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Who’s Hot, Who’s Not heading into Martinsville?

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Sunday’s race at Martinsville Speedway marks the start of the Round of 8 semifinal playoff round.

Here’s this week’s edition of Who’s Hot and Who’s Not heading into Martinsville:


 No. 78 Martin Truex Jr. (Hot)

  • Won at Charlotte, 23rd at Talladega, Won at Kansas.
  • Seven wins in 2017, the most by a driver since Matt Kenseth had seven in 2013.
  • Finished in the top-five 15 times and the top-10 22 times this season, both are the most.
  • Won 19 stages this season, the most.
  • 69 Playoff Points this season, the most.
  • Has led a series-high 2,068 laps, led the most laps in eight races.
  • Three of his seven top-10 finishes at Martinsville came in the last five races.
  • Finished 16th at Martinsville in April, spun from seventh on lap 431.
  • Best short track finish of 2017 came at Bristol in April finished 8th.
  • Look ahead to Texas: Winless at Texas in 24 starts, runner-up in Spring 2013. … Finished top-10 in the last five races at Texas, led in the last four. … Six wins on 1.5-mile tracks in 2017, most ever in a season, won the last four.

No. 11 Denny Hamlin (Hot)

  • Finished 4th at Charlotte, 6th at Talladega, 5th at Kansas.
  • Finished top six in seven of the last nine races.
  • Five wins at Martinsville rank ninth all-time and second among active drivers (Jimmie Johnson has nine).
  • Five wins at Martinsville are his most among all tracks.
  • Finished 30th or worse in two of the last three races at Martinsville including 30th in April.
  • 30th-place finish at Martinsville in April is his only finish worst than 10th this season on a short track.
  • Look ahead to Texas: Won both races at Texas in 2010, his only wins there in 23 starts, but has only three top-10 finishes there in the 12 races since with no top-fives. … Finished 25th at Texas in April.

No. 18 Kyle Busch (Hot)

  • Finished 29th at Charlotte, hit the wall while running 2nd, 27th at Talladega (accident), 10th at Kansas.
  • Four wins this season, all in the last 12 races.
  • Led laps in the last 15 races this season, a personal best and the best streak ever among the active drivers.
  • Finished top five in the last four races at Martinsville (the longest active streak) including a win in April 2016 (his only at the track).
  • Led 42 percent of the laps raced at Martinsville in the last three races (629 of 1500).
  • 469 laps led on short tracks in 2017 lead all drivers.
  • Look ahead to Texas: Two-time Texas winner, both came in his last eight starts there. … Finished top-15 in his last 10 Texas starts (seven top-fives). … Finished 15th at Texas in April 2

 No. 2 Brad Keselowski (Good)

  • Finished 15th at Charlotte, won at Talladega after having radio issues, Finished 13th at Kansas after two speeding penalties.
  • Advanced to the round of 8 with his win at Talladega.
  • Won at Martinsville in April (led 116 laps), his only win there in 15 races.
  • Finished top five in the last three races at Martinsville, top 10 in eight of the last 11.
  • Only two top-10 finishes on short tracks in 2017.
  • Look ahead to Texas: Winless at Texas in 18 starts, best finish of second in this race in 2015 after leading 312 of 334 laps. … Finished top 10 in seven of the last 10 races at Texas (sixth there in April).

No. 4 Kevin Harvick (Decent)

  • Finished 3rd at Charlotte after winning the first two stages, 20th at Talladega and eighth at Kansas.
  • Only  two top-10 finishes in the last five races.
  • Only four top-10 finishes in the last 11 races at Martinsville, finished 20th in each of the last two.
  • Won at Martinsville in Spring 2011 but as only one top-five finish there since.
  • Finished top-10 in three of the five races on short tracks this season.
  • Look ahead to Texas: Winless at Texas in 29 starts, two time runner-up. … Finished in the top-10 in the last six races at Texas (fourth in April).

No. 21 Ryan Blaney (Putting it together)

  • Finished 8th at Charlotte, 18th at Talladega, accident after leading 27 laps, third at Kansas.
  • Finished top 10 in three of the last five races of 2017.
  • Best finish at Martinsville is 19th (two times)
  • Finished 25th at Martinsville in April.
  • Finished 10th at Bristol in August 2017, only top 10 ever on a short track.
  • Look ahead to Texas: Five Texas starts with a best finish of 12th in each of the last two races there. … Led 148 laps at Texas in April but finished 12th after sliding through his box from eighth on his last stop.

No. 24 Chase Elliott (His time is coming)

  • Finished 2nd at Charlotte, sixth career runner-up finish, 16th at Talladega, fourth at Kansas.
  • Four top-five finishes in the playoffs rank second to Martin Truex Jr. (five).
  • Worst finish in the last eight races is 16th at Talladega.
  • Finished third at Martinsville in April, only top-10 finish there in four starts.
  • Made his Cup debut at Martinsville in March 2015 (finished 38th).
  • Three of his four Cup top-10 finishes on short tracks came in 2017.
  • Look ahead to Texas: Finished top-10 in all three of his Texas starts with a best of fourth in October 2016. … Got his first Xfinity win at Texas in April 2014.

No. 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Warming up)

  • Finished seventh in each of the last two races.
  • Finished top 12 in the last four races, best streak this season, including three top 10s.
  • Won at Martinsville in Fall 2014.
  • Finished top 10 in four of his last seven Martinsville starts.

No. 42 Kyle Larson (Hot in 2017 but unlucky at Kansas)

  • Finished 10th at Charlotte, 13th at Talladega, involved in accident, 39th at Kansas, engine.
  • Eight runner-up finishes this season.
  • Four wins in 2017, had one entering this season.
  • Finished third at Martinsville in April 2016, only finish better than 14th in seven starts there.
  • Finished 17th at Martinsville in April, dropped from top-10 late due to power issues.
  • Finished top-10 in three of the five short-track races this season with a win at Richmond in September.


 No. 48 Jimmie Johnson (Just doesn’t seem to have it lately)

  • Finished 7th at Charlotte, 24th at Talladega, accident, 11th at Kansas after two accidents.
  • Top 10 finishes in four of the last seven races.
  • Four top five finishes this season, three were wins.
  • Nine-time winner at Martinsville including this race last year, nine wins are tied for third most all-time and the most by an active driver.
  • Finished 15th at Martinsville in April.
  • Only two top-10 finishes in his last six races at Martinsville.
  • Win at Bristol in April is his only top-five finish on a short track this season.
  • Look ahead to Texas: Seven time winner at Texas, most of all drivers. … Won six of the last 10 Texas races including the race there in April.

No. 1 Jamie McMurray (Not)

  • Finished 5th at Charlotte, 37th accident at Talladega, 34th accident at Kansas.
  • 16 top-10 finishes this season, six more than this point last year.
  • Five DNFs because of accidents in 2017.
  • Finished top 10 in three of the last five races at Martinsville.
  • Two-time runner-up at Martinsville.
  • Finished 38th at Martinsville in April, damage to the left rear fender while battling for 6th with Johnson on lap 100 led to an accident on lap 107.
  • Finished sixth at Richmond in April, only short track top-10 finish this season.

No. 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Not)

  • Finished 13th at Charlotte, 26th accident at Talladega, 29th accident at Kansas.
  • Best finish of 10th at Martinsville in April, his only top-10 finish there in nine starts.
  • Finished top 10 in three of the five races on short tracks this season.

No. 20 Matt Kenseth (Unlucky)

  • Finished 11th at Charlotte, 14th at Talladega, 37th at Kansas.
  • No top-10 finishes in the last four races, tied for his longest streak of the season.
  • Martinsville is one of only five active tracks he has not won on, best finish of second twice in 35 starts.
  • Finished ninth at Martinsville in April.
  • Six top-10 finishes in the last eight races at Martinsville.
  • Finished top 10 in three of the five races on short tracks this season with a best of fourth at both Bristol races.

No. 3 Austin Dillon (Not hot)

  • Finished 14th Kansas, best finish in the last seven races.
  • Only three top-15 finishes in the last 13 races.
  • Only four top-10 finishes this season, had 13 at this point last year.
  • Won on fuel mileage at Charlotte earlier this year.
  • Finished top-five in two of the last three races at Martinsville including a fifth in April 4.

No. 5 Kasey Kahne (Not hot)

  • Finished 15th at Kansas ending his streak of top-10 finishes at two.
  • Only three top 10 finishes in the last 22 races.
  • Six DNFs due to accidents this season.
  • Won at Indianapolis ending a 102-race winless streak, took a super lucky timed caution and turned it into a win.
  • Only one top-10 finish in the last eight races at Martinsville.

No. 31 Ryan Newman (Not good lately)

  • Finished second at Talladega, only top-10 finish in the last six races.
  • DNF because of accident in two of the last three races (40th at Charlotte, 33rd at Kansas).
  • Finished top-10 in four of the last six races at Martinsville including an eighth in April.

No. 41 Kurt Busch (Not Hot)

  • Finished second at Kansas but it is his only finish better than 19th in the last six races.
  • Two-time Martinsville winner but his win in Spring 2014 is his only top-10 finish in the last 23 races there.

No. 14 Clint Bowyer (Disappointing 2017) 

  • Finished 19th at Kansas, best finish in the last three races.
  • Finished runner-up three times in 2017.
  • Only two top-10 finishes in the last 10 races of 2017.
  • Finished seventh at Martinsville in April, only top-10 finish in the last five races.

No. 22 Joey Logano (Disappointing season)

  • Finished 4th at Talladega, only his fourth top-five finish since his Richmond win and his only top-10 finish in the last four races.
  • 12 finishes outside the top 20 in the last 23 races.
  • Won at Richmond after starting in the rear due to a transmission change, but win was ruled encumbered due to illegal suspension.
  • First time he missed the playoffs with Team Penske.
  • Finished top-10 in five of the last seven races at Martinsville, fourth there in April.

No. 77 Erik Jones (Lost his momentum)

  • DNF due accident in the last two races of 2017.
  • Top-10 finishes in seven of the last 12 races this season but only one in the last six.
  • Started 15th, finished 12th at Martinsville in April in his only Cup start there.
  • Finished top-10 in each of the last two short track races, including a career-best 2nd at Bristol.


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Robert Yates left us with a beautiful gift: his NASCAR Hall of Fame acceptance speech

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Dale Jarrett cried beforehand while preparing. Edsel Ford II cried during, as did countless attendees at Friday night’s annual NASCAR Hall of Fame induction.

They cried not just about the induction of legendary team owner and engine building genius Robert Yates, but also the touching and profound words Yates left as his legacy.

Knowing that his long battle with cancer could potentially take him from us before the induction – which it ultimately did on October 2, more than three months ago – Robert Yates left the NASCAR world with an emotional gift: some of his final words.

Before he passed away at the age of 74, Yates hand-picked fellow NASCAR Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett to read those words, a task that was both a great honor but also very emotional for Jarrett, who won a NASCAR Cup championship and Daytona 500 while driving for Yates.

“It was an honor for the Yates family to ask me to do that and to be a part,” said Jarrett, now a NASCAR analyst for NBC Sports. “It was a very difficult thing to do. (It took) a number of reads before I could get through it, as you could imagine.

“This was someone that we could have spent the entire two hours talking about how special of a man and hard worker Robert Yates was. He’s exactly what this Hall of Fame is about, that type of person that started at the bottom, worked his way to the top, and there’s nobody that’s been as good as him ever in this business.”

Jarrett said he wished it would have been Yates who was inducted into the Hall in 2014 so he could enjoy the moment, rather than Jarrett.

“Speaking strictly from a personal standpoint, I look at this, that I wish he could have been the one going in in 2014. It would have only been fitting that he was in here in the Hall of Fame before I was, and we could have heard that speech from his mouth and in his words.

“But I was honored to do that, and when I look at it and think about it, a lot of us drivers were fortunate to drive for Robert and Doug Yates and the Yates family and what they’ve meant to me. But in my case, he took an average driver that had a huge heart and a huge desire to win and made me think that I could do extraordinary things.

“I’m appreciative of that and the opportunity that he gave me to win races and a championship, and a special night for the Yates family.”

Here’s Robert Yates’ full, touching induction acceptance speech, in his own words, that were read Friday by Dale Jarrett:

When I started in racing, this was not the goal. All I wanted to do throughout my career was win races.

“I would always say, I don’t race for the money, I race to win. For me, that’s what it’s always been about, but to be part of this year’s induction class is a true honor.

‘There are a lot of other people I want to thank because this isn’t really about me; it’s about those who gave me the opportunity to do something I love.

“I want to thank Bill France Jr. He loaded me up with wisdom through the years, and while some of our conversations were tough, he taught me things about this sport that were invaluable.

“And Edsel Ford and Ford Motor Company. When you get to know people like Edsel, you realize that you’re always part of the Ford family, and that means a lot.

“Working in the Holman Moody engine shop turned out to be the best education I could ever ask for. We worked day and night, but if it wasn’t for people like Jack Sullivan, John Holman and Ralph Moody, I wouldn’t have developed the skills I needed.

“Junior Johnson is a man of few words, but I’ll never forget, we were at Charlotte Motor Speedway one day, and he looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘Robert, I’ve got to have you.’ We worked out a deal where he basically allowed me to run my own shop, and nobody appreciated what I did during that time more than him. So, Junior, thank you.

“I learned what it was like to run a race team in 1976, when I took over as general manager for DiGard Racing. I worked with Hall of Famers like Darrell Waltrip and Bobby Allison and had 10 great years there.

“The Allisons have been a big part of my life. I won a championship with Bobby in 1983 at DiGard, and then got to work with Davey, who was always so positive.

“When I bought Harry Ranier Racing, I knew other people wanted to hire him, so we talked about it, and he said to me, ‘Robert, I’ll always work for you.  You don’t ever have to worry about me.’

“Losing Davey was painful. We shed a lot of tears and didn’t know how we would move on, but we did. As NASCAR started to move to more multi-car teams, Ford approached me about running the Quality Care car in 1995.

“I never liked the idea of two cars. Dale Earnhardt Sr. and I always talked about how, until they made two places for cars in Victory Lane, you only need one. So I wasn’t fond of running a second team, but it worked out well.

“We hired Dale Jarrett on a handshake deal done at the Raceway Grill in Darlington. We didn’t sign a contract until several months later.

“Todd Parrott came on as crew chief, and everything just clicked. We won the Daytona 500 in 1996 in our first race together, and then won the championship in 1999. It was a special time in my life with a special group of people.

“So to you, Dale, Todd, and everyone who worked at Robert Yates Racing or in our engine shop, you have my deepest appreciation.

“I’m also extremely blessed to have my assistant Kristi Jones. She’s meant so much to me and our family.

“To this point, I’ve talked about some of the people who have made a difference in my career, but none of that would have been possible if it wasn’t for the people who made a difference in my life: my family.

“My brothers and sisters were all good students, but I didn’t care about going to school. I was the only kid in my family that didn’t make straight A’s. That’s when my sister, Martha Brady, stepped in. I moved from Charlotte to Wake Forest and lived with her. She told me what classes I was going to take, and that was the first time I studied and made straight A’s.

“My sister, Doris Roberts, talked to me about going to Wilson Tech, and that was the best two years of school I ever had. I loved physics and geometry. So if it wasn’t for my two sisters, I don’t know where I’d be today.

“Another person I want to thank is my twin brother, Richard Yates.  He’s been a big part of my life, and I love him dearly.

“When I was working for Junior Johnson, I would take Doug to the shop. He was still in diapers, but the floor was clean, so I would put him down there, and he would sort out nuts and bolts.  He could sort them out and put them all in the right bin.

“I knew he was destined for a career in racing. Little did I know that would include working side-by-side with him for 20 years. Doug, I couldn’t be prouder of the man you are today. I love you.

“I used to give Amy rides on my dirt bike when she was only two years old. She would sit in front of me and laugh and hold the handlebars and say, “Faster, Dad, faster.” She’s a great mom to her four kids and the sweetest daughter a dad could ever ask for. Amy, you’re my baby doll, and I love you.

“Doug and Amy have given Carolyn and I eight wonderful grandkids.  Your futures are bright, and I love each of you dearly.

“It’s been 51 years since I took a four-day leave from the Army and made the best decision of my life: I married Carolyn. She’s been by my side ever since and has supported me every step of the way. I worked all hours of the day and night, but she never called to say, get home. She let me work.

“Carolyn, I don’t know where the time has gone, but it seems like yesterday we were in a one-bedroom apartment trying to make ends meet. You’re the light of my life. You’ve always been there for me, particularly this past year. Your devotion reminded me of our vows: In sickness and in health. And I love you.

“I never prayed to win a race. I just prayed for the wisdom to help me make good decisions. My creator didn’t always give me what I asked for, but he gave me more than I deserved.

“I thank you for this great honor.  Good night, and God bless.”

Ray Evernham on NASCAR Hall of Fame induction: ‘This is forever’

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Ray Evernham has been successful in virtually everything he’s done in his life.

That includes an amateur boxer, race car driver, 3-time NASCAR Cup championship crew chief, Cup team owner, TV and radio personality, racetrack owner, businessman and so much more.

But nothing will ever personify and speak to Evernham’s career success like Friday night’s induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

It’s without question the pinnacle of his career, celebrating a man who has done so much in the sport – as well as for the sport.

“You dream about it and you work hard to get there, and the whole time you’re doing it you never really think that you could ever make a mark in a sport that would get you at this level,” Evernham told reporters after his induction.

“I can tell you it still really blows me away. To stand up on top of that stage there and look at the banner and look at the people sitting there in front of me and when I turned around people were on their feet and clapping, it was like very surreal.

“It was just like being in a movie. I thought, ‘Man, oh wow, now I know how Rocky felt.’ But I can tell you it’s the greatest moment of my career.”

Man, oh wow, now I know how Rocky felt.’ … It’s the greatest moment of my career.” — Ray Evernham

Evernham was presented for induction into the Hall by Jeff Gordon. When asked how much of a role he played in Evernham’s career, Gordon was gracious in his reply.

I think (Evernham) played a larger role in my career,” Gordon said. “I’m so thankful to be a part of this.

“What he’s meant to me with my driving career and as a friend because of all we’ve gone through – I mean, we’ve seen one another go through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, on the track or off the track.

“And when you go through that and you have the kind of relationship that we had, the business relationship that then turned into the friendship, when you see somebody honored like Ray was tonight, which is so deserving – this guy sacrificed – I think that’s why I love seeing people.

“Listen, don’t get me wrong; I love seeing the drivers. Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, all of them deserve to be in the Hall of Fame. But to me, the drivers already get a lot of rewards or accolades or written up, but guys like Ray, even though he got his fair share, but it was never enough for the effort, the sacrifices and the things that he did to make that car, the team and me really shine the way that it did.”

While Gordon and Evernham teamed together for the first time in Gordon’s NASCAR Cup debut, the final race of the 1992 season at Atlanta, something magical happened when they first got together two years earlier in a 1990 test.

“I knew it immediately, we just clicked,” Evernham said of Gordon. “I liked him a lot and he liked me. We spoke the same language. He was a kid, might have been 19.

“I had seen the best drivers in the world. I knew talent. What I saw him do that day at Charlotte with the car that we had that wasn’t that special, I believe it was a Buck Baker school car we went and tested with, and he was quick, I think second quick overall that day to Davey Allison.

“He did some pretty amazing things, and the way that he spoke to me and the way that he described what the car was doing and what he needed in the car, I thought to myself, this guy is way too young. That’s not experience; that’s pure talent and that’s ability.”

Gordon concurred.

“It was the same for me,” Gordon said. “It clicked right away. … I came home from that test, and I just said, ‘You’re not going to believe this guy.’ He had a clipboard. He’s writing down every word that I say, and he’s like, ‘Ok, we’re going to do this, we’re going to put this spring in.’

“I was like, ‘What’s that going to do?’ I didn’t know anything about springs or shocks. I was racing dirt sprint cars and midgets. He said, ‘Well, it should do this,’ and I’d go in the corner, and it did it. I was like, ‘Oh, my God, this guy is a genius.’ So we clicked immediately.”

Evernham, now 60, admits that his induction had him choked up.

“It’s been emotional to me,” he said. “I mean, certainly you look at this as a cap-off on your career, and you look back, as I said – I meant it when I said I’ve seen some of the toughest, most articulate guys we know stand on that stage and be emotional.

“Tonight it’s very special to me because Ray J (Evernam’s son) was up there, Jeff was up there and Ben Kennedy, again, because his dad Bruce and I were close, to have all three of them up on the stage. When I walked up there, I said, I hope I can get through it without crying, but that’s normally Jeff’s deal. But I get it.

“It’s a tremendous, tremendous honor, and when you start to … when you realize that it really is all about the people and the relationships that you’ve made, because without those people and without the relationships, the rest of the stuff is just trophies, man.

“When you win at the Cup level, you get to enjoy it for four days, and then there’s 39 more guys trying to knock you off that pedestal. They’re not going to let you have fun. Friday morning, it’s back to square one.

“The memories are going to be of the things that we did with the people. … That’s what’s really special about the Hall of Fame, because this is forever.”

Ron Hornaday Jr. kept up a cold tradition with Hall of Fame induction

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CHARLOTTE, North Carolina – The call came “out of the blue” in November.

The name “Horny” flashed on Wayne Auton’s phone.

The nickname belonged to Ron Hornaday Jr., four-time Camping World Truck Series champion and one of Auton’s closet friends.

Earlier in the year, the former Truck Series director and current manager of the Xfinity Series had been the one to call Hornaday and let Hornaday know he was one of the nominees for the 2018 class in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

“Hey, buddy, I need you to do something for me,” Hornaday said. “I want you to induct me into the Hall of Fame.”

Auton needed a moment.

“Ron, did you just say what I thought you said?” He eventually responded.


“Damn man, you need to let somebody in your family do that.”

“No, you are my family.”

Auton began crying.

For two days Hornaday couldn’t sleep.

The 59-year-old native of Palmdale, California, fretted over the speech he’d give Friday night at the Charlotte Convention Center as the first Truck Series champion to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

“This is really the crown jewel of everything he’s done,” Hornaday’s wife, Lindy Hornaday told NBC Sports. “He was scared he was going to forget somebody and I said, ‘Everybody knows you and they know that you’re thankful to everybody. So don’t thank anybody specifically. Just thank them all.'”

Friday morning, Hornaday woke up without a speech set in stone.

“I got up at 9 o’clock this morning and it was like *makes gagging noises*,” Hornaday said. “I walked away, took a deep breath, come back and I couldn’t do it again. And I said to hell with it. When I started seeing my friends and family, something will come to me instead of trying to read this speech off that prompter. I got back to the room and I’ve never had an anger deal, I don’t know what it’s called in your stomach, but my stomach was turning over so bad. I was regurgitating air for about four hours. I finally fell asleep for a little while. My wife wanted to go to lunch. I sent her with all the family to lunch. I finally thought about thinking about what this really means and still didn’t know what it meant until I started seeing friends, family, peers, the Hall of Famers. They really just got me into a different mood. I did that one sober. Usually I get a couple of beers in me before I speak.

“Everybody’s telling me, ‘be yourself, take your time.’ How can you do that? It’s the freakin’ Hall of Fame!”

Those are the same words Hornaday bellowed at the beginning of his unscripted speech, with both arms raised high.

“That was the best part about the whole thing,” Hornaday said. “Had to break the ice, just to get somebody to giggle. And I knew I could get on a roll.”

Hornaday said he only forgot to mention Chevrolet, the manufacturer he earned all 55 of his NASCAR wins with.

Wayne Auton, left, poses with Lindy Hornaday and Ron Hornaday Jr. (Photo: Daniel McFadin)

During the two days Hornaday fretted over his speech, Auton was with him.

The two first encountered each other in 1995, the inaugural season of the Truck Series.

“He was there at every one of my wins,” Hornaday told NBC Sports. “He’s the one that gave me the words of wisdom, he’s the one that pulled me down and closed doors and told me what I had done wrong on the race track. He’s the one that chewed my butt out, he’s the one that when he got all done and said I’d chew his butt out. We got all done and said and we’d get a beer together.”

For 18 years, the two were “friends, enemies and warriors,” said Auton.

“Whether he won, whether he lost … when we were inside the gate we had a job to do,” Auton said. “When we walked outside the gate we were very good friends. We had to have a beer together. Cold beverage. We knew each other’s family like they were our own.”

Leading up to the ceremony, the two pestered each other about what the other would say when the time came.

“I said, ‘Ron, I just hope I don’t pee in my pants,'” Auton said.

“When he was up there speaking, I seen him shaking pretty good,” Hornaday said. “I’m glad I got back to him and made him as nervous as I was.”

Standing on the auditorium floor afterward, Auton described the moment as “the biggest honor” he could ask for.

“I’ll never top that.”

When they left the stage, it took them awhile to get back to their seats.

Auton said they stopped to have a cold Coors Light.

Toyota executive calls Truck Series ‘critical step’ in developing drivers

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A Toyota Racing Development executive says that the manufacturer would accept a spec engine in the Camping World Truck Series, noting how valuable that series is for the development of drivers.

David Wilson, president of TRD, made the comments Friday on “Tradin’ Paint” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

NASCAR tested a spec engine for the Truck series multiple times last year and it is expected to be optional this season.

Wilson admits the spec engine idea has raised concerns among manufacturers.

“It is a little bit of a sensitive issue with all the manufactures,’’ Wilson said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “Arguably the biggest single piece of (intellectual property) in any car or truck is the engine, so certainly that’s important to us.

“By the same token we understand the bigger picture. We have been working with NASCAR, all the (manufacturers) have been working with NASCAR to make sure that we keep this series going because here’s the bottom line — while our motivation to run in Trucks has changed over the years, it remains an absolute critical step in how we as an industry develop drivers.

“The leap from ARCA or K&N or Super Late Models straight to Xfinity, that’s too big of a leap. You need a step and that Truck Series is a very important step. You look the drivers that have come through just in our camp — Erik Jones, Christopher Bell, Daniel Suarez — that experience in the Truck garage has been absolutely critical in preparing them to be successful in Xfinity and ultimately in Cup. We’re going to continue to take a big picture approach with the Truck Series and work with our friends at NASCAR. If there are some spec engines that have to be under a Tundra hood, so be it, we’ll be OK.’’

Last year’s Xfinity champion and rookie of the year, William Byron, ran a full season in Trucks in 2016. Erik Jones, the 2016 Xfinity rookie of the year, ran 17 Truck races before his Xfinity debut. Daniel Suarez, the 2017 Xfinity rookie of the year, had run only one Truck race before his Xfinity rookie season but he also ran 13 Truck races while competing in Xfinity that first year.

Those young drivers also illustrate Toyota’s emphasis on new talent. But with only five seats — four with Joe Gibbs Racing and one with Furniture Row Racing —  with Cup teams partnered with TRD, Toyota is having a hard time finding spots for all its drivers.

Wilson said the manufacturer remains committed to developing drivers.

“It’s a commitment that Toyota has made to NASCAR and to motorsports,’’ he said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “We enjoy a tremendous amount of value. NASCAR is simply a phenomenal place for us to race. This is part of our payback.

“We feel like we have the social responsibility to give back to the series. We know we’ll lose as many of these young guys and gals as we’ll be able to keep because we simply won’t have enough seats for them. That’s just simple math. It’s already been proven out by William Byron (who raced for Kyle Busch Motorsports in Trucks before moving to Chevrolet in Xfinity and now Cup). We’ll be racing against William, who used to be in a Toyota.

“Bottom line this sport still benefits. As I’ve said before, getting to know these young kids and getting to know their parents at a young age and as they’re coming up in the sport, I believe that will pay dividends. These kids can have a career that spans decades. Who’s to say that we won’t cross paths again? By us building that relationship early on, showing them who we are … the responsibly we have to their well-being, I think it’s a sound investment.’’

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