Jeff Gordon leads 2019 Hall of Fame Class

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Jeff Gordon, the four-time Cup champion who ushered in a new era of NASCAR on and off the track and opened a pathway for younger drivers to the premier series, was selected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s Class of 2019 on Wednesday.

The 46-year-old Gordon is the youngest inductee among the 10 Hall of Fame classes.

Joining Gordon in the Class of 2019 are: Jack Roush, Roger Penske, Davey Allison and Alan Kulwicki.

Gordon was selected on 96 percent of the ballots — surpassing the record of being on 94 percent of the ballot shared by David Pearson (Class of 2011) and Robert Yates (Class of 2018).

Roush was selected on 70 percent of the ballots, Penske was on 68 percent, Allison was on 63 percent and Kulwicki was on 46 percent.

They will be inducted Feb 1, 2019.

The next three top vote-getters were Buddy Baker, Hershel McGriff and Waddell Wilson.

A total of 57 ballots were cast — 56 by Hall of Fame voting members and one online fan ballot. The fan ballot had Allison, Gordon, Kulwicki, Baker and Harry Gant.

Jim Hunter was selected as the Landmark Award winner for his contributions to NASCAR as a media member, p.r. person, track operator and NASCAR official.

Gordon’s selection marks the third consecutive class that features a member of Hendrick Motorsports. Car owner Rick Hendrick was selected to the Class of 2017. Ray Evernham, Gordon’s crew chief for three of his titles, was voted to the Class of 2018. 

“I think it tells you a lot about that combination, what Rick created in his organization and the people,” Gordon said. “When Ray and I came to work, Ray told me all the resources are there, this could be something really special. It obviously ended up being way more than we ever anticipated. Those two are like family to me. To be able to follow them is very, very, very special. … Besides my parents, I owe those two everything to how they contributed to my life in more than just racing.”

Gordon’s success made car owners more open to hiring young drivers. Gordon also opened a pipeline from Midwest sprint car racing that helped future Hall of Famer Tony Stewart, among others, move to NASCAR.

Gordon’s influence goes beyond the track. He introduced NASCAR to mainstream America in the 1990s when he dominated, winning Cup titles in 1995, ’97 and ’98. Gordon appeared in national ads that weren’t just during NASCAR races and was the first — and only — NASCAR driver to host Saturday Night Live.

Gordon won 47 of his 93 career Cp wins between 1995-99. The driver dubbed “Wonder Boy” early in his career by Dale Earnhardt won his fourth title in 2001 — the year Earnhardt died in a last-lap crash in the Daytona 500. Gordon won three Daytona 500s, five Southern 500s and five Brickyard 400s.

Off the track, Gordon displayed class and poise throughout his career. He also displayed emotions. Gordon cried when he won his first points race, the 1994 Coca-Cola 600. He celebrated what was his final Cup win in November 2015 at Martinsville by bouncing, hooting and shouting “We’re going to Homestead!”

With Gordon’s selection the top five all-time winners in Cup will be in the Hall of Fame — Richard Petty, David Pearson, Bobby Allison, Darrell Waltrip and Gordon.

Kulwicki, the 1992 Cup champion, joins the Hall of Fame after coming close the past two years. He was among the top three vote getters not selected to the Class of 2016. He was tied with Ron Hornaday Jr. for the last spot in the Class of 2017. Both were selected on 38 percent of the ballots and Hornaday was selected in a second vote.

Kulwicki is revered for his underdog run to the ’92 title where he beat Bill Elliott by 10 points as a driver/owner. Kulwicki won five career Cup races before he was killed in a plane crash in 1993 on the way to Bristol Motor Speedway from a sponsor appearance.

Allison won 19 races, including the 1992 Daytona 500. He also was the 1987 Rookie of the Year and finished second to his father in the 1988 Daytona 500.

Allison was a fan favorite for his personality and persistence. Three months after Kulwicki died in a plane crash, Allison died from injures suffered in a helicopter crash at Talladega Superspeedway.

Roush, whose name has been synonymous with success for most of his Cup career, joined the premier series in 1988 with Hall of Famer Mark Martin.

Roush, who has scored a record 325 victories across NASCAR’s national series, won his first Cup title in 2003 with Matt Kenseth and won the 2004 crown with Kurt Busch. Roush has five Xfinity championships and one Camping World Truck Series title.

Penske is better known for his success in IndyCar, including his 16 Indianapolis 500 victories as a car owner, but he’s also made an impact in NASCAR.

Penske won the 2012 Cup title with Brad Keselowski and has two Daytona 500 victories. He also built Auto Club Speedway and once owned Michigan International Speedway and North Carolina Motor Speedway. In Team Penske’s 52-year history, it has 489 major race wins across all series and 553 poles. Included are wins in IndyCar, NASCAR, Formula 1 and the 24 Hours of Daytona.

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NASCAR America: Hall of Fame inductees announcement at 5 p.m. ET

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The 2019 class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame will be announced tonight exclusively on NASCAR America on NBCSN.

The broadcast will air from 5 – 6:30 p.m. ET and will reveal the next five inductees into the Hall of Fame located in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the winner of the Landmark Award.

Krista Voda hosts with Kyle Petty in Stamford, Connecticut. Steve Letarte, Nate Ryan and Dave Burns join them from the Hall of Fame.

There are 20 nominees, including the new additions Jeff Gordon, Harry Gant, John Holman, Ralph Moody and Kirk Shelmerdine.

Gordon, 46, won four Cup titles and 93 races as a full-time driver from 1993-2015.

Gant, 78, competed in NASCAR from 1973-94, winning 18 races and 17 poles. He won four consecutive races in September 1991. He remains the oldest Cup winner. He was 52 years, 7 months, 6 days when he won at Michigan in August 1992. He’s also the oldest pole winner in series history. He was 54 years, 7 months and 17 days when he won the pole at Bristol in August 1994.

Shelmerdine, 60, won four championships as crew chief for Dale Earnhardt in 1986-87 and 1990-91.

Holman and Moody formed one of the sport’s most famous teams. Between 1957-73, Moody and Holman built cars that earned 83 poles and won 96 times. They won the 1968 and ’69 titles with David Pearson. Holman died in 1975. Moody died in 2004.

Here are the returning 15 nominees.

Davey Allison … 19-time Cup winner who won the 1992 Daytona 500. He was the 1987 Rookie of the Year. He died in a helicopter crash in 1993 at Talladega.

Buddy Baker … 19-time Cup winner who won the 1980 Daytona 500. He was the first driver to eclipse the 200 mph barrier, doing so in 1970.

Red Farmer … Records are incomplete but the 1956 modified and 1969-71 Late Model Sportsman champ is believed to have won well more than 700 races. Continued racing beyond 80 years old.

Ray Fox … Renowned engine builder, car owner and race official. He built the Chevrolet that Junior Johnson won the 1960 Daytona 500 driving. Fox won the 1964 Southern 500 as a car owner with Johnson as his driver.

Joe Gibbs … His organization has 148 Cup wins and four Cup titles (Bobby Labonte in 2000, Tony Stewart in 2002, 2005 and Kyle Busch in 2015).

Harry Hyde … Crew chief for Bobby Isaac when Isaac won the 1970 series title. Guided Tim Richmond, Geoff Bodine, Neil Bonnett and Dave Marcis each to their first career series win.

Alan Kulwicki … 1992 series champion who overcame a 278-point deficit in the final six races to win title by 10 points, at the time the closet margin in series history. He was the 1986 Rookie of the Year. He was killed in a plane crash in 1993.

Bobby Labonte … 2000 series champion who won 21 Cup races. He was the first driver to win an Xfinity title and a Cup championship in a career.

Hershel McGriff … Made his NASCAR debut at age 22 in the 1950 Southern 500 and ran his final NASCAR race at age 90 earlier this month in a K&N Pro Series West event. Was selected as one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998.

Roger Penske … Team owner whose organization has won 107 Cup races and one series title. Has been a car owner in auto racing for more than 50 years.

Larry Phillips … Weekly short track series driver believed to have more than 1,000 career wins. During an 11-year span, he won 220 of 289 NASCAR-sanctioned starts on short tracks.

Jack Roush … Team owner whose organization has won 137 Cup races and two series titles (Matt Kenseth in 2003 and Kurt Busch in 2004). Team has won more than 300 races across NASCAR’s three national series.

Ricky Rudd … Won 23 Cup races, including 1997 Brickyard 400. He is known most as NASCAR’s Ironman, once holding the record for consecutive starts at 788. He ranks second in all-time Cup starts with 906.

Mike Stefanik … Nine-time NASCAR champion with his titles coming in the Whelen Modified Tour and the K&N Pro Series East.

Waddell Wilson … Famed engine builder and crew chief. He supplied the power for David Pearson’s championships in 1968 and ’69 and Benny Parsons’ 1973 title. Wilson’s engines won 109 races. He won 22 races as a crew chief, including three Daytona 500 victories.

Nominees for the Landmark Award are Alvin Hawkins Sr., Barney Hall, Janet Guthrie, Jim Hunter and Ralph Seagraves.

Here are this year’s members of the voting committee.

National Motorsports Press Association (1)
1. Ben White, NMPA President

Eastern Motorsports Press Association (1)
1. Ron Hedger, EMPA President

American Auto Racing Writers & Broadcasters (1)
1. Dusty Brandel, AARWB President

Print & Digital Media (7)
1. Zach Albert, NASCAR.com
2. Jenna Fryer, AP
3. Mike Hembree, USA Today
4. Al Pearce, Autoweek
5. Nate Ryan, NBCSports.com
6. Jim Utter, Motorsport.com
7. Matt Yocum, FOXSports.com

Broadcast Partners (7)
1. Rick Allen, NBC
2. Jeff Burton, NBCSN
3. Alex Hayden, MRN
4. Jamie Little, FS1
5. Dave Moody, SIRIUS/XM
6. Doug Rice, PRN
7. Marty Smith, ESPN

Car Manufacturers (3)
1. Jim Campbell, Chevrolet
2. Edsel Ford II, Ford
3. David Wilson, Toyota

Drivers (3)
1. Ned Jarrett
2. Richard Petty
3. Ricky Rudd (recused)

Owners (3)
1. Tommy Baldwin
2. Junior Johnson
3. Eddie Wood

Crew Chiefs (3)
1. Dale Inman
2. Buddy Parrott
3. Waddell Wilson (recused)

Reigning Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion (1)
1. Martin Truex, Jr.

NASCAR Community Leaders (5)
1. Paul Brooks
2. Mike Harris
3. Tom Higgins
4. Ken Squier
5. Humpy Wheeler

Nominating Committee (24):

NASCAR Hall of Fame (2)
1. Winston Kelley
2. Tom Jensen

NASCAR officials (8)
1. Brian France
2. Jim France
3. Mike Helton
4. Brent Dewar
5. Steve Phelps
6. Steve O’Donnell
7. Jill Gregory
8. Scott Miller

ISC (3)
1. Lesa Kennedy
2. John Saunders
3. Clay Campbell

SMI (3)
1. Marcus Smith
2. Ed Clark
3. Eddie Gossage

IMS (1)
1. Tony George

Dover (1)
1. Denis McGlynn

Pocono (1)
1. Looie McNally

Historic short track operators – one representative from each track: (4)
1. Bowman Gray Operator – Dale Pinilis
2. Rockford Speedway Operator – Jody Deery
3. Holland Motorsports Park – Ron Bennett
4. West Coast Short Track Representative – Ken Clapp

Media (1)
1. Mike Joy, FOX

Fan Vote (1)

If you can’t catch the announcement 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.

Aric Almirola: ‘We have the potential’ to win every week

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A year ago, Aric Almirola viewed his racing season like a “box of chocolates.”

Week-to-week “you never knew what you were gonna’ get,” Almirola said of his final season at Richard Petty Motorsports.

Almirola definitely didn’t expect to break his back in a May wreck at Kansas Speedway, where NASCAR races this weekend.

That injury forced Almirola out of the No. 43 for seven points races. He was replaced by Regan Smith, Billy Johnson and his eventual full-time replacement, Darrell Wallace Jr.

Friday at Kansas Speedway, Almirola said he exorcised any lingering demons from the track when he returned in the fall and finished ninth.

“I never really let my mind drift back to that place,” Almirola said. “To come back here and kind of get somewhat of redemption on the race track and sort of put that to bed and come here and run as well as we did and run top 10, I think it’s a non-issue.”

Eleven races into his first year at Stewart-Haas Racing, Almirola can say on a week-to-week basis, “I know what I’m gonna’ get.”

Entering tonight’s KC Masterpiece 400, in which he starts a season-best fourth, Almirola is three points out of 10th in the standings. At this point last year, he was 20th. He has four top-10 finishes this season and came within half a lap of winning the Daytona 500.

“Every week I know I’m gonna show up with a car that I know is gonna be fast and that it’s up to (crew chief) Johnny (Klausmeier) and myself to do the best that we can to make it a race-winning car. We have the product. We have the potential to have a race-winning car each and every week and we can see it internally amongst our teammates. We can look at what they have and that’s just gonna take time for Johnny and myself to continue to grow together and build a notebook together.”

Almirola made sure to point out just how inexperienced his team is, especially with Klausmeier, previously an engineer at SHR, at the helm.

“You’ve got to remember that Johnny is going on week 11 or week 12 of being a brand new crew chief,” Almirola said. “He was never crew chief in the Truck ranks and was never a crew chief in the Xfinity ranks, so having him and him being as new to it as it is, it’s gonna take him time to continue to evolve and develop. We’ve got a new lead race engineer that’s young and that’s one of the things that I think is so cool is that our team is really built for the future.”

Almirola is in search of his second career Cup victory. His first came in July 2014 at Daytona.

“Human nature is greed,” Almirola said. “You always want more, so if you would have told me going into the year before the season even started at Daytona that by Kansas in May we would be 11th in points, three points out of 10th and have an average finish of 12th, I would have probably said, ‘All right. That’s awesome. I’ll take it.'”

But he’s seen two of his teammates, Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer, win this year and seen Kurt Busch earn two top fives. It’s only fueled his “greed.”

But the 34-year-old driver has had the “calming voice” of owner Tony Stewart keep him in check.

“He’s been like, ‘Be patient. Your time is coming. Your group is young. Your group is new. You’re new to the organization. You’re meeting our expectations and then some,'” Almirola said. “So that’s just reassuring and it’s a confidence-builder for me.”

Improved communication has boosted Clint Bowyer, Stewart-Haas Racing

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Sunday saw more of the same for Stewart-Haas Racing, or at least more of what could be the new normal.

Kevin Harvick visited victory lane for the fourth time this year.

But to get the win, he had to get around a teammate. That was Clint Bowyer, who is getting used to running up front consistently for the first time in years.

Harvick passed Bowyer with 63 laps to go and ran away for the win. Bowyer came home second for his third top five of the season. Bowyer, who led 40 laps, contended despite an unscheduled pit stop for a loose wheel early in the race.

Kurt Busch finished fifth to give Stewart-Haas Racing three cars in the top five. New teammate Aric Almirola placed 11th.

“This year, we’ve been working well every single weekend,” Bowyer said. “We’re pushing each other to be better, and our setups are all relatively the same, and it shows on the racetrack. (Crew chief Mike Bugarewicz) and I have done such a way better job of communicating, and all that comes with success. Make no mistake about it, those things come with success, and we’ve had that so far this year, and it makes all the communication and everything a lot better.”

Bowyer also pointed to a restructuring at Stewart-Haas Racing in the offseason that included Busch’s former crew chief, Tony Gibson, taking an oversight position in the SHR shop. Or as team co-owner Tony Stewart said, a “floor babysitter.”

“We had one car (Harvick) last year that was running well, and it doesn’t do an organization very much if you only have one car running well,” Bowyer said. With Gibson coming off the road and “collaborating amongst the teams,” Bowyer said he is “making sure all those cars are ready for battle when they go to the racetrack” and that they’re essentially alike.

“That’s the biggest thing is when you go to the track, you need to be able to bounce off each other and work with one another, and sometimes something is different or whatever, it’s hard to do that,” Bowyer said.

SHR is making it look easy, having claimed five wins through 11 races, with Bowyer earning his first since 2012.

The team has 13 top fives and 25 top 10s among its four drivers. Last year, with the team in its first season with Ford and Danica Patrick driving the No. 10, SHR had 26 top fives (14 from Harvick) and 52 top 10s the entire season.

“When you have confidence in the cars and the tools and everything going on, I think the biggest thing is just all the cylinders are clicking right now,” said Rodney Childers, crew chief for Harvick. “The biggest thing is we haven’t went back and talked about the races that we’ve won. We go back and we talk about how to get better every week, and we build better race cars and they build better engines, and we’ve done better on pit road. To keep this going, we’re going to have to get a lot better every single week, and to keep it to where it needs to be when the championship comes around.”

Stewart said everything about SHR’s operation is “on point” through 11 races. Earlier this season he saw all four of his cars finish in the top 10 for the first time at Phoenix.

“I think Brett Favre said this in a quote once, is that success is kind of one of the worst things that can happen to you because some guys feel like they’ve got where they need to be and they lose that intensity,” Stewart said “That’s something that I feel like our group is really good about, not losing that focus on the fact that we’re a technology‑driven sport, and we have to keep pushing all the time to keep finding more things to go faster and be better than we were the week before.”

All the work SHR has put in has three of their drivers in the top six in points through 11 races. Bowyer, in his second season with SHR, is fourth.

He hasn’t finished in the top 10 since 2013.

“It’s fun to be up in the limelight,” Bowyer said.

NASCAR’s Avengers are here to save the day

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In case you haven’t heard, a little movie called Avengers: Infinity War was released last week and it has made all the money.

The Avengers, also known as “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes,” are a ragtag cast of characters and personalities that on paper shouldn’t work, but in reality make for drama that has captured audience’s attention for 10 years in cinemas and decades in comic books.

This raises an obvious question.

Which NASCAR Cup drivers – current and retired – would make up the Avengers?

Here’s an exhaustive (one afternoon of contemplation) evaluation of NASCAR’s best.

Send your Avengers/NASCAR recommendations to Daniel McFadin.

Nick Fury – Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, is the most visible face of NASCAR’s leadership. Now imagine that face with an eyepatch.

Iron ManAustin Dillon has that Tony Stark style and he parties like the billionaire playboy philanthropist would if he owned a barn.

Rocket Raccoon – No, Tony Stewart isn’t a talking animal. But the talking raccoon is a weapons expert who likes to make things go boom. If you’re ever in a tight spot that requires the use of a flame thrower, Stewart is your man.

Star Lord AKA Peter QuillClint Bowyer has a couple of things in common with this character. Both are from the Midwest. Bowyer hails from Kansas and Star Lord from Missouri. Also, Bowyer is the driver most likely to call someone a “turd blossom.”

Captain America/Falcon – These modern-day best friends and allies bring to mind the Ryan Blaney/Darrell Wallace Jr. duo and NASCAR’s best bromance.

Spider-Man – The youngest member of the Avengers is a tech savvy teenager just getting his feet wet in the superhero world while also attending high school. William Byron fits the mold of the webslinger as he navigates his rookie year in Cup while taking college courses.

The Incredible Hulk – Don’t make Matt Kenseth angry. He might not be physically imposing, but poke the bear enough and you’ll have to face his inner Hulk in-between haulers after a race or find yourself punted into the wall at a short track.

ThorJeffrey Earnhardt has the beard, he just needs the hammer.

Doctor Strange – The Sorcerer Supreme has the ability to manipulate time and space. When it comes to restrictor-plate racing these days, few are better than Brad Keselowski at manipulating the draft to work their magic.

Drax the Destroyer – Just like this Guardian of the Galaxy, it takes a lot to make Paul Menard smile.

Black Widow – For a long time the former Russian spy was the only woman in the Avenger boys club and Danica Patrick was in a similar position in Cup until moving on after this season’s Daytona 500.

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