Davey Allison, Bobby Labonte among new NASCAR Hall of Fame nominees

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Davey Allison and former champion Bobby Labonte are among the new nominees for the 2018 NASCAR Hall of Fame class.

The 20 nominees were announced Wednesday on NASCAR  America.

The 15 nominees that remain from last year are joined by five new nominees: Car owners Joe Gibbs and Roger Penske and drivers Red Farmer, Allison and Labonte.

Allison, who died July 13, 1993, from injuries suffered in a helicopter accident at Talladega Superspeedway, won 19 times in 191 Cup starts. He was the 1987 Cup rookie of the year and won the 1992 Daytona 500.

Labonte won the 2000 Cup title and 21 series races. He won a Coca-Cola 600, a Southern 500 and a Brickyard 400 and was the 1991 Xfinity Series champion.

Farmer continues to compete into his 80s. He began racing in 1949 and is an original member of the famed “Alabama Gang.” He won the 1956 NASCAR modified championship and the NASCAR Late Model Sportsman title in 1967, ’70 and ’71.

Gibbs formed Joe Gibbs Racing in 1992. The team has won 140 Cup races and four Cup titles: Labonte in 2000, Tony Stewart in 2002 and 2005 and Kyle Busch in 2015. Gibbs’ teams have won 132 Xfinity races and five owner titles.

Penske first entered NASCAR in 1972. He was a car owner through 1977, returned for two races in 1980 and has been a Cup car owner since 1991. Team Penske won the 2012 Cup title and has 104 series wins, including Brad Keselowski’s victory last weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

Here are the 15 nominees who remain from last year:

Buddy Baker: Won 19 times in NASCAR’s premier (now Sprint Cup) series, including the Daytona 500 and Southern 500.

Red Byron: First NASCAR premier series champion, in 1949.

Ray Evernham: Three-time NASCAR premier series championship crew chief.

Ray Fox: Legendary engine builder, crew chief and car owner.

Ron Hornaday: Four-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion.

Harry Hyde: 1970 NASCAR premier series championship crew chief.

Alan Kulwicki: 1992 NASCAR premier series champion.

Hershel McGriff: 1986 NASCAR west series champion.

Larry Phillips: Only five-time NASCAR weekly series national champion.

Jack Roush: Eight-time car owner champion in NASCAR’s three national series, winning two Cup titles, five in Xfinity and one in Trucks.

Ricky Rudd: Won 23 times in NASCAR’s premier series, including the 1997 Brickyard 400.

Ken Squier: Legendary radio and television broadcaster; inaugural winner / namesake of Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence.

Mike Stefanik: Winner of record-tying nine NASCAR championships.

Waddell Wilson: Won three NASCAR premier series championships as an engine builder.

Robert Yates: Won NASCAR premier series championship as both an engine builder and owner.

Also, the five nominees for the Landmark Award were announced. They are (in alphabetical order):

Jim France: Executive vice president of NASCAR and son of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. has played a key role behind the scenes in the sport.

Janet Guthrie: First female to compete in the Daytona 500 (1977).

Alvin Hawkins: NASCAR’s first flagman who helped establish NASCAR racing at Bowman Gray Stadium with NASCAR founder Bill France Sr.

Ralph Seagraves: Formed groundbreaking Winston-NASCAR partnership as executive with R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company.

Ken Squier: Legendary radio and television broadcaster; inaugural winner / namesake of Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence.

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

Photo courtesy Atlanta Motor Speedway
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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 also will 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 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 October).

* 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 also could 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 weren’t 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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Tony Stewart retirement leaves one less driver who was ever Intimidated

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When NASCAR’s best gather in Las Vegas this weekend for the Sprint Cup Awards, someone needs to take a very specific picture.

The people who pose for the picture are part of a very exclusive club. It’s a club that stopped accepting members on Feb. 18, 2001 and loses members almost every year.

This picture would feature full-time Sprint Cup drivers who once raced against seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt Sr.

Had the club portrait been taken just last year the group of drivers would have included Bobby Labonte, Michael Waltrip,  Jeff Gordon (with the knowledge he’d be a substitute driver in 2016) and Tony Stewart.

Now Stewart is retired from NASCAR competition and Gordon is really retired. Labonte and Waltrip have not announced plans for next season.

How large is the club’s membership now 15 years after Earnhardt died in a last-lap crash in the 2001 Daytona 500?

When the green flag drops on the 59th Daytona 500 on Feb. 26, only four drivers in the field – Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman and Kurt Busch – will be able to boast that.

The last addition to the club of the four was Newman.

Two years before his rookie season in 2002, Newman made his Cup debut in the Checker Auto Parts / Dura Lube 500k at Phoenix International Raceway. At 22, Newman started 10th and finished 41st after engine problems. Earnhardt started 31st and finished ninth.

Busch made eight starts against Earnhardt, the first coming on Sept. 24, 2000 in the MBNA.com 400 at Dover International Speedway.

His eighth start was the 2001 Daytona 500. Years later, Busch proudly lays claim to being one of, if not the last driver, to ever be Intimidated.

The moment came on Lap 85, with Busch and Earnhardt running next to each other in the top five. Busch was driving the No. 97 Ford for Roush Fenway Racing.

“My ‘Welcome to NASCAR Moment’ was probably the finger out the window from Dale at Daytona,” Busch told the Las-Vegas Review Journal in 2011. “It was my first Daytona 500, and I got the finger out the window. I thought I was minding my own business in the middle lane, but when it’s Senior, you gotta move over and let him through.

“He was on his way to the front.”

Earnhardt Jr. and Kenseth will be the only full-time Cup drivers in 2017 who competed in a full season against Earnhardt Sr.

Both drivers had their rookie seasons in 2000, with Kenseth winning Rookie of the Year. But both made five starts in 1999, with Earnhardt Jr.’s first coming in the Coca-Cola 600.

However it’s Kenseth, now 44, who made the earliest start against the Man in Black.

On Sept. 20, 1998, at the age of 26, Kenseth was called on to substitute for Bill Elliott in the MBNA Gold 400 at Dover.

Driving Elliott’s No. 94 McDonald’s Ford, Kenseth started 16th and finished sixth. Earnhardt, starting last, finished 23rd.

Other active NASCAR drivers (in 2016) who competed against Dale Earnhardt Sr.

Elliott Sadler (33 Xfinity Series in 2016)

Morgan Shepherd (23 Xfinity starts in 2016)

Jeff Green (29 Xfinity starts in 2016)

Derrike Cope (24 Xfinity starts in 2016)

Mike Bliss (Three Xfinity and Truck Series starts in 2016)

Joe Nemechek (Two Xfinity starts in 2016)

Hermie Sadler (Two Xfinity starts in 2016)

Todd Bodine (One Xfinity start in 2016)

Ken Schrader (One Truck start in 2016)

Tony Stewart on short-track etiquette: Everyone’s definition is different

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Tony Stewart will make his final start at Martinsville Speedway Sunday and with it his final start at a short track.

Stewart has made 33 previous Martinsville starts entering the Goody’s Fast Relief 500. He’s also competed on NASCAR’s other short tracks – Bristol Motor Speedway and Richmond International Raceway. Stewart has won at all three facilities.

But don’t ask the NASCAR veteran what short-track etiquette is.

“I’m finding the longer I’m here, the definition is different for everybody,” Stewart said in a team release. “When I started in the sport, you had Dale (Earnhardt) Sr., Rusty Wallace, Dale Jarrett, Mark Martin, Bobby Labonte and a host of guys who had a pretty strict etiquette and you played by the rules.”

If not, Stewart said a driver was likely to end up with a wrecked racecar.

Races at short tracks have often produced beat-up racecars and plenty of tempers. Tight corners and short straightaways make space limited, and the fight for position often results in the bumper being used.

Bristol and Martinsville became infamous for the bump-and-run.

However, drivers also understand when it’s appropriate to give way to a faster car rather than putting up a fight. Over the last few years, racing at Martinsville has become tougher because of the groove.

The fight is to stay on the bottom because being in the high lane isn’t conducive to maintaining or gaining positions. Getting shuffled to the outside can result in losing numerous positions.

As a result, Stewart says that has changed the field’s behavior. Lately, racing at short tracks seem to have become less bumping and more pushing and shoving.

“Now you see guys do things, especially at Martinsville, that they don’t normally do anywhere else,” Stewart said. “You fight to get to the bottom of the racetrack because you have to. You just can’t run that second groove. You see them making really sketchy moves to get down as soon as they can.”

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NASCAR issues warnings to three Sprint Cup teams, four truck teams from Talladega

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NASCAR issued warnings to multiple Sprint Cup and Camping World Truck Series teams following last weekend’s action at Talladega Superspeedway.

The No. 5 (Kasey Kahne) and No. 78 (Martin Truex Jr.) Sprint Cup teams were issued written warnings for failing the Laser Inspection Station twice during prerace inspection for the Hellmann’s 500. It was the fourth warning for both, meaning loss of pit stall selection. Those penalties were served in Talladega.

The No. 32 (Bobby Labonte) team was issued a written warning for failing template inspection twice during pre-race inspection. That penalty also resulted in a fourth warning that was served at Talladega.

Lastly, the No. 47 (AJ Allmendinger) team was issued their first written warning, also for failing prerace template inspection.

There was no penalty or fine for Truex’s team after NASCAR confiscated the left-front jack bolt from the No. 78 during qualifying. At the time, NASCAR officials said the jack bolt did not meet required specifications.

In the Truck Series, the No. 44 (Tommy Joe Martins) team was issued its first written warning for failing height and weight measurement inspection three times during prerace inspection. The team also will lose 15 minutes of practice time this weekend at Martinsville Speedway.

The No. 02 (Dylan Lupton), No. 19 (Daniel Hemric), and No. 29 (Tyler Reddick) teams were issued written warnings for failing height and weight measurements twice during prerace inspection.

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