Bill Elliott on the NASCAR Hall of Fame and how he prepared his son for handling stardom

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        DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – A fan favorite who once was voted NASCAR’s most popular driver a record 16 times, Bill Elliott is accustomed to being the object of affection.

But the adulation has changed since Elliott was elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame last year.

“It’s kind of rejuvenated everything from the standpoint of the fans and the recognition and stuff like that,” Elliott told NBC Sports. “I think it’s definitely different.

“They want you to sign things ‘Hall of Fame,’ and they bring back the old stuff. It kind of validates everything they’ve collected.”

After being inducted with Rex White, Fred Lorenzen, Wendell Scott and Joe Weatherly into the Charlotte shrine Jan. 30 (the night after his son, Chase, was announced as the 2016 replacement for Jeff Gordon in the No. 24 Chevrolet), Elliott has been stumping for the Hall of Fame. The 1988 series champion made a series of promotional stops last month during Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway, including a sitdown interview with NASCAR Talk:

NT: Rusty Wallace and Dale Jarrett both said they felt extra responsibility to be Hall of Fame ambassadors because each class doesn’t have five living members? Do you feel that same need to be a spokesman?

BE: Very much so. To me, it’s been important because I am still around. Some of these guys like a Rex White or Fred (Lorenzen) or some guys that were exposed through the 1950s and ‘60s era, to be able to listen to their stories and help carry that to the next generation, I think that’s important. Those guys paved the road for us and for future generations. (Telling) what their contributions were to the sport, I think that’s the legacy of the whole thing.

NT: So you agree with Richard Petty, who said he didn’t feel he should be in the first class of the Hall of Fame because everyone from the first decade of NASCAR should have been recognized before him?

BE: I agree. But I am thankful that I am able to enjoy it and understand it and be a part of it for the older generation that might be either gone or not able to enjoy it.

NT: You weren’t always comfortable in the spotlight. Is it any more comfortable now that you’re being recognized after your career?
BE:
It’s fine now. Back in the early days, I worked on a car just like anybody else. We felt like if the race car run good, the rest would come. Our biggest goal was to make sure the race car ran fast. That’s what I felt like I could do best. As time goes on, now I’m kind of here and part of the show. It’s a different deal, but I enjoy it. I enjoy seeing the younger groups come up and who’s doing what. I understand racing enough to know what it’s kind of all about and the things that I enjoy about it. I still have, like Benny Parsons said, I have a passion for the sport.

NT: Your son is so comfortable and mature beyond his years talking with media …

BE: So far. (smiles) He’s done a good job.

NT: Did you work on instilling those values, or has it been natural?

BE: It’s been all pretty natural. We’ve talked to him about certain things, but he grew up in it. He understands the sport. I think he understands it better than most. He knows the things that are important. He watches the interviews after the race. He studies everything. I think he’s just very analytical in the things that he does. He’s able to put all that together. That’s been his strengths.

NT: What was it like having your Hall of Fame induction coming on the heels of his No. 24 news?

BE: I think his announcement was bigger than mine!

NT: But the events dovetailed nicely for your family?

BE: Believe me, I was as shocked as you all were, because they didn’t tell us until two days before the announcement. You’d hope something like that would happen, but for it to really come to light and finally things come together, it was like, ‘Hey man, this is an incredible week.’ It was just such an enjoyable week. It was laid back, a lot of fun, it was great to see a lot of the older guys I hadn’t seen like Bud Moore, Maurice Petty, Dale Inman. I grew up around that. They were all so much a part of your life for so long.

NT: Are you in awe of one Hall of Famer in particular?

BE: Leonard (Wood) was always kind of my hero because as hard as I worked on the car in the early days. I’ll never forget coming to Daytona, and I could watch Leonard work on his car. He could work on the motor and never raise the hood. He’d put it on jackstands, take the front tires off, and he’d get in there and change things. He’d be secretive in what he was doing. I thought, ‘Man, that was cool.’ I always enjoyed Bud, Junior (Johnson) and all those guys and listening to the stories. Dale Inman was always a cutup and into something. I just couldn’t imagine being around those guys in the 50s and 60s.

I’ve enjoyed this. It’s been a lot of fun and been very much an honor for me to be in this class. It just puts the topping on my career.

Cup drivers are for changing Texas but leery about making it another Atlanta

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FORT WORTH, Texas — Some Cup drivers are concerned that a reconfigured Texas Motor Speedway could create racing similar to Atlanta, adding another type of superspeedway race to the NASCAR calendar.

While Texas officials have not stated publicly any plans to make changes, some competitors feel Sunday’s playoff race (3:30 p.m. ET on USA Network) could be the final event on this track’s current layout. 

With the All-Star Race moving from Texas to North Wilkesboro next year, Texas Motor Speedway’s lone Cup race will take place Sept. 24, 2023. That could provide time for any alterations. Work on changing Atlanta began in July 2021 and was completed by December 2021. 

Reigning Cup champion Kyle Larson said work needs to be done to Texas Motor Speedway.

“I would like them to demolish this place first and then start over from scratch,” Larson said Saturday. “For one, they did a very poor job with the reconfiguration, initial reconfiguration. 

“I would like to see them change it from a mile-and-a-half to something shorter. I don’t know if that means bringing the backstretch in or whatever. 

“If I could build a track, it’d be probably a three-quarter mile Bristol basically, pavement and progressive banking. But I don’t know if that’s even possible here. I’m not sure what they have in mind, but anything would be better than what they did.”

Former Cup champion Joey Logano worries about another superspeedway race with such events at Daytona, Talladega and now Atlanta. 

“Do we need more superspeedways?” Logano asked Saturday. “Is that the type of racing fans want to see? Because when you look at the way that people have finished up front in these superspeedways lately, (they) are the ones that are riding around in the back. 

“Do you believe that you should be rewarded for not working? Because that’s what they’re doing. They’re riding around in the back not working, not going up there to put a good race on. They’re riding around in the back and capitalizing on other people’s misfortune for racing up front trying to win. I don’t think it’s right. That’s not racing. I can’t get behind that.”

Logano said he wants to have more control in how he finishes, particularly in a playoff race. 

“I want to be at tracks where I can make a difference, where my team can make a difference, and we’re not at the mercy of a wreck that happened in front of us that we couldn’t do anything about,” he said.

Discussions of changing the track follow complaints about how tough it is to pass at this 1.5-mile speedway.

“Once you get to the top, it’s almost like the bottom (lane) is very, very weak,” Daniel Suarez said.

Suarez has mixed feelings about the idea of turning Texas into another Atlanta-style race.

“Atlanta was a very good racetrack, and then they turned it into a superspeedway and it’s a lot of fun,” Suarez said. “I see it as a hybrid. I don’t think we need another racetrack like that, but it’s not my decision to make. Whatever they throw out at us, I’m going to try to be the best I can be.”

Suarez hopes that Texas can be like what it once was.

“Maybe with some work, we can get this race track to what it used to be, a very wide race track, running the bottom, running the middle, running the top,” he said.  

“As a race car driver, that’s what you want. You want that ability to run around and to show your skills. In superspeedways … everyone is bumping, everyone is pushing, and you can not show your skills as much.”

Chase Briscoe would be OK with a change to Texas, but he wants it to be more like a track other than Atlanta.

“If we’re really going to change and completely start from scratch, I would love another Homestead-type racetrack,” Briscoe said. “The problem is any time you build a new race track, it’s not going to be slick and worn out for a while. It’s trying to figure out what’s best to maximize those first couple of years to get it good by the end. 

“I think Homestead is a great model, if we’re going to build another mile and a half. I think we’re going to have to look at what they have, the progressive banking, the shape of the race track is different. I just think it’s a really good race track, and I think it always puts on really good racing. Anything we could do to try to match that, that would be my vote.”

Denny Hamlin just hopes some sort of change is made to Texas.

“I’d rather have another Atlanta than this, honestly,” Hamlin said. “Anything will be better than kind of what we have here.”

NASCAR shares prayers for Stewart-Haas Racing engineer

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FORT WORTH, Texas — The NASCAR garage is sharing its prayers for Stewart-Haas Racing engineer DJ VanderLey, who was injured Thursday night in a crash during a micro sprint Outlaw race at the Texas Motor Speedway dirt track.

He suffered several fractured vertebrae and has a spinal cord injury, according to a post from his wife Jordan on her Facebook page. 

Two GoFundMe accounts have been set up to help the family with medical costs. 

VanderLey was Chase Briscoe’s engineer for four years, and they are good friends.

“I hate that it happened to anybody,” Briscoe said Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway, “but for it to hit close to home has definitely been tough for me.”

Briscoe said he planned to visit VanderLey in the hospital on Saturday and that “I just hope that everybody continues to pray. That’s really all we can do at this point, trying to hope he gets better.”

Christopher Bell calls VanderLey among his best friends. VanderLey was Bell’s engineer at Kyle Busch Motorsports in 2016. 

Bell spent the night at the hospital and also picked up Jordan VanderLey at the airport when she arrived. 

Stewart-Haas Racing had a decal for VanderLey on Riley Herbst‘s No. 98 Xfinity car for Saturday’s race.

Starting lineup for Texas Cup race: Brad Keselowski wins pole

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Brad Keselowski will be at the front of the field to start Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway (3:30 pm ET, USA Network).

Keselowski, who is not a part of the 12-driver playoff group, won the pole Saturday afternoon with a speed of 188.990, edging Joey Logano‘s 188.805.

MORE: Texas Cup starting lineup

The race is the first of three in the second round of the Cup playoffs. Round of 12 races will follow at Talladega Superspeedway Oct. 2 and the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval Oct. 9.

MORE: Waffle House a headquarters for race winners

Also starting in the top five Sunday will be William Byron, Tyler Reddick and Michael McDowell. It is McDowell’s best oval start of the season and his ninth top-10 start of the year.

Brad Keselowski wins Cup pole at Texas Motor Speedway

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Brad Keselowski, hoping to extend Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing’s turnaround, won the pole Saturday for Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway.

It was the second piece of good news for RFK Racing in two weeks. Chris Buescher,  Keselowski’s teammate, won last week’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway, the first victory for the team under the RFK banner.

Keselowski, who ran 188.990 mph, is not a part of the 12-driver playoff group. Nine of the first 14 starting positions were filled by playoff drivers.

MORE: Texas Cup qualifying results

Following in the top five Saturday were Joey Logano, William Byron, Tyler Reddick and Michael McDowell. Playoff point leader Chase Elliott will start sixth.

“Texas is a really tough track,” Keselowski told NBC Sports. “As hot as it’s going to be, that will be even tougher.”

Race-time temperatures are expected to be in the mid-90s Sunday.

The race (3:30 p.m. ET), the first event in the second round of the playoffs, will be televised by the USA Network.