Wild night at Daytona ends in superlatives for some drivers, teams

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — A night that saw half the 40-car field eliminated by crashes, presented opportunities for other drivers Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway.

The result was a list of superlatives for drivers and team that often aren’t in the spotlight.

The highlights for those teams and drivers:

# Kasey Kahne matched the career-best finish for Leavine Family Racing with his fourth-place performance

# Both JTG Daugherty Racing cars finished in the top five for the first time. AJ Allmendinger placed third and Chris Buescher was fifth. Allmendinger’s result was his fourth consecutive top-10 finish at Daytona, the longest active streak.

# Ty Dillon placed sixth, earning his first career top-10 finish and was the first top-10 result for Germain Racing since Casey Mears finished sixth in the 2015 Daytona 500.

# Matt DiBenedetto’s seventh-place finish was his fourth career top 10 in 122 starts.

# Jeffrey Earnhardt finished a career-best 11th.

# DJ Kennington finished a career-best 13th.

DiBenedetto’s best finish this season before Saturday was 16th. He scored the top 10 despite being collected in the 26-car crash that brought out the caution on Lap 55.

“I guess that was probably one of the craziest races I’ve ever taken part in,” he said. “I’m glad we survived and we seem to always position ourselves in a spot to be up front and competing for the win at the end of these speedway races at Daytona quite often.”

Kahne was thrilled with his run. His best finish this year before Saturday’s race was 17th.

“It was a strong car, really strong car,” he said. “The guys did a great job and we were able to avoid wrecks. I knew in the second stage we had a car capable to win if things went right. We were there from that point on.”

On the final restart, Kahne didn’t have anyone pushing him but the cars in front were stalled out as they ran side by side and Kahne got a run on Martin Truex Jr.

“I got past him and he just hung on my left rear corner off of Turn 2 and side drafted me, sucked me back down half the straightaway,” Kahne said. “We had such a gap on (winner Erik Jones) that he had a huge run on us at that point. I tried to block a little but he was going where I wasn’t and got by.”

Allmendinger had to overcome challenges throughout the race.

“You know, tonight was strange,” said Allmendinger, whose best finish this season before Saturday was eighth at Martinsville. “Tried to ride at the back early on, and still got wrecked and had a lot of damage on the left rear of the race car, so my guys did a good job to fix it good enough. Heck, I probably missed another seven wrecks after that.  It was just kind of chaos out there.

“You know, it was a little bit of survival, and there at the end it was just trying to make the right moves. With that damage on the left side of the race car, it put a lot of drag in it, so I didn’t really know if we had a great shot to win it. I knew my only shot was going to be off of Turn 4 and try to make the right move. Going down into (Turn) 3, Martin was battling with Erik there and made a move and tried to push Martin and obviously get as much as I could, and we salvaged a great result out of it.”

Buescher, his teammate, also was in contention on the last restart.

“Glad we were able to push Erik out there and at least help him get his first Cup win, that’s pretty cool,” said Buescher, whose result matched his season-high of fifth in the Daytona 500. “Pretty wild race. It was a good points night for us. Pit crew did excellent. We put all the puzzle pieces together and stayed out of trouble. That was a big part of it.”

Earnhardt was excited about his night.

“Just proud of all these guys,” he said. “Nine Line Foundation, Black Rifle Coffee, Extreme Concepts – they are the reason I am here with the cause that they are trying to push and its just an honor to get to be a part of it. It’s an incredible company and they support our country, our military and all of our veterans. I am so happy I got them a good run.

“Everyone kept asking me what it means to come here with the Earnhardt name at Daytona, and it does mean a lot, don’t get me wrong. But to show support to our veterans and be a part of what the foundation is doing … that meant more to me than anything tonight.  Proud of all the guys at Premium in giving me a good car tonight and keeping the car in one piece.  It’s my best career finish in the Cup series, so hopefully this will lead to some more sponsorship and get me back out here on the track more often.”

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Tony Stewart: Clint Bowyer ‘has got to take his helmet off’ for a fight

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Tony Stewart was in a “virtual black hole of cell signal” in Waverly, Ohio, last Saturday when Clint Bowyer ran to Ryan Newman‘s car after the All-Star Race and threw punches in his driver-side window.

Stewart, who was competing in and won a sprint car race at Atomic Speedway, was ignorant of this fact until he was miles away from the track and had a better cell signal.

“I got five miles down the road and all of a sudden I’m getting all these texts,” Stewart said Wednesday after being elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. “I’m going, ‘How do all these people know we won that fast?’ It wasn’t about us, it was about Clint’s deal. Finally got another five miles down the road, had a real signal. Somebody goes ‘Look at Twitter.”

That’s when the co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing saw the video of Bowyer, still wearing his helmet, furiously throwing both fists at Newman, who still sat in his car.

Bowyer was angry with Newman after contact between them on the cool-down lap after the race had sent Bowyer’s No. 14 Ford nose-first into the wall.

“That kid has got to take his helmet off if he’s going to fight,” Stewart said. “Kids leave their helmets on to fight. Men take their helmets off and they fight. If you’re going to fight, fight.”

While still on the highway Saturday night, Stewart let Bowyer know his thoughts on his fighting form.

“Listen, take your helmet off if you’re going to get into a fight,” Stewart texted Bowyer.

Bowyer responded by saying “I didn’t have time.”

Stewart, who has a long history of driver altercations and arguments, then offered his driver more encouraging wisdom.

“Don’t lose that passion to fight for what you believe in,” Stewart said.

Social media salutes NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2020

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Social media quickly rose to congratulate the five men named Wednesday to the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2020: Tony Stewart, Buddy Baker, Joe Gibbs, Bobby Labonte and Waddell Wilson.

Here are some of the more noteworthy posts from Twitter:

 

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Nate Ryan’s ballot for the 2020 NASCAR Hall of Fame class

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Nate Ryan cast a ballot Wednesday for the NASCAR Hall of Fame as NBC Sports’ digital representative.

It’s the 11th consecutive year of voting for Ryan, who is one of 59 members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame voting panel (including one online vote determined by fans; two voters, Ricky Rudd and Waddell Wilson, recused themselves because they were on the ballot).

A maximum of five votes may be cast from a list of 20 nominees (this was the first year in which Ryan voted for fewer than five)

His ballot for the 11th class (followed by his ballot for each of the preceding 10 years, which included six at USA TODAY Sports):

  1. Tony Stewart: Three Cup championships, 49 victories and two Brickyard 400s (plus an IndyCar championship) are a testament to his boundless talent, but “Smoke” also has left a mark as an alluring and highly quotable superstar and a respected team owner. His irascible personality and tenacious grit provided some of NASCAR’s best moments of the past two decades.
  2. Buddy Baker: The winner of the 1980 Daytona 500 and 1970 Southern 500 was one of NASCAR’s home run hitters, counting several major wins among his 19 career victories on the premier circuit. One of NASCAR’s greatest ambassadors Baker also became a beloved broadcaster on TV and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
  3. Waddell Wilson: Perhaps the greatest across-the-board garage resume on this year’s ballot with three championships and 109 victories as an engine builder and 19 wins (including three Daytona 500s) as a crew chief.
  4. Joe Gibbs: Nine NASCAR titles (four in Cup; five in Xfinity) and his four-car team remains the class of the premier circuit. Deserves to be elected in the wake of contemporaries Rick Hendrick, Richard Childress, Jack Roush and Roger Penske being elected the last few years.

2020 Landmark Award: Ralph Seagraves

Ryan’s previous NASCAR Hall of Fame ballots:

2010: Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty, Junior Johnson, David Pearson, Bill France Jr.

2011: Pearson, Darrell Waltrip, Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, Lee Petty

2012: Waltrip, Yarborough, Dale Inman, Raymond Parks, Curtis Turner

2013: Fireball Roberts, Turner, Fred Lorenzen, Herb Thomas, Tim Flock

2014: Roberts, Turner, Lorenzen, Flock, Joe Weatherly

2015: Lorenzen, Turner, Weatherly, O. Bruton Smith, Rick Hendrick

2016: Turner, Smith, Hendrick, Ray Evernham, Bobby Isaac

2017: Hendrick, Evernham, Benny Parsons, Parks, Red Byron

2018: Evernham, Byron, Robert Yates, Alan Kulwicki, Buddy Baker

2019: Jeff Gordon, Kulwicki, Baker, Davey Allison, Jack Roush

2020: Tony Stewart, Baker, Waddell Wilson, Joe Gibbs

LANDMARK

2015: Raymond Parks

2016: Raymond Parks

2017: Raymond Parks

2018: Ralph Seagraves

2019: Jim Hunter

Tony Stewart leads 2020 Hall of Fame Class

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Tony Stewart, the three-time Cup champion who took NASCAR by storm after transitioning from open-wheel racing, was elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s Class of 2020 on Wednesday.

Stewart’s election comes two days after his 48th birthday.

Joining Stewart in the Class of 2020 are: Joe Gibbs, Waddell Wilson, Buddy Baker and Bobby Labonte.

The class, the eleventh elected to the Hall of Fame, will be inducted on Jan. 31, 2020.

Edsel Ford won the Landmark Award.

Stewart was selected on 88% of the 57 ballots cast. Gibbs and Wilson were selected on 72%, Baker was on 70% and Labonte was on 67%.

The next three top vote-getters were Mike Stefanik, Ray Fox and Hershel McGriff.

Results for the NASCAR.com Fan Vote, in alphabetical order, were Baker, Neil Bonnett, Harry Gant, Labonte and Stewart.

MORE: Nate Ryan reveals his Hall of Fame ballot.

“It’s very humbling, to be honest,” Stewart said on NASCAR America presents MotorMouths. “There are so many great people in this sport. … to be part of it and have all the great names that are in and the people that were going to be in in the future we’re going to be with, it’s an unbelievable feeling. But it is extremely humbling.

“A lot of it is really mixed emotions because I’m still in race car driver mode and car owner mode. I’m not even thinking about hall of fames. To be inducted earlier this year into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America and now going into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, it’s just a very humbling experience.”

When asked what he would say to voters who didn’t select him, Stewart gave a typical Stewart answer.

“I don’t know but when I find out, I’m going to throw eggs at their front door tonight,” Stewart joked.

A native of Columbus, Indiana, Stewart’s election comes in his first year on the ballot. He retired from NASCAR competition at the end of 2016 with 49 Cup Series wins and three titles as a driver (2002, ’05 and ’11).

In 2014 he earned a fourth title in his role as co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing.

After being crowned the 1997 Indy Racing League champion, Stewart split time in 1998 between the IRL and the Xfinity Series, competing for Joe Gibbs Racing. He moved up to Cup in 1999 and claimed the Rookie of the Year title after earning three wins. He was the first rookie to win a race since Davey Allison in 1987.

Stewart won two Brickyard 400s, four July Daytona races and eight road course races, including his final Cup win in June 2016 at Sonoma Raceway.

Stewart is one of the most prolific Cup drivers to never win the Daytona 500, joining fellow Hall of Famer Mark Martin in that category.

Nicknamed “Smoke,” Stewart is also one of four drivers to compete in the Indianapolis 500 and Coca-Cola 600 in the same day. He did it twice, in 1999 and 2001.

Stewart’s election also comes 27 years after he attended his first NASCAR race, the 1992 Cup finale at Atlanta Motor Speedway, as a 21-year-old wearing a $2,000 suit and trying to “impress people.”

“I thought like I was wasting my time being down there,” Stewart said in 2016. “I thought there was no way I was going to get an opportunity to come do this.”

Stewart will be joined in the Hall of Fame by Gibbs. Stewart raced for Gibbs in Cup from 1999-2009, and Labonte, his teammate at JGR until 2005.

“I couldn’t think of a better day than my boss, Joe Gibbs, or my teammate, Bobby Labonte, that was the one responsible to get me in to Joe Gibbs Racing to go in with those guys,” Stewart said on MotorMouths. “And Waddell Wilson, who was part of Ranier-Walsh Racing, who I drove for in ’96 before I drove for Joe. It really is a cool day, a cool day to be in with these guys.”

Gibbs, a NFL Hall of Fame head coach, entered NASCAR as an owner in 1992. Since then he has accumulated four Cup titles, five Xfinity titles and 157 wins. He was elected in his third year on the ballot.

Labonte was also elected in his third year on the ballot. The younger brother of Hall of Famer Terry Labonte, Bobby is a Cup (2000) and Xfinity champion (1991). He earned 21 Cup wins, including two Brickyard 400s and one Southern 500. His first win came in the 1995 Coca-Cola 600.

Wilson was three-time championship engine builder. He crafted the engines that won titles in 1968, ’69 and ’73. He also won the Daytona 500 three times as a crew chief winning with Baker in 1980 and Cale Yarborough in 1983-84.

Baker, known as the “Gentle Giant,” was elected in his sixth year on the ballot. Baker made 699 starts from 1959-92 and claimed 19 Cup wins, including one Southern 500 and two Coke 600s. After retiring he transitioned into TV, where he worked for TNN and CBS and later SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. Baker died in 2015 at the age of 74 after a battle with cancer.