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Ryan: It’s a shame the story of Captain Kirk didn’t get its due

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Why don’t the guys who make the critical race-winning calls ever get the calls to the shrine that validates their race-winning careers?

That’s the question that the NASCAR Hall of Fame awkwardly is facing yet again with the nomination process for its 11th class.

Kirk Shelmerdine, the team-building genius who guided Dale Earnhardt’s No. 3 Chevrolet to four championships before mysteriously disappearing from the NASCAR limelight, inexplicably has fallen off the nominees list for the 2020 induction ceremony.

It was only last year that Shelmerdine had appeared on the ballot for the first time.

Now he’s gone, and it’s reasonable to ask if he ever will return for consideration given some of the names that have supplanted him.

There was never any doubt about three-time champion Tony Stewart being ushered directly into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

But there undeniably are greater questions about the other five new nominees — Sam Ard, Neil Bonnett, Marvin Panch, Jim Paschal and Red Vogt. They all are deserving of consideration … but are they more deserving than Shelmerdine?

Shelmerdine has nearly twice as many wins (46) as a crew chief in NASCAR’s premier Cup series as any of those candidates.

He changed front tires and led the famous Flying Aces pit crew that was the best in NASCAR for several seasons.

He was a key cog during many of the greatest years ever posted by seven-time champion and inaugural Hall of Fame inductee Dale Earnhardt.

Shelmerdine is a living and breathing integral connection to the legacy of “The Intimidator,” which makes it even more indefensible that his candidacy has been suspended without explanation.

It’s patently ridiculous, and it’s a disturbing pattern that has emerged over the years since the inception of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Kirk Shelmerdine worked as a crew chief for Richard Childress Racing from 1982-92. (Photo by ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images)

Crew chiefs get no respect when it comes to being considered for legendary status, never mind actually being enshrined.

Of the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s 50 inductees, there are only four who have at least 50 races as Cup crew chiefs (Dale Inman, Glen Wood, Bud Moore and Ray Evernham). And of that group, only Inman and Evernham could be considered true crew chiefs.

Between Inman, Moore, Evernham, Leonard Wood, Robert Yates and Maurice Petty, the representative list of crew chiefs, engine builders and mechanics in the NASCAR Hall of Fame is painfully short, and the number of slights is unfortunately long.

–Dale Inman was elected to the third class of the Hall of Fame with 78% of the vote … two years after he inexplicably was left off the ballot for the inaugural class – a 25-person list with no crew chiefs.

–Ray Evernham, who was voted the greatest crew chief of all time 13 years ago, didn’t appear on the ballot until the 2016 class and wasn’t elected until 2018.

–Smokey Yunick and Banjo Matthews, two icons generally regarded among the finest mechanics of their generation, have yet to be recognized.

In the case of Yunick, the larger-than-life personality whose “Best Damn Garage in Town” is the stuff of Daytona Beach legend and Hollywood lore, there is a realistic fear he never will be nominated because of his endless wars with NASCAR executives and officials over the rulebook.

There were some other curious omissions on the 2020 ballot in the Landmark Award category, where racing pioneer Janet Guthrie and late Motor Racing Network legend Barney Hall got booted.

As Associated Press writer Jenna Fryer noted, the optics are poor to have Guthrie suddenly excluded with so much cultural focus on female equality and particularly given NASCAR’s persistent efforts to promote diversity (and rising stars such as Hailie Deegan).

The process for building the nomination list, though, isn’t necessarily wrong.

According to those involved in culling the nominees, the NASCAR Hall of Fame actually has been more proactive in pushing for a broader spectrum of nominees by providing more information for prospective candidates in several categories.

Much like the Hall of Fame vote, the nomination discussion is held in confidence, and the voting is done by secret ballot and tabulated by an accounting firm. As Winston Kelley explained Thursday on SiriusXM NASCAR, it wasn’t as if someone were advocating for the exclusion of Guthrie, Hall and Shelmerdine.

The names disappeared from consideration through an honestly conducted winnowing. Another process might produce the same results.

The question that must be answered is why the results keep being returned with crew chiefs, engine builders and mechanics being snubbed.

If the argument is that they somehow aren’t personalities, that’s absurd, too.

Yunick’s autobiography probably could be optioned as a screenplay. Evernham has transitioned into a post-crew chief/team owner career as a highly successful TV analyst. Inman still is often at Richard Petty’s side weekly in the Cup garage, cracking hilarious stories about yesteryear.

Kirk Shelmerdine speaks during a 2010 news conference about pit stops at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. (HHP/Harold Hinson)

Shelmerdine has one of the greatest backstories in NASCAR.

How many people can say they competed in The Great American Race first as a crew chief and then as a driver (Shelmerdine finished 20th in the 2006 Daytona 500)?

At the top of his game as Earnhardt’s crew chief, a 34-year-old Shelmerdine walked away from Richard Childress Racing after the 1992 season to start a driving career, which he toiled through for 15 years with limited success racing his own team in ARCA, trucks, Xfinity and Cup.

Though Shelmerdine was a straight-talking Delaware native with an iconoclastic streak that made him a great in calling and managing races, the move still stunned NASCAR. Team owner Richard Childress said Shelmerdine simply was “burned out.”

Robin Pemberton, a rival crew chief before his run as NASCAR executive, once said Shelmerdine was “a pretty sharp fella who got out of the sport a little too early. He still had a lot to offer. It was a big shock. I think everyone was confused as to the reasons he left. I’m not so sure anybody knows.”

When asked by the Richmond Times-Dispatch 16 years ago (while trying to make the 2003 Daytona 500 with Junie Donlavey) why he quit, Shelmerdine said, “It gets to the point that you don’t care about winning, you just can’t stand to see the other (expletives) win.” The reporter who asked the question was so taken aback by the answer, he couldn’t even muster a proper follow-up.

Maybe the rest of Shelmerdine’s story finally might be told during a NASCAR Hall of Fame induction speech that’s long overdue.

Too bad we’ll have to wait at least another year to hear it.

Brad Keselowski puts on driving clinic with convincing win at Martinsville

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Brad Keselowski put on a driving clinic Sunday at Martinsville Speedway, leading 446 of 500 laps to win the STP 500. It was Keselowski’s second win of the season (also won at Atlanta), and his fourth top-3 finish in the last five races.

It was also Keselowski’s 29th career Cup win and his second Cup Series triumph in 19 career starts at Martinsville. Starting with his first win there in April 2017 and including Sunday’s win, Keselowski has now led 712 total laps over the last five races at the southern Virginia short track. 

“The car was really good,” Keselowski told Fox Sports 1. “Just a great day for our team. Awesome execution on pit road. … Just one of those days you dream of as a race car driver, where you have a great car.

“(Runner-up) Chase Elliott was real strong. He passed me with about 200 laps to go. I watched him and studied and knew what I had to do to hold him off and really pulled it off.”

Elliott tried to mount a last lap surge — two of the previous three races at Martinsville have been won on last lap passes — but ran out of time and fell short.

“Our Camaro was good and felt we were about as even with him as we could be,” Elliott said. “I tried to move up there at the end, but I don’t know if I could have got to him, maybe if I had moved up a little sooner. Maybe next time.”

Kyle Busch, making the 1,000th overall start of his NASCAR career, finished third, snapping a two-race winning streak (Phoenix and Fontana). Busch and Keselowski are now the only two drivers to win more than one race thus far this season.

Ryan Blaney finished fourth, followed by Denny Hamlin. Sixth through 10th were Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr., Aric Almirola and Daniel Suarez.

There were only three leaders in the race: Keselowski, Chase Elliott (49 laps) and Keselowski’s Team Penske teammate and pole sitter Joey Logano (6 laps).

STAGE 1 WINNER: Brad Keselowski (first stage win of season)

STAGE 2 WINNER: Brad Keselowski

WHAT’S NEXT: O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday, March 31 (Fox); green flag shortly after 3 p.m. ET.

We’ll be back with more information, including quotes, full results and updated standings. Please check back soon.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Kyle Busch has idea for NASCAR’s Xfinity, Truck limits

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MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Kyle Busch would entertain the opportunity to pursue the one NASCAR championship that has eluded him – in the Gander Outdoor Truck Series – when his Cup career is over.

But he’s got an idea that would allow him to run both series concurrently and address the limits on Cup drivers running in lower series.

“Why don’t you let us run as many races as we want to run and then once we miss one, we’re done?” Busch pondered after his victory Saturday in the TruNorth Global 250 truck race at Martinsville Speedway. “So if I go all the way to (the June 15 race at Iowa Speedway) in the trucks and run 10 races and can’t go to Iowa, I’m done.

“You can race for points or whatever and so if that ever came down to that, then maybe there’d be an opportunity years down the road that then you can run multiple series and try to go after a championship that way.”

What was NASCAR’s reaction to the plan?

“That’s probably the first time I’ve said that or thought about it,” Busch said with a laugh. “Now that it’s out there … there’s not a damn fan that’s ever going to let it happen.”

Indeed, Busch’s 201st career victory in a NASCAR national series drew the usual outrage on social media Saturday, both from his Rowdy Nation legion of fans and those who vehemently believe he should be limited beyond the NASCAR cap of five truck races and seven Xfinity races allowed for full-time Cup drivers.

Busch has won in seven of 11 starts in trucks, Xfinity and Cup this season.

“Could have been nine or 10 (victories) probably, that’s what the scary part is if it wasn’t for simple mistakes,” Busch said. “Overall, it’s been fun. It’s a damn shame I’m only allowed five and seven.”

Busch has two 2019 starts left in trucks: at Texas Motor Speedway next week and Charlotte Motor Speedway in May.

He said the chances are solid for going 5 for 5.

“I’d like to think Texas is a good place,” he said. “I think our guys have a good baseline. Charlotte is always one of my best tracks, favorite tracks and enjoy running there with the trucks, especially. There’s a good opportunity.

“It’s kind of an expectation (to win every race). We just go out, work hard and smart, and today we let the race play itself out and come to us.”

Busch won the 2009 Xfinity championship in the last season in which he ran full time in NASCAR’s top two series. He has focused solely on Cup full time since then, and NASCAR has changed rules over the past eight years limiting the ability to run for more than one title.

Despite 148 starts (and 54 victories), he is yet to run a full truck season, but the 2015 Cup champion has said he’d like to become the first driver to win a championship in each of NASCAR’s top three series.

Three Cup cars fail prerace inspection at Martinsville Speedway

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MARTINSVILLE, Va. — The cars of William Byron, DJ Kennington and Jeb Burton failed inspection Sunday morning at Martinsville Speedway.

Byron’s No. 24 Chevrolet failed mechanical measurements. His sixth-place qualifying time will be disallowed, and he will have to start from the rear.

Kennington failed the OSS. He qualified 34th.

Burton had qualified 33rd.

The three cars will officially start behind those that passed inspection. Cars that qualified behind them will move up one spot.

The No. 24 suffered a right-front tire problem in the opening minutes of first practice Saturday morning, and the team made repairs to put the car back on track.

Today’s Cup race at Martinsville Speedway: Start time, lineup, more

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MARTINSVILLE — High downforce could bring hot tempers to Martinsville Speedway, where today’s STP 500 will mark the first short track of the 2019 Cup schedule.

In the last visit to the 0.526-mile oval, Joey Logano bumped Martin Truex Jr. aside entering the last two corners in one of the most thrilling finishes of the 2018 season.

Here’s the pertinent information for today’s race:

(All times are Eastern)

START: Robert DeRidder, the senior vice president and general manager of Energizer Holdings Inc. (owners of STP), will give the command to start engines at 2:01 p.m. The green flag is scheduled for 2:07 p.m.

PRERACE: The crew chief and drivers meeting is at noon. Driver introductions will begin at 1:20 p.m. The invocation will be given by track chaplain Mike Hatfield at 1:54 p.m. The 380th Army Band will perform the national anthem at 1:55 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 500 laps (263 miles) around the 0.526-mile track.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends on Lap 130. Stage 2 ends on Lap 260.

TV/RADIO: FS1 will broadcast the race with coverage beginning at 12:30 p.m. Motor Racing Network will broadcast the race. MRN’s coverage begins at 1 p.m. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry MRN’s broadcast, which is also available at MRN.com.

FORECAST: wunderground.com calls for partly cloudy skies with a high of 63 degrees and a zero percent chance of rain for the start of the race.

LAST TIME: In a race delayed to Monday by a snowstorm, Clint Bowyer scored his first victory for Stewart-Haas Racing. Kyle Busch finished second. Ryan Blaney placed third. Joey Logano won at Martinsville last fall. Denny Hamlin placed second. Martin Truex Jr. was third. 

TO THE REAR: William Byron (mechanical measurements), DJ Kennington (OSS) and Jeb Burton will start from the rear after failing inspection Sunday morning.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for the starting lineup.