Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

When will the NASCAR Hall of Fame welcome Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart as inductees?

1 Comment

CHARLOTTE – Just two months after he retired, and Tony Stewart already has a major presence in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

“Smoke,” a tribute exhibit honoring the three-time Cup champion’s broad racing career with artifacts and cars from virtually every series he raced, has greeted Hall of Fame visitors since October and will remain open until Feb. 24.

But with the NASCAR Hall of Fame set to induct its eighth class tonight (8 p.m., NBCSN), the question is when will Stewart be enshrined as a member?

Winston Kelley, the executive director of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, said Stewart could be a part of the class of 2020 after retiring from full-time competition last year. NASCAR Hall of Fame eligibility stipulate that a driver must be retired two years before being considered, which would put Stewart on the ballot for the May 2019 vote.

1-john-deere-lawn-mower_historical-imageAlso in question is the eligibility of Jeff Gordon, who retired after 2015 and seemed on track for a 2019 induction before he returned for eight races in place of an injured Dale Earnhardt Jr. last season.

Kelley said NASCAR ultimately will determine whether last year’s stint would count against Gordon’s eligibility and would expect a decision by the end of this year when the list of 20 nominees for the 2018 vote is compiled.

“It’s not a black and white thing,” Kelley said.

What does seem certain is first-ballot inductions for since Stewart and Gordon, whom Kelley called the first two stars to retire as surefire Hall of Famers in their first year of eligibility since the shrine opened in 2010.

But neither seems to spend much time mulling the possibility.

The "Smoke: A Tribute to Tony Stewart" display.
The “Smoke: A Tribute to Tony Stewart” display.

“Anytime I bring it up with Jeff about the class of 2019, he brushes it off and changes the subject,” Kelley said with a laugh. “They’re, ‘Aww shucks’ about it.”

Last October Stewart told a small group of reporters that he wasn’t focused on the honor yet.

“If I don’t make them mad to where they don’t want induct me at some point, hopefully we’ll get inducted,” he said. “You don’t think about it.”

In the meantime, Stewart’s fans can enjoy “Smoke: A Tribute to Tony Stewart,” which includes 10 vehicles from different eras of his career.

Among those featured: a 1973 John Deere lawnmower that might have been his first “race car”; the cars from his historic 1995 USAC Triple Crown championship; his 1997 IndyCar title winner; his first Cup win (Richmond in September 1999); his 2005 Brickyard 400 winner; his 2006 IROC championship.

A note sent to Tony Stewart by Richard Petty after his 2011 title. It simply reads "4 more to go."
A note sent to Tony Stewart by Richard Petty after his 2011 title. It simply reads “4 more to go.”

The Hall of Fame worked with Eddie Jarvis, Stewart’s manager, who maintains a vast collection of vehicles.

“When you have drivers who raced other series, it gives the NASCAR Hall of Fame a rare opportunity to go outside the box,” Director of Exhibits Kevin Schlesier said.

“We wanted to honor the totality of his career, and they kept so much.

“To have a driver with this many vehicles was unprecedented. Normally, we go to private collectors or back to the team.”

The exhibit is similar to a display that the NASCAR Hall of Fame did for Gordon last year.

“When they retire, we can immediately give their fans the chance to see the breadth and depth of their careers,” Kelley said. “ Tony and Jeff are both unique in that they’re not just stock-car racers.”

From the NASCAR Hall of Fame website, here is the eligibility criteria for induction:

  • Drivers who have competed in NASCAR for at least 10 years and have been retired for two years are eligible for nomination to the NHOF. Previously, eligible drivers must have been retired for three years.
  • In addition, drivers who have competed for a minimum of 10 years and reached their 55th birthday on or before Dec. 31 of the year prior to the nominating year are immediately eligible for the NHOF.
  • Any driver who has competed for 30 or more years in NASCAR competition by Dec. 31 of the year prior to the nominating year is automatically eligible, regardless of age.
  • Drivers may continue to compete after reaching any of the aforementioned milestones without compromising eligibility for nomination or induction.
  • For non-drivers, individuals must have worked at least 10 years in the NASCAR industry.
  • Individuals may also be considered who made significant achievements in the sport, but left the sport early due to a variety of circumstances.

NASCAR America: Dog days of summer can challenge teams in many ways

Leave a comment

Today is the first day of summer and Dale Earnhardt Jr. knows better than most how hot temperatures can change a driver’s season.

The dog days of summer 2004 contributed to the breakup of Junior’s team.

“If the car’s not running well, the driver’s got to bite his tongue,” Earnhardt said. “If he doesn’t bite his tongue, he gets snappy at the team. The team gets frustrated. A team can literally unravel as the season goes. Me and Tony (Eury) Jr., Tony (Eury) Sr. won six races in 2004 going into the playoffs and we split up at the end of the year because we were so upset and mad at each other at the end of the season. The heat can do that.”

Being trapped inside the car in unbearable heat takes a toll on the driver – but it also wears on the crew.

“I don’t think it translates well over to the public how hot it is throughout the weekend in the summer races. The humidity in Michigan – it’s a 120, 130 degrees inside the cars. The crews are dealing with this heat in the garage during practice.”

Critical moments exacerbated by heat in the next five races might very well decide who wins and loses the championship once the cooler temperatures of fall arrive.

“If you’re not running well – you’re inside that car during practice. You can’t get out, they’re making a change and sending you back out. You’re sweating, you’re miserable, the car’s not responding. If you say the wrong thing, it can set the tone for the entire weekend.”

And the entire season, like it did for Earnhardt in 2004.

“For drivers that can handle that kind of heat and handle that frustration when things aren’t quite right, those guys will excel and not stub their toe, not make those mistakes going into the playoffs,” Earnhardt said.

For more, watch the video above.

NASCAR America: Better equipment, skilled drivers changed road racing

Leave a comment

The Toyota/SaveMart 350 at Sonoma Raceway is the first of three road course races on the 2018 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series calendar and the preparation involved in setting up these cars is much greater today than it has been in the past, according to NASCAR America analysts Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Dale Jarrett.

“I think the same emphasis is put in those two road course races and the cars that will be in those races,” Earnhardt said. “And now the Roval that will be at Charlotte – being a very important race in the playoffs – these road course racers are even more important.”

Man and machine need to be equal to the challenge.

“Not only is the emphasis more on the drivers to prepare and learn how to become road course racers, but there is a lot more emphasis on the cars too,” Earnhardt said. “All the cars are so much more similar and there is a lot more dedication to preparing the cars for these particular races. It’s almost like there is as much effort into putting a good road course car on the track as there is speedway cars – like Daytona and Talladega cars.”

Even the best driver cannot compete in equipment that is not up to the challenge and it took some outside expertise to raise NASCAR to the level of other marquee road racing series mechanically. Car owners like Jack Roush and road ringers like Boris Said contributed to the evolution of the racing discipline.

“The cars are so much better now than when we started,” Dale Jarrett said. “Whenever I got started in the Cup series fulltime in ’87, there were a couple of good road racers – and I think of Mark Martin, Ricky Rudd, Rusty Wallace … but Jack Roush brought something totally new into the sport a little later in the 80s and early 90s. … Their equipment was a little bit better because they understood road racing a little more. Now everybody has all that.”

Jarrett recalled what he believes might be one of the biggest upsets of his career. He won the pole for the 2001 Global Crossing at the Glen because he received a tip from Said, who told him he was not getting deep enough into the corners because his brakes were not good enough.

“You talk about road course ringers: Boris Said and Ron Fellows and some other guys coming in,” Jarrett said. “One of the things that helped them, they were better because they did it all the time, but they also would tell the teams they were going to drive for, ‘hey, there’s a lot better braking and other things out there that you can do.’ They came in and they had better equipment, which made them look even that much better than what we were.”

For more, watch the video above.

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Dale Jarrett preview upcoming races

NBCSN
Leave a comment

Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN with Dale Earnhardt Jr. making his weekly appearance on the show.

Krista Voda hosts with Earnhardt and Dale Jarrett from the Big Oak Table in Charlotte.

On today’s show:

· Not long ago, Dale Earnhardt Jr. bragged about his ability to remember who he’s beaten for wins in past races. In this episode, we’ll test his memory in a trivia game called “Who Did Junior Pass For The Win?” We’ll be taking your questions for Junior throughout the show. Just send it on social media with the hashtag #Wednesdale.

· Sonoma begins a critical summer stretch for the Monster Energy Cup Series. With Chicagoland, Daytona, Kentucky and New Hampshire on the horizon, teams will be challenged and playoff hopes will rise and fall. Dale Jr. & Dale Jarrett preview the upcoming races.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Three Cup drivers will reach career start milestones at Sonoma

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Three Cup drivers will reach career start milestones when the series visits Sonoma Raceway this weekend.

Ryan Newman leads the way with his 600th Cup start.

The Richard Childress Racing driver will become the 28th driver to reach the mark. His first start came on Nov. 5, 2000 at ISM Raceway with Team Penske.

Newman is one of four remaining active Cup drivers, including Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch and Derrike Cope, who competed against Dale Earnhardt in a Cup points race. Only Newman and Busch compete full-time.

Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin will make his 450th start. He will become the 52nd driver to reach that mark.

Hamlin’s first start came on Oct. 9, 2005 at Kansas Speedway. All of his starts have been with JGR.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will make his 200th career start. He will be the 132nd driver to reach that mark.

Stenhouse’s first start came in the 2011 Coca-Cola 600 with Wood Brothers Racing when he substituted for Trevor Bayne, who was out due to illness. Every other start has been with Roush Fenway Racing.

The last race at Michigan International Speedway saw AJ Allmendinger make his 350th Cup start. 71 drivers have reached that mark.