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Friday 5: Questions about size of future Hall of Fame classes

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After NASCAR celebrates the ninth Hall of Fame class tonight (8 p.m. ET on NBCSN), questions may soon arise about how many inductees should be honored annually.

NASCAR inducts five people each year. When NASCAR announced eligibility changes in 2013, a former series executive said that the sanctioning body would “give strong consideration” to if five people should be inducted each year and if there should be a veteran’s committee “after the 10th class is seated.’’

The 10th class — which Jeff Gordon will be eligible for and expected to headline— will be selected later this year and honored in 2019. That gives NASCAR a year to determine what changes to make if officials follow the schedule mentioned in 2013. NASCAR has discussed different scenarios as part of its examination of the Hall of Fame.

Among the questions NASCAR could face is should no more than three people be inducted a year? Should only nominees who receive a specific percentage of the vote be inducted? Should other methods be considered in determining who enters the Hall? 

Only one of the last five classes had all five inductees selected on at least 50 percent of the ballots. Five people in the last three classes each received less than 50 percent of the vote.

The challenge is that if NASCAR reduced the number of people inducted after the Class of 2019, it could create a logjam in the coming years.

Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards (provided Edwards does not return to run a significant number of races) would be eligible for the Class of 2020.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth (provided Kenseth does not return to run a significant number of races) would be eligible for the Class of 2021.

Stewart would appear to be a lock for his year and it seems likely Earnhardt would make it as well his first year.

If the Hall of Fame classes were cut to three a year, and Stewart, Earnhardt and Kenseth each were selected in those two years, that would leave three spots during that time for others.

The nominees for this year’s class included former champions Bobby Labonte and Alan Kulwicki, crew chief Harry Hyde (56 wins, 88 poles) and Waddell Wilson (22 wins, 32 poles), car owners Roger Penske, Jack Roush and Joe Gibbs and Cup drivers Buddy Baker, Davey Allison and Ricky Rudd.

A 2019 Class that might feature Jeff Gordon, Harry Hyde, Buddy Baker and two others would still leave some worthy candidates who might not make it for a couple of years if the number of inductees is reduced.

Of course, there are those who haven’t been nominated that some would suggest should be, including Smokey Yunick, Humpy Wheeler, Buddy Parrott, Kirk Shelmerdine, Neil Bonnett, Harry Gant and Tim Richmond. That could further jumble who makes it if the number of inductees is reduced.

Those are just some of the issues NASCAR could face as it examines if any changes need to be made.

2. Hall of Fame Classes and vote totals

Note: NASCAR did not release vote totals for the inaugural class (2010 with Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Junior Johnson, Bill France Sr., and Bill France Jr.). Below are the other classes with the percent of ballots each inductee was on:

2018 Class

Robert Yates (94 percent)

Red Byron (74 percent)

Ray Evernham (52 percent)

Ken Squier (40 percent)

Ron Hornaday Jr. (38 percent)

2017 Class

Benny Parsons (85 percent)

Rick Hendrick (62 percent)

Mark Martin (57 percent)

Raymond Parks (53 percent)

Richard Childress (43 percent)

2016 Class

Bruton Smith (68 percent)

Terry Labonte (61 percent)

Curtis Turner (60 percent)

Jerry Cook (47 percent)

Bobby Isaac (44 percent)

2015 Class

Bill Elliott (87 percent)

Wendell Scott (58 percent)

Joe Weatherly (53 percent)

Rex White (43 percent)

Fred Lorenzen (30 percent)

2014 Class

Tim Flock (76 percent)

Maurice Petty (67 percent)

Dale Jarrett (56 percent)

Jack Ingram (53 percent)

Fireball Roberts (51 percent)

2013 Class

Herb Thomas (57 percent)

Leonard Wood (57 percent)

Rusty Wallace (52 percent)

Cotten Owens (50 percent)

Buck Baker (39 percent)

2012 Class

Cale Yarborough (85 percent)

Darrell Waltrip (82 percent)

Dale Inman (78 percent)

Richie Evans (50 percent)

Glen Wood (44 percent)

2011 Class

David Pearson (94 percent)

Bobby Allison (62 percent)

Lee Petty (62 percent)

Ned Jarrett (58 percent)

Bud Moore (45 percent)

3. Charter Switcheroo

Five charters have changed hands since last season. One will be with its third different team in the three years of the charter system.

In 2016, Premium Motorsports leased its charter to HScott Motorsports so the No. 46 team of Michael Annett could use it.

The charter was returned after that season, and Premium Motorsports sold the charter to Furniture Row Racing for the No. 77 car of Erik Jones for 2017.

With Jones moving to Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing not finding enough sponsorship to continue the team, the charter was sold to JTG Daugherty for the No. 37 team of Chris Buescher for this season. (The No. 37 team had leased a charter from Roush Fenway Racing last year).

So that will make the third different team the charter, which originally belonged to Premium Motorsports, has been with since the system was created.

4. Dodge and NASCAR?

Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne excited fans when he said in Dec. 2016 about Dodge that “it is possible we can come back to NASCAR.’’

One report last year stated that Dodge decided not to return to NASCAR, and another countered that report.

While questions remain on if Dodge will return to NASCAR, Marchionne announced this week at the Detroit Auto Show that he’ll step down next year, and that Fiat Chrysler will release a business plan in June that will go through 2022. The company will announce a successor to Marchionne sometime after that.

Marchionne said, according to The Associated Press, that the U.S. tax cuts passed in December are worth $1 billion annually to Fiat Chrysler.

A Wall Street Journal story this week stated that Fiat Chrysler makes most of its profit from its Jeep and Ram brands, writing that those brands “have been on a roll as U.S. buyers shift to these kinds of light trucks and away from sedans, which is a segment the company has largely abandoned.’’

5. NMPA Hall of Fame

The National Motorsports Hall of Fame will induct four people into its Hall of Fame on Sunday night. Those four will be drivers Terry Labonte and Donnie Allison and crew chiefs Jake Elder and Buddy Parrott.

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Former NASCAR owner Harry Scott passes away

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Harry Scott Jr., who owned NASCAR teams in the Cup, Xfinity, and K&N Pro Series East, died Wednesday. He was 51.

“We are shocked and saddened to confirm that Harry Scott, Jr., age 51, passed away yesterday, August 2, 2017,’’ the family said in a statement. “Harry will be remembered as a loving family man and successful business owner. We ask that everyone please keep Harry’s smile, generosity and essential kindness in your thoughts and prayers. Details about funeral services will be announced when they are finalized.”

NASCAR issued a statement: “Harry Scott Jr. possessed an endless passion for racing. Owning cars in the national series and the NASCAR K&N Pro Series, his crowning achievements were his NASCAR K&N Pro Series East championships. The sport was proud to have Harry as our champion owner during that storybook era. NASCAR extends its deepest condolences to his family and friends.”

Among those who drove for Scott were William Byron (K&N), Ben Rhodes (K&N), Kyle Larson (Cup & Xfinity), Bobby Labonte (Cup), Clint Bowyer (Cup), Justin Allgaier (Cup & Xfinity) and Michael Annett (Cup).

Scott entered NASCAR as a sponsor in 2008. In 2011, he became an owner in Turner Motorsports’ Xfinity team. In 2013, he became co-owner with Steve Turner of the rebranded Turner Scott Motorsports team.

Scott moved to Cup when he purchased James Finch’s Phoenix Racing team in 2013, forming HScott Motorsports. In 2014, Scott partnered with Justin Marks to form HScott Motorsports with Justin Marks in the K&N East Pro Series. Rhodes won the 2014 title. Byron won the 2015 series title.

Scott announced last year he would not be fielding any teams in 2017.

Hard to believe……Gonna miss your smile Harry, a lot.

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Justin Allgaier: ‘As disappointed as I’ve been in many years’ after runner-up Richmond finish

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CONCORD, N.C — In hindsight, Justin Allgaier knows he should have been “very happy.” Perhaps even elated.

The JR Motorsports driver had just finished second in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Richmond International Raceway.

That was in addition to Allgaier leading a career-high 157 laps on the way to winning his second $100,000 prize in the Dash 4 Cash competition.

“That was huge and we left as disappointed as I’ve been in many years,”Allgaier said Tuesday at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Allgaier’s frustration stemmed from the ToyotaCare 250’s finish. In overtime, Allgaier was battling Kyle Larson for the lead when a three-car accident occurred on the backstretch.

By that time, Larson and Allgaier were in Turn 3 beyond the overtime line, meaning the race was effectively in the books. But while caution lights were flashing around the track, the flagman at the start-finish line was waving the white flag and not the caution flag.

A confused Larson and Allgaier then powered around the .75-mile track one more time. No matter the result, Larson was still the winner. A NASCAR executive later clarified that caution lights take precedent over what flag is displayed.

Afterward, an upset Allgaier approached a NASCAR official who happened to be standing near the front of his No. 7 Chevrolet in the post-race chaos and began speaking his mind.

“I’ll be honest with you, in post-race, looking back at the replay of the race, I unloaded on an official that really had no idea what I was even talking about,” Allgaier said. “He didn’t even know there was a caution at the end of the race I don’t think. His eyes were about the size of soft balls.

“To be honest with you, I didn’t really even care that he didn’t know what I was talking about. I just needed to say what I needed to say and get it off my chest.”

After a career performance, Allgaier felt he had been robbed of his second win of the season. That’s a feat he’s never accomplished in a NASCAR career that includes four Xfinity wins since 2010.

But it’s the circumstances of Allgaier’s career that also informed the reaction of the driver who sits second in the points standings after eight races.

Two years ago, the native of Riverton, Illinois, found himself without a NASCAR ride after two seasons in the Cup Series with HScott Motorsports, which left the sport after last year Those two seasons were filled with disappointment as Allgaier finished in the top 10 once (Bristol spring race in 2015) and placed 29th and 30th in the points.

“Coming off of the Cup Series and the situation and the hand that we were dealt, I wasn’t sure, to be honest with you, if I was ever going to race again after 2015,” Allgaier said. “The fact I had that opportunity at the end of 2015 was huge for me, trying to make the most of it. I spent last year really trying to just get my head back in the game. There was a lot of days there two years ago where I spent wondering why I was still coming to the race track every week.”

Allgaier found a life raft in the Xfinity Series with the team owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr. Though he didn’t win in 2016, the 30-year-old Allgaier earned 13 top fives and made it to the championship four. He left Miami third in the standings, tying his career-best result from 2011.

This season, in addition to his Phoenix win, Allgaier has three top fives and led 242 laps. The laps led are already a career best in seven full-time Xfinity seasons.

“Last year, it took a lot of effort to get back into the game and to push myself to go to the race track every week and be competitive,” Allgaier said. “We’ve been fortunate to do that. We ended last season strong, we came into this season strong. It’s been really good.”

Good enough for Allgaier to get a little angry.

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NASCAR Stock Market: Who’s up and who’s down from last year

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No Cup driver has had a better turnaround in the last year than Clint Bowyer.

The Stewart-Haas racer is one of five who are 10 or more spots better in the points than they were a year ago. Bowyer, who is ninth in the standings, is 23 spots better than he was at this time last year.

The change is not a surprise. Bowyer was with HScott Motorsports, which ceased operations after last year, and now is with one of the sport’s elite teams.

“There is nothing in this sport at this level that comes easy,’’ Bowyer said earlier this month at Texas Motor Speedway. “It doesn’t matter the racetrack or circumstances, it is always hard because there is always the next guy working every bit as hard to accomplish the same goal. That being said, I knew it would be a positive move.’’

Bowyer has two top-10 finishes, which is one shy his total last season. He also has five top-15 finishes in the first seven Cup races of the season.

On the opposite side, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is 20th in points, 14 spots worse than he was at this time a year ago. He is coming off a season-best fifth-place finish at Texas Motor Speedway.

Earnhardt’s challenge, in part, has been coming back after missing the last 18 races of last season because of issues related to a concussion.

“I figured we would get one sooner or later, but it’s nice,’’ he said after the Texas race. “I know our fans are really pulling for us. 

Here’s a look at the drivers who have gained the most spots in the points since this time a year ago and the drivers who have fallen the most in the same time.

MOST POSITIONS GAINED

23 — Clint Bowyer (9th in standings this year)

17 — Kyle Larson (1st)

14 — Ryan Blaney (6th)

12 — Chase Elliott (2nd)

11 — Trevor Bayne (12th)

9 — Chris Buescher (27th)

8 — Martin Truex Jr. (3rd)

6 — Ryan Newman (13th)

6 — Cole Whitt (31st)

5 — Brad Keselowski (4th)

5 — Jamie McMurray (8th)

5 — Michael McDowell (28th)

MOST POSITIONS LOST

14 — Dale Earnhardt Jr. (20th in standings this year)

11 — Austin Dillon (21st)

10 — Matt Kenseth (22nd)

10 — AJ Allmendinger (25th)

9 — Jimmie Johnson (11th)

8 — Kurt Busch (15th)

8 — Denny Hamlin (16th)

7 — Kevin Harvick (10th)

6 — Kyle Busch (7th)

5 — Paul Menard (26th)

5 — Danica Patrick (29th)

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Back together again: The windy road leads Justin Allgaier, Michael Annett to JR Motorsports

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Michael Annett‘s stomach was doing everything but agreeing with him.

“I would take a sip of water and it would come right back up,” Annett recalls.

His digestive system began to rebel four days before the 2016 NASCAR Cup Series night race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

The Aug. 21 event was a big deal for Annett and his long-time sponsor, Pilot/Flying J. The company was using HScott Motorsports’ No. 46 car to advertise the upcoming “Battle at Bristol” college football game between Tennessee and Virginia Tech that it was the presenting sponsor for.

No amount of sponsor money – and Annett’s weeklong mantra of “I’ll be better tomorrow” – could rally his stomach to agreeable terms.

“I straight up told my guys, ‘I’ll be selling you guys short if I try to get into this car you worked too hard on preparing for me to go out there and be at 50 percent,’ ” Annett recalls.

When it became clear Annett wouldn’t be fit enough to drive, his “first thought” to replace him was a driver “not too far off my size” who he went way back with.

His once and soon-to-be future teammate, Justin Allgaier.

BREAKING THE ICE

Justin Allgaier’s racing memory of Annett begins on Feb. 9, 2008, in the ARCA season opener at Daytona International Speedway.

That day Allgaier could do nothing but stare at Annett’s rear bumper.

“I remember just reading that Pilot logo for the whole race,” says Allgaier, who won the ARCA championship that year.

The day in Daytona belonged to Annett, who considers his second and final ARCA win to be the height of his racing career, despite three years competing in the Cup Series.

“I still have the DVD of it,” Annett says. “I remember Michael McDowell sitting up there in the booth with (Rick Allen) and saying ‘Michael Annett is going to get too far out, they’re going to get a run.’ That lasted for about 10 laps, they never once gained a foot on me.”

Annett and Allgaier finished 1-2 that day and their careers continued on parallel tracks. Both were Xfinity Series rookies the next year, with Allgaier at Team Penske and Annett with Germain Racing.

“Even back then, he was a great race car driver and (had) relatively little experience compared to the patterns that a lot a drivers come up through our sport,” says Allgaier, who earned four top-fives his rookie year while Annett claimed four top 10s. “Heck, the guy … played semi-professional hockey until he decided to quit and go racing.”

The Midwestern sons, Allgaier from Illinois and Annett from Iowa, didn’t interact that much during their initial Xfinity tenure. But they began forming respect for each other after a last-lap crash at Dover International Speedway in 2010.

The two were jockeying for position just outside the top 10 when Allgaier made contact with Annett exiting Turn 4, sending Annett’s No. 15 car into the outside wall.

“When we came down the backstretch to pull into the garage I pulled right up and nailed him in the door,” says Annett.

Upon exiting his car, Annett did a “WWE butt drop” on the hood of Allgaier’s. Annett then leaned into Allgaier’s window to share his feelings before retreating to the garage.

About 10 minutes later, Allgaier approached to apologize. Annett objected.

“I don’t have to fix it Justin,” Annett told him. “All these guys have to fix it. Go apologize to them.”

“He was man enough, he walked up to the crew chief and apologized to him,” Annett says. “I got a lot of respect for him that day.”

That respect would continue to grow when the duo became teammates in the Cup Series four years later with HScott Motorsports. Allgaier, who earned three Xfinity wins in five full-time seasons, says it took only a “week or two” for him and Annett to establish a connection.

“Even the way we want the car set up is really, really close,” Annett says. “When we see something that’s not being done right, we call a spade a spade and stand up for ourselves. There’s a lot of guys (who) just kind of go with the flow and Justin’s not like that and neither am I.”

For two years Allgaier and Annett ran for HScott Motorsports. Allgaier earned the team’s only top five, in the 2015 spring race at Bristol. Through those two seasons, Allgaier produced an average finish of 26.15, Annett’s average was 34.2.

How does Annett know when he has a good teammate?

“When it’s not my day and it’s theirs’ and they try to make you better still,” Annett says. “They take the time out of their race weekend to make you better. I think that’s one of the best qualities you can have in a teammate.”

This was true even after Allgaier and HScott Motorsports parted ways and Allgaier joined JR Motorsports in the Xfinity Series in 2016. The trust Annett had in Allgaier paid off when Annett’s stomach went on strike.

BACK TOGETHER AGAIN

Allgaier was experiencing a case of deja vu.

Nine months after his last race at HScott Motorsports, he was once again going through the race-day motions with most of the same names and faces he had for two years.

Allgaier officially took Annett’s place in the No. 46 at Bristol about 20 minutes before the driver’s meeting.

“So many things were normal to me,” Allgaier says. “It was pretty seamless being able to drive the car and plug right in.”

With Annett communicating with the team from home, Allgaier piloted the No. 46 over two days after a rain delay. The relief effort ended with Allgaier being involved in a Lap 359 crash and finishing last. It was his only Cup start of the year. Meanwhile, Annett missed the third start of his three Cup seasons.

Even though they had been teammates for two seasons, Annett says his relationship with Allgaier “blossomed” even more last year.

Allgaier joined Annett in Iowa for the charity golf tournament he hosts every year, which provided Allgaier a chance to see a side of Annett he had never seen before. The Allgaier family was even a regular presence at HScott Motorsports’ weekly beach volleyball game.

The bond the drivers forged paid dividends for Annett late last year when his racing future was in doubt with the fate of HScott Motorsports in question.

During a conversation one night, Allgaier recommended Annett reach out to JR Motorsports, the team he was pursuing an Xfinity title with.

“I look at the last 365 days and I’m beyond fortunate enough to have that opportunity and that would fit you perfectly,” Allgaier told Annett.

At the time, Allgaier was “pretty sure” nothing would come of it. But on Nov. 4, Annett was revealed as the fourth full-time driver for JR Motorsports.

After eight seasons in NASCAR driving for small teams that struggled to be competitive, Annett finds himself in the best position of his career. He joins the organization that won the 2014 Xfinity title and put two cars, including Allgaier’s, in the championship race last year.

“I’ve changed teams probably more than I would ever want to,” Annett says. “It’s probably been by far the easiest transition and everybody that’s part of our team has fit in really well at JRM.”

Nine years after he was stuck behind his teammate’s bumper at Daytona, Allgaier hopes they’ll be able to chase each other to the championship race with their teammates, veteran Elliott Sadler and rookie William Byron.

“If I didn’t think he had the talent, I wouldn’t have even tried to get him over to our shop,” Allgaier says.

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