff Gordon, who retired after 2015 and seemed on track for a 2019 induction before he returned for eight races in place of an injured Dale Earnhardt Jr. last season.

Kelley said NASCAR ultimately will determine whether last year’s stint would count against Gordon’s eligibility and would expect a decision by the end of this year when the list of 20 nominees for the 2018 vote is compiled.

“It’s not a black and white thing,” Kelley said.

What does seem certain is first-ballot inductions for since Stewart and Gordon, whom Kelley called the first two stars to retire as surefire Hall of Famers in their first year of eligibility since the shrine opened in 2010.

But neither seems to spend much time mulling the possibility.

The "Smoke: A Tribute to Tony Stewart" display.
The “Smoke: A Tribute to Tony Stewart” display.

“Anytime I bring it up with Jeff about the class of 2019, he brushes it off and changes the subject,” Kelley said with a laugh. “They’re, ‘Aww shucks’ about it.”

Last October Stewart told a small group of reporters that he wasn’t focused on the honor yet.

“If I don’t make them mad to where they don’t want induct me at some point, hopefully we’ll get inducted,” he said. “You don’t think about it.”

In the meantime, Stewart’s fans can enjoy “Smoke: A Tribute to Tony Stewart,” which includes 10 vehicles from different eras of his career.

Among those featured: a 1973 John Deere lawnmower that might have been his first “race car”; the cars from his historic 1995 USAC Triple Crown championship; his 1997 IndyCar title winner; his first Cup win (Richmond in September 1999); his 2005 Brickyard 400 winner; his 2006 IROC championship.

A note sent to Tony Stewart by Richard Petty after his 2011 title. It simply reads "4 more to go."
A note sent to Tony Stewart by Richard Petty after his 2011 title. It simply reads “4 more to go.”

The Hall of Fame worked with Eddie Jarvis, Stewart’s manager, who maintains a vast collection of vehicles.

“When you have drivers who raced other series, it gives the NASCAR Hall of Fame a rare opportunity to go outside the box,” Director of Exhibits Kevin Schlesier said.

“We wanted to honor the totality of his career, and they kept so much.

“To have a driver with this many vehicles was unprecedented. Normally, we go to private collectors or back to the team.”

The exhibit is similar to a display that the NASCAR Hall of Fame did for Gordon last year.

“When they retire, we can immediately give their fans the chance to see the breadth and depth of their careers,” Kelley said. “ Tony and Jeff are both unique in that they’re not just stock-car racers.”

From the NASCAR Hall of Fame website, here is the eligibility criteria for induction:

  • Drivers who have competed in NASCAR for at least 10 years and have been retired for two years are eligible for nomination to the NHOF. Previously, eligible drivers must have been retired for three years.
  • In addition, drivers who have competed for a minimum of 10 years and reached their 55th birthday on or before Dec. 31 of the year prior to the nominating year are immediately eligible for the NHOF.
  • Any driver who has competed for 30 or more years in NASCAR competition by Dec. 31 of the year prior to the nominating year is automatically eligible, regardless of age.
  • Drivers may continue to compete after reaching any of the aforementioned milestones without compromising eligibility for nomination or induction.
  • For non-drivers, individuals must have worked at least 10 years in the NASCAR industry.
  • Individuals may also be considered who made significant achievements in the sport, but left the sport early due to a variety of circumstances.

NASCAR America: Martin Truex Jr., Daniel Suarez, Erik Jones get a feel of how Olympians train (video)

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NASCAR drivers talk almost continuously about how they have to be in top physical condition to endure sometimes often very difficult conditions while on a racetrack and behind the wheel.

One only needs to look at seven-time NASCAR Cup champion Jimmie Johnson to see the rewards of being fit.

But going to one of the Olympic training centers in the U.S. is a whole other thing, something that separates folks who think they’re fit from those that really are.

Ask Toyota drivers like Martin Truex Jr., Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones, who recently participated in a two-day training session at an Olympic training facility.

We wouldn’t be surprised if they’re still nursing sore muscles, given the workouts they endured – and which gave them new appreciation for what many Olympians must go through to be the best.

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NASCAR America: Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch ready for Daytona fireworks (video)

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NASCAR’s summer classic, the Coke Zero 400, celebrates this country’s independence, its military heroes and concludes with a great fireworks show.

But as Clint Bowyer and this year’s Daytona 500 winner, Kurt Busch, will vouch for, there’s also a lot of fireworks during the race, as the 2.5-mile, high-banked tri-oval can be one of the most difficult and intimidating places to race upon.

If a driver isn’t dodging fellow drivers, he or she is trying to stay in the draft to gain forward movement and momentum. Unfortunately, a lot of times when dodging and draft collide, so too do a lot of cars and drivers, as well.

It may not be the Daytona 500, but winning at Daytona in July is still a big prize that everyone wants to win. And don’t forget, because it’s Daytona, it’s also a place to be careful at because of the danger that can pop up at any moment.

Find out why by clicking on the above video.

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NASCAR America: Steve Letarte kicks off weekly feature honoring pit crews (video)

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They’re the unsung heroes of NASCAR, the guys who typically don’t get enough praise when things go right, and then oftentimes have the finger of blame pointed at them when things go wrong.

We’re talking about one of the most important jobs in NASCAR: pit crew member.

Starting with Wednesday’s edition of NASCAR America, a guy who knows a lot about pit crews – former crew chief turned NBC NASCAR analyst Steve Letarte – kicked off a feature that will run each week for the 20 remaining weeks of the season.

Letarte’s series will spotlight the importance of pit crews, and he’ll also choose pit crew all-stars to recognize their contributions to the sport and their perseverance on pit road.

This week’s first bunch of pit crew all-stars are Caleb Hurd, gasman for Denny Hamlin; Jeff Zarella, tire specialist for Kurt Busch and Frank Mathalia, engine tuner for Austin Dillon.

Give them and their peers some love and check out the above video.

NASCAR America: Dale Earnhardt Jr. wants one final Daytona win for himself and his father (video)

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Daytona International Speedway has been a bittersweet place for Dale Earnhardt Jr.

It’s been the place of his biggest NASCAR Cup career wins, including the Daytona 500 in 2004 and 2014.

But it’s also the same place where he lost his father  in a last-lap wreck in the 2001 Daytona 500.

Now, Earnhardt returns to the “World Center of Speed” for what will be the final time in his 18-year NASCAR Cup career.

On Wednesday’s edition of NASCAR America, Earnhardt reflected upon all the good and bad Daytona has meant to him and his family.

On his first time back to Daytona after his father’s death nearly five months earlier: “Once we got to Daytona, we drove by the racetrack, pulled in, parked in Turn 3, got out and walked around. The track was empty, quiet and I’d never been to the crash site. That’s where dad, in my mind, lost his life. That was where we all remember him last.”

Returning to Daytona for the first time after his father’s death there: “I felt like that was a place I wanted to visit. And every time I go to Daytona, even today, I go around that racetrack, I look at that spot, I look at that knoll of grass before the exit of Turn 4. I wanted to go there and see how I felt and see what kind of emotions happened so that I could get whatever was going to be out of the way.

“I told myself what I was going through is the same sadness that some guy somewhere in the Midwest is dealing with right now. Who am I to go on and on about how hard it was, because somebody, somewhere right now is dealing with a loss.”

How he wishes his father was still here to see the man and driver he’s become: “I’d have loved it if he’d stuck around a lot longer, but that’s not the way it was supposed to be. And we figured out how to make it (when he won the 2001 Coke Zero 400 in his father’s honor).”

On wanting to win one last time at Daytona in a Cup car this Saturday night: “I’d love to win at Daytona and add another win to the Earnhardt column. Every time I win there, I think it’s another win for me and dad because his success there stretches far beyond the Daytona 400 and July 400. But any time I win there, that’s one more stake in the ground that we claim this track as a place we dominate.”

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