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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.

My Home Tracks: New Mexico’s the Land of Enchantment and home of Cardinal Speedway

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The state of New Mexico is known more for IndyCar racing, with the Unser family being the state’s favorite sons.

Al Unser won four Indianapolis 500s, brother Bobby three and Al’s son Al Jr. a two-time winner (this weekend’s 500 marks the 25th anniversary of Little Al’s second 500 triumph).

But there’s a strong grassroots racing scene in the Land of Enchantment, particularly in the far southeast corner of the state at Cardinal Speedway, a half-mile dirt track in the little town of Eunice.

NASCAR America continues its My Home Track series of 50 states in 50 shows.

Wednesday, we visit New York state.

2018 NASCAR schedule changes: EVP Steve O’Donnell breaks it down (video)

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On Tuesday’s edition of NASCAR America, NASCAR executive vice president Steve O’Donnell joined us to discuss the NASCAR Cup schedule changes in 2018, including running a road race at Charlotte and having Indianapolis be the final race before the playoffs.

“I’m real excited about these changes,” said O’Donnell, who cited unprecedented cooperation between NASCAR, its teams, drivers and sponsors to reach agreement on the schedule changes.

Among the key changes: Las Vegas will kick off the 10-race playoffs in 2018 (Chicagoland Speedway, which will have hosted the last seven playoff openers, will return to its more traditional race date in early July/late June and serve as a run-up to the Coke Zero 400 in Daytona.

Several other changes include:

  • The fall playoff race at Charlotte will move up a couple weeks in the schedule and also incorporate competition on both the infield road course and part of the speedway itself.
  • After 14 years as the deciding race to qualify for the NASCAR Cup playoffs, Richmond International Raceway will now become the second race of the playoffs.
  • Indianapolis Motor Speedway will see it’s Brickyard 400 go from late July to become the final qualifying race for the playoffs in early September.

Catch up on all the changes in the above video.

Tony Stewart pulled over by state trooper, but it’s not for speeding

Photo courtesy Damein Cunningham Twitter account
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Retired NASCAR Cup driver and team co-owner Tony Stewart was stopped by an Illinois State Trooper over the weekend near DeKalb, Ill., about 90 minutes west of Chicago.

But before you think Stewart was stopped for speeding by Trooper Damein Cunningham, he wasn’t.

Rather, Cunningham pulled Stewart over for improper lane usage, although exactly what the infraction was is unclear.

After getting a verbal warning, Stewart gladly posed with Cunningham for a selfie, which the trooper promptly tweeted out.

“Just pulled over NASCAR LEGEND Tony Stewart on I-88 in DeKalb, IL, what you think I got him for? #NASCAR #ISP”

But according to the Chicago Tribune, Cunningham’s bosses apparently didn’t have a sense of humor about the incident or realize the good PR it meant for the Illinois State Police.

That, or they’re not Stewart or NASCAR fans. They ordered Cunningham to delete the tweet, which he did.

It’s unclear what Stewart, who was stopped on his 46th birthday, was doing in the Land of Lincoln.

But his luck went from bad to worse a few hours later. According to USA Today, Stewart and others were stuck in an elevator in a Madison, Wisconsin hotel for about 20 minutes before being rescued by firefighters.

We can just imagine what the elevator riders talked about while trapped.

How much do you want to bet Stewart said, “Man, do I have a story about a cop that I have to tell you.”

Cunningham then posted another tweet on Sunday after attending church services.

 

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All-Star Race will remain at Charlotte in 2018

Photo by Sarah Crabill/Getty Images
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NASCAR confirmed that the All-Star Race will be held again at Charlotte Motor Speedway despite more of a push from competitors and others to move the event.

Criticism was raised after last weekend’s 70-lap event featured only three lead changes. Kyle Busch took the lead on the restart to begin the final 10-lap stage and went on to win. It marked the fourth time in the last five years the All-Star winner led every lap in the final stage. In 12 All-Star Races at Charlotte since the track was repaved, there have been two lead changes in the final five laps.

Jim Cassidy, NASCAR senior vice president of racing operations, was clear in a call with reporters Tuesday that the All-Star Race is set for Charlotte.

“We’ve finished our discussions for ’18,” he said. ” We’ll begin looking at ’19 and beyond in the near future.”

The All-Star Race debuted at Charlotte in 1985, moved to Atlanta in 1986 and returned to Charlotte the following year. It has been held at Charlotte ever since.

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