Who might make up the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2018?

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Now that the eighth class was inducted Friday into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, what’s next?

Rather, who’s next – as in who will be the next quintet of inductees in the 2018 class?

Historically, many of those who come close but fall short of being inducted one year are among the favorites for the following class.

If that holds true again when voters gather in May to select the 2018 class (the field of 20 nominees is expected to be announced late next month), several potential inductees stand out.

Team owner Robert Yates, driver/team owner Alan Kulwicki and driver Red Byron were the top vote-getters who fell short for the 2017 class but were the subject of heavy discussion during last May’s selection process. It’s likely they’ll be among those getting significant consideration by Hall voters again.

Here are some of the potential inductees I see – and why – for the class of 2018:

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* Robert Yates was one of the most prolific engine builders and team owners during his tenure in the sport, winning the 1999 Winston Cup championship (NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett was the driver), while his engines helped power Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison to championships, as well. As an owner, his drivers won 57 Cup races. Yates belongs in the Hall – now!

Darlington Raceway Vintage Racing Festival Day 2

* Buddy Baker was a fan favorite as a driver and continued to have a big fan base when he retired from driving to become a broadcaster. While he never won a Cup championship, Baker won some of the biggest races on the circuit, including the 1980 Daytona 500 and both the World 600 and Winston 500 three times each. He was named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998. Will he be everyone’s Buddy among voters this year?

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* Kulwicki won the 1992 Winston Cup championship but perished in an airplane crash less than five months later. Nicknamed “The Polish Prince” and “Special K,” Kulwicki was a classic rags to riches success story whose life was embodied by his favorite song, Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.” One can only wonder how much greater success Kulwicki would have enjoyed had his life not been cut so short. There also might be sentimental reasons for Hall voters to select Kulwicki: 2018 will mark 25 years since he died.

Darlington Historic Racing Festival

* Ray Fox was a master engine builder and team owner. In 1956, working for team owner Carl Kiekhaefer, Fox built engines that won 21 of the season’s first 26 races, earning him Mechanic of the Year honors. He also built Junior Johnson’s 1960 Daytona 500 winning car, then went out on his own as an engine builder and team owner from 1962-1972, earning 14 NASCAR Grand National wins and 16 poles. After retiring and selling his team to his son, Ray Jr., Fox became a NASCAR engine inspector from 1990-1996.

Darlington Historic Racing Festival

* Harry Gant could be the biggest surprise of the class of 2018. But “Handsome Harry” certainly racked up Hall-worthy credentials in his 22-year NASCAR career, including 18 wins, 123 top-five and 208 top-10 finishes in just 474 starts. He also earned 21 Xfinity Series wins and 71 top-10s in just 128 starts. While he never won a Cup championship, he was runner-up in 1984. He also won four straight races in 1991 – at the age of 51. He retired after the 1994 season. When he visited Darlington Raceway during last year’s Throwback Weekend, Gant received one of the biggest rounds of applause of any driver past or present there. Even at the age of 77, Harry’s still as handsome and popular as ever.

57th Annual Daytona 500 - Practice

* And then there’s the wild card – but certainly deserving for induction nonetheless, Ron Hornaday Jr. One of the most versatile drivers around (he ran in NASCAR Cup, Xfinity and Truck Series), it was in a Truck that Hornaday had the most success. He won 51 races in 360 starts (an average of one win every seven starts), is the only Truck driver to win four championships (1996, 1998, 2007 and 2009) and was runner-up in 2008. Hornaday was nominated last season but didn’t make the cut. But come this May, it won’t be a shock if he does this time.

That’s how I see it. How about you? Write in Comments who you think will make the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2018.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Ryan Preece is fastest in final Xfinity practice Friday at Kentucky

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Ryan Preece soared to the top of the speed chart in the final Xfinity practice Friday night at Kentucky Speedway.

Preece covered the 1.5-mile oval with a top speed of 181.629 mph. He hit that speed on his first of 38 laps run during the session.

Justin Allgaier was second (180.777 mph), followed by Spencer Gallagher Jr. (180.114), Tyler Reddick (179.832) and Daniel Hemric (179.712).

Sixth through 10th: Matt Tifft (179.665), who was fastest in the first practice session earlier in the afternoon, William Byron (179.605), Brennan Poole (179.581), Sam Hornish Jr. (179.521) and Brandon Jones (179.521).

Five of the 12 Xfinity playoff contenders ended up in the top 10: Allgaier, Hemric, Tifft, Byron and Poole.

Others playoff contenders on the speed chart were Elliott Sadler (12th, 179.194), Ryan Reed (16th, 178.944), Cole Custer (17th, 178.838), Brendan Gaughan (19th, 178.453), Blake Koch (20th, 178.159), Michael Annett (21st, 178.124) and Jeremy Clements (25th, 176. 286).

Qualifying for Saturday night’s VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300 takes place at 5:30 p.m. ET, with the race set to take the green flag at 8 p.m. ET.

Click here for the full speed chart from the final Xfinity practice.

Starting lineup for Sunday’s ISM Connect 300 NASCAR Cup race at Loudon

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Up until this season, Kyle Busch wasn’t necessarily looked upon as a prolific qualifier.

He earned a career-best three poles in 2013 and 2014.

But that’s nothing compared to 2017, as Busch earned a career-best eighth pole Friday for Sunday’s ISM Connect 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

It’s also his second consecutive pole, having won the pole for last weekend’s playoff-opening race at Chicagoland Speedway.

Kyle Larson was next and will join Busch on the front row Sunday.

As for the other 14 NASCAR Cup playoff contenders: Denny Hamlin (134.763) was third, followed by Ryan Blaney (134.720), Chicagoland winner Martin Truex Jr. (134.188), Kevin Harvick (134.108), Kurt Busch (133.985), Kasey Kahne (133.966), Matt Kenseth (133.589), Jamie McMurray (133.680) and Jimmie Johnson (131.989).

Of the top 12 qualifiers, 11 are playoff drivers. The only non-playoff driver was Erik Jones (eighth, 133.971).

As for the other five playoff contenders, Brad Keselowski was 13th (133.422), Chase Elliott (133.357) was 14th, Austin Dillon was 17th (133.133), Ryan Newman was 18th (133.007) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. qualified 24th (131.628).

Click here for the starting lineup.

 

Kyle Busch gets past Kyle Larson to take Cup pole at Loudon

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In a battle between Kyle and Kyle, it was Kyle Busch who emerged with the pole for Sunday’s ISM Connect 300 Friday afternoon at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

The younger Busch brother was the only driver over 135 mph, taking his 27th career Cup pole with a speed of 135.049 mph.

“Just went out there and gave it what she had,” Busch told NBCSN. “It certainly would be great to finish this out in victory lane on Sunday.

“We knew we were going to have a shot for the pole, just didn’t know if we were going to get it. For as ugly as that session looked or felt from my vantage point, it certainly worked out.”

Busch has now won the pole for the first two playoff races, having won the pole last week at Chicagoland.

What’s more, this is the most prolific season of qualifying for Busch in his career: this is his eighth pole in 2017, most of all drivers in the Cup series and his most in a single season. His previous mark for most poles in a single season was three in both 2013 and 2014.

As for the other Kyle, Kyle Larson, he qualified on the outside of the front row with an effort of 134.911 mph.

“I feel overall that my lap was pretty good,” said Larson, who finished second in the July race at New Hampshire. “The 18 has been real fast, especially in qualifying all year. For us to be second to him is not bad.”

Denny Hamlin (134.763) was third, followed by Ryan Blaney (134.720), Martin Truex Jr. (134.188), Kevin Harvick (134.108), Kurt Busch (133.985), Erik Jones (133.971), Kasey Kahne (133.966), Matt Kenseth (133.589), Jamie McMurray (133.680) and Jimmie Johnson (131.989).

Of the top 12, 11 are in the NASCAR Cup playoffs. The only non-playoff driver was Jones.

As for the other five playoff contenders, Brad Keselowski was 13th (133.422), Chase Elliott (133.357) was 14th, Austin Dillon was 17th (133.133), Ryan Newman was 18th (133.007) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. qualified 24th (131.628).

Elliott and Johnson both wrecked their primary cars in the Cup practice session earlier in the day.

While Johnson was able to get back on-track for that practice session with his back-up car, Elliott qualified cold with his back-up, unable to get back on-track during the morning practice.

Joey Logano did not take a qualifying lap after failing pre-qualifying inspection four times. Logano will start last (40th position) in Sunday’s race at NHMS, which he considers his “home track.”

Click here for the full qualifying grid.

Matt Tifft fastest in first of 2 Xfinity practices at Kentucky Speedway

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Matt Tifft ran 25 laps during Friday afternoon’s first of two NASCAR Xfinity Series practice sessions at Kentucky Speedway.

But it was just one lap that mattered the most, as Tifft (180.427 mph) emerged from the 55-minute practice as the fastest in the 36 cars that took to the track.

Brian Scott was second (179.253 mph), followed by Ryan Preece (178.465), Brandon Jones (178.288), Justin Allgaier (178.271), Ben Kennedy (178.136), Elliott Sadler (177.573), Tyler Reddick (177.544), Spencer Gallagher Jr. (177.503) and Brennan Poole (177.381).

Interestingly enough, only four of the top-10 were playoff contenders. The seven-race Xfinity playoffs begin with Saturday night’s VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300.

There will be one more practice session today from 6:30-7:25 p.m. ET.

Qualifying and the race are Saturday.

Click here for the full practice speed grid.