CHARLOTTE, NC - JUNE 14:  A general view of the NASCAR Hall of Fame Voting Day at NASCAR Hall of Fame on June 14, 2011 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

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 live at 6 p.m. ET: Daytona 500 recap, Kurt Busch interview

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America recaps all the major stories that came out of the 59th Daytona 500, which was won for the first time by Kurt Busch.

The episode airs from 6 – 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Krista Voda hosts with Dale Jarrett from Stamford, Connecticut. Jeff Burton and Kyle Petty join them from Burton’s Garage.

Voda will interview Busch just under 24 hours after the biggest win of his NASCAR career.

If you can’t catch the show on TV, you also can watch it via the online stream at http://nascarstream.nbcsports.com

If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you plug-in that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 6 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Kurt Busch’s Daytona 500 winning car has a new home for the next year

59th Annual DAYTONA 500
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Kurt Busch’s Daytona 500-winning Ford Fusion has finally stopped rolling after adding an extra few hundred feet to its mileage log.

One day after capturing “The Great American Race,” the No. 41 was placed on permanent display for the next year at Daytona International Speedway’s Daytona 500 Experience Museum during Monday morning’s traditional race winner’s breakfast.

It was the first win for Stewart-Haas Racing in its first regular season race in Ford colors and power.

Check out some of the photos of the car and the festivities:

And then, last but not least, the Harley J. Earl Daytona 500 championship trophy is safely ensconced in its new home at Stewart-Haas Racing in Kannapolis, North Carolina.

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Atlanta to host 2,500th race in Cup history, last on current surface

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This weekend’s NASCAR action at Atlanta Motor Speedway, with all three major series running, will provide some interesting storylines.

First and perhaps most important, Sunday’s Folds of Honor Quik Trip 500 will be the last race ever held on the current track surface.

A complete repaving of the 1.54-mile high-speed quad oval track is slated to begin later this spring.

To make Sunday’s race all the more unique and momentous, it will also be the 2,500th race in Cup history.

AMS, which first opened in 1960, has had the same racing surface for the last 20 years, since its last repaving in spring 1997. That makes it the second oldest current surface in NASCAR.

During that time, it has played host to 31 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races, 19 Xfinity Series races and 15 Camping World Truck Series events.

Among some of the highlights over the years on the outgoing surface:

* Dale Earnhardt’s 0.01-second margin of victory over Bobby Labonte in 2000. It would be Earnhardt’s 75th career Cup win and the second-to-last win of his storied career (won at Talladega that fall).

* In his third Cup start after the tragic death of Earnhardt in the 2001 Daytona 500, Kevin Harvick would take the re-numbered No. 29 to victory lane at Atlanta, capturing a 0.006-second margin of victory over Jeff Gordon.

* Carl Edwards’ first Cup win and the first of two wins for him in both Atlanta races in 2005.

* AMS’s first-ever night race in 2009.

* Sunday marks AMS’s 102nd 500-mile race. No other track on the circuit has hosted as many races of that length.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Sunday could also be a big day for defending and seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson.

Having won both the 2015 and 2016 Cup races at AMS, Johnson is looking to become the first driver in track history to win three consecutive races there.

NASCAR Hall of Famer Fred Lorenzen won four times in as many years (1961 to 1964) at AMS, but they were not consecutive. Another Hall of Famer, Cale Yarborough, also won three straight spring races (1967 to 1969), but failed to win any of the fall races those same years at the track.

Johnson is also looking to extend his overall supremacy at the track, being the only active driver to have ever won there five times in a career (all on the current racing surface).

NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Earnhardt holds the record for most wins ever at AMS with nine triumphs.

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Alex Bowman driving for GMS Racing in Atlanta Truck race

FORT WORTH, TX - NOVEMBER 05: Alex Bowman, driver of the #88 Nationwide Chevrolet, walks through the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on November 5, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images
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Alex Bowman isn’t getting much time off between NASCAR starts.

Two weeks after he drove Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s No. 88 in the Advance Auto Parts Clash, Bowman will make his first start this year in a race that counts. He will drive GMS Racing’s No. 24 truck in the Camping World Truck Series’ Active Pet Control 200 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Bowman is filling in for Justin Haley, who at 17, is too young to race on tracks 1.5-miles long or bigger due to NASCAR rules.

The defending K&N East Pro Series champion, Haley turns 18 on April 28.

The race will only be Bowman’s second start in the Truck Series. He made his first in 2015 at Michigan International Speedway for JR Motorsports. He started 16th and finished 11th that day.

Bowman continues to capitalize on his performance last season when he helped fill in for Earnhardt in the No. 88 while he recovered from a concussion. Bowman made 10 starts in the No. 88, which included winning the pole for the fall race at Phoenix Raceway. That qualified him for the Clash, which he finished third in.

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