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Dale Jr. highlights NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2021

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. will join his father in the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2021, becoming the sixth father-son set to be enshrined.

Voters also selected modified ace Mike Stefanik and Red Farmer to join Earnhardt in the Class of 2021. Ralph Seagraves was selected as the recipient of the Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR.

Earnhardt, Stefanik and Farmer make up the 12th class to be selected to the Hall of Fame.

Earnhardt Jr. received 76% of the Modern Era ballot votes, Stefanik received 49%. Ricky Rudd finished third, followed by Neil Bonnett. Red Farmer received 71% of the Pioneer ballot votes. Hershel McGriff finished second. There has never been a unanimous selection to the Hall of Fame.

Voting Day was held virtually on June 9 due to COVID-19 restrictions. The panel consisted of 65 former drivers, inductees, NASCAR executives, industry leaders and media members, plus one vote reserved for fan balloting. Results for the NASCAR.com Fan Vote were Neil Bonnett, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Red Farmer.

The induction ceremony date will be announced at a later date.

This also marked the first time the Hall class was reduced from five inductees to three: Earnhardt and Stefanik being chosen from 10 Modern Era candidates and Farmer chosen from five candidates considered from the Pioneer Era.

Here are the newest Hall inductees:

Ralph Dale Earnhardt Jr., nicknamed Dale Jr., is a two-time Daytona 500 winner (2004, 2014). Voted as the sport’s Most Popular Driver for 15 consecutive years from 2003-17, he retired as a full-time NASCAR Cup driver following the 2017 season.

“It was great to see my face pop up on that screen,” Earnhardt said with a smile to NBCSN’s NASCAR America. “I’ll be honest with you, I wasn’t really nervous. I had a root canal earlier today, so maybe I was more nervous about that. That was kind of distracting my thoughts.

“I also was understanding the fact I’m young, considering most people that are inducted into the Hall of Fame, and I had a lot of years that I could be patiently to hopefully see my name called. So I was going to be okay.”

But Earnhardt’s voice began to crack with emotion when he added:

“Once you started the show, man nerves set in and I got shook up and I was extremely emotional to be nominated. Not a lot of people are like this, but I really work off affirmation — I succeed off affirmation — and there’s no better compliment or affirmation than from your peers and the people that you work with and work around.

“This is such a great pat on the back for a lot of hard work and a lot of years in the sport, trying to do the right thing for the yourself, your sponsors but most importantly for the health of the sport. I’m feeling great about this experience and looking forward to what lies ahead, the evening itself and the ceremony. It’ll be a great experience and I’ll be excited.”

Earnhardt made 631 Cup starts between 1999-2017, earning 26 wins (tied with Hall of Famer Fred Lorenzen for 30th in NASCAR history), 149 top-five and 260 top-10 finishes. His highest single-season finish was third in 2003.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and father Dale Earnhardt talk during the 1998 Coca-Cola 600. (Photo by Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images)

He also made 142 career Xfinity Series starts from 1996 through this past Saturday at Miami, earning championships in 1998-99 when the series was known as the Busch Series. He earned 24 wins, 70 top-five and 94 top-10 Busch/Xfinity finishes.

Since his retirement from the Cup Series, the now 45-year-old Earnhardt has become a NASCAR analyst for NBC Sports, but kept his hand still in racing, making one start per season in the Xfinity Series, with finishes of fourth in 2018 and fifth in 2019 and 2020. He said after Saturday’s race at Miami that it potentially may be his last race ever as a NASCAR driver.

Earnhardt’s father, seven-time series champion Dale Earnhardt, was in the inaugural NASCAR Hall of Fame class in 2010, along with Bill France Sr., Bill France Jr., Richard Petty and Junior Johnson.

The other father-son pairings in the Hall are: Bill France Sr. and Bill France Jr., Lee and Richard Petty, Ned and Dale Jarrett, and Buck and Buddy Baker and Bobby and Davey Allison.

“I don’t know the entire voting panel, but I know some of the folks that are in that. To think they have that respect and feeling for you, it really hits you in the heart, it really does.

“It hasn’t sunk in yet. I don’t know how I’m going to feel as we move forward, but it’s going to be a lot of fun reflecting on our past, our driving career, going to get to share a lot of great stories and it should be a good time.”

Michael Paul Stefanik was one of the most prolific NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour drivers, earning seven championships. In 453 Modified starts, the Massachusetts native earned 74 wins, 223 top-five and 301 top-10 finishes.

Mike Stefanik was named to the NASCAR Hall of Fame Tuesday. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/NASCAR via Getty Images)

Stefanik is the third driver who primarily raced modified to be enshrined in NASCAR’s Hall. He joins Richie Evans (inducted in 2012) and Jerry Cook (2016).

Stefanik was named the second greatest driver in NASCAR Modified history in 2003.

He won successive K&N Pro Series East championships in 1997-98, and finished second in 1995, 2003 and 2005. He also competed in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series.

Stefanik was killed in a plane crash on September 15, 2019, when the plane he was piloting experienced mechanical failure and crashed in Sterling, Connecticut. He was 61.

Charles “Red” Farmer is well into his 80s but is still competing, having gained notoriety primarily for short track racing, as well as being one of the charter members of the “Alabama Gang,” a group of drivers who settled in the area of Hueytown, Ala., and became legendary in all forms of stock car racing, from dirt tracks to NASCAR Cup.

Farmer’s career stretched for more than seven decades, although the numbers vary widely. He is estimated to have won between 700-900 races from the 1950s through the 2000s. He also won numerous championships at tracks in Alabama, Georgia and Florida.

Still racing, still winning — that’s Red Farmer at 87 years old. Photo: Red Farmer.

While Farmer made only 36 career starts in the NASCAR Cup Series, he excelled in the NASCAR National Late Model Sportsman division (now known as the Xfinity Series), earning three straight championships from 1969-1971.

Despite the few starts on the Cup Series, he was still named NASCAR’s most popular driver four different times, and was named one of the 50 Greatest Drivers In NASCAR History in 1998. Including Tuesday’s announcement, Farmer will now be a member of six different auto racing halls of fame.

Farmer is also known for coyly claiming he was born anywhere from 1928 through 1932.

And he’s still racing, having competed as recently as last weekend, finishing 10th. At the age of 87. He said he will race this weekend at Talladega Short Track.

Farmer was Davey Allison’s crew chief in the then-Busch Series and was with Allison when the helicopter they were in crashed while landing at Talladega Superspeedway on July 12 1993. The younger Allison died. Farmer suffered a broken collarbone and several fractured ribs. Farmer continues to race, primarily at the Talladega Short Track, a 1/3-mile dirt oval across the street from NASCAR’s Talladega Superspeedway.

William Ralph Seagraves has long been acknowledged as the architect who brought tobacco manufacturer RJ Reynolds into NASCAR as its title series sponsor.

Ralph Seagraves of the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. (Photo by ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images)

Initially brought on as a sponsor for car owner Junior Johnson’s team, Winston was the first non-automotive sponsor to enter NASCAR on a full-time basis. Winston found a welcome home after the U.S. government banned TV cigarette advertising in 1970.

Realizing the impact and return on investment it could obtain would be greater in the overall sport, as opposed to sponsoring just one team, Seagraves and RJR made NASCAR an offer it couldn’t refuse and became the exclusive title rights sponsor in 1971.

From 1971-2003, NASCAR’s premier series – which was previously known as the Grand National Series – was renamed the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, becoming a marketing juggernaut that led to the sport becoming one of the most popular in the United States.

In addition to NASCAR, Winston – with Seagraves’ guidance and leadership as the company’s top sports marketing executive – would also go on to sponsor NHRA drag racing, golf, soccer, tennis and hydroplane racing before tobacco sponsorship was outlawed by the federal government.

Seagraves retired in 1985 and passed away on Sept. 27, 1998 at the age of 69.

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Falling short of being voted in from the Modern Era were Neil Bonnett, Jeff Burton, Carl Edwards, Harry Gant, Harry Hyde, Larry Phillips, Ricky Rudd and Kirk Shelmerdine.

Falling short of being voted in from the Pioneer Era were Jake Elder, Banjo Matthews, Hershel McGriff and Ralph Moody.

Not being chosen for the Landmark Award were Janet Guthrie, Alvin Hawkins, Mike Helton and Dr. Joseph Mattioli.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

April 22 in NASCAR: Brett Bodine claims lone Cup win amid controversy

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Brett Bodine, one of the three Bodine brothers who competed in the NASCAR Cup Series, made 480 career starts in Cup between 1986-03.

In that time, the New York native visited Victory Lane once.

And it wasn’t boring.

It came on April 22, 1990 at North Wilkesboro Speedway as Bodine, making his 80th career start, drove the No. 26 Quaker State Buick owned by NHRA legend Kenny Bernstein.

Bodine led 146 of 400 laps and won over Darrell Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt, but not without some controversy.

The confusion began after a round of green flag pit stops that occurred from Lap 280-318. Bodine, who stopped on Lap 301, became the leader on Lap 318 when Waltrip was the last driver among the leaders to pit.

Then Kenny Wallace brought out the caution on Lap 321 when he spun in Turn 1.

But when the pace car pulled onto the track to pick up the field, he pulled in front of Earnhardt, not Bodine, who was running just ahead of Earnhardt.

NASCAR kept the race under caution for 18 laps as they attempted to sort out the scoring. They eventually told Earnhardt, Waltrip and other drivers who stayed out under the caution to get behind Bodine, who had pitted during the caution with other drivers.

Bodine would lead the final 62 green flag laps and take the checkered flag. Waltrip would protest, but NASCAR ruled Bodine the winner. The next day’s Charlotte Observer cited sources that said NASCAR officials admitted they made a “judgement call … one that can’t be changed.”

“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Bodine said according to the Observer. “I didn’t think it would take this long and I got impatient. … Now I can say I know I can beat them ’cause I did it once before.”

Years later, Waltrip recalled petitioning Bill France Jr. to rule in his favor.

“I walk over to Bill and I’m almost on my knees,” Waltrip said. “‘Bill, he did not win this race and everybody in this garage area knows that.’ And Mr. France in his divine wisdom, took his cigarette out of his mouth, put his arm around me and he said, ‘DW, leave that boy alone. That’s the first race he’s ever won and you’re going to win a lot more races.”

Waltrip would fail to win in 1990, his first full-time season without a victory.

Also on this date:

1951: Marshall Teague won a race at the Arizona State Fairgrounds in Phoenix. In time trials for the race, driver Allen Heath flipped his car and suffered three broken ribs, a punctured lung and head injuries, resulting in him being taken to the hospital. According to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Beginning,” relief driver Chuck Meekins flipped on the second lap in almost the same spot as Heath and ended up in the same hospital room with Heath.

1962: Richard Petty won at Martinsville after leading 145 of 500 laps. The race marked the first start by Lee Petty since he suffered serious injuries in a crash in his Daytona 500 qualifying race in February 1961. He started and finished fifth. He would only make five more starts.

1979:  Richard Petty won at Martinsville, beating Buddy Baker for his first short-track win since 1975 at Bristol

2001: Bobby Hamilton won at Talladega for his fourth and final Cup Series victory. It was also the first Cup win for Andy Petree as an owner. Both his wins came in 2001.

NASCAR renames Cup championship trophy the Bill France Cup

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Starting this year, the winner of the Cup Series championship will be awarded the Bill France Cup, NASCAR announced Thursday.

The renamed trophy honors Bill France Sr., who founded NASCAR in 1947, as well as his son, Bill France Jr., who was the sanctioning body’s chief executive from 1972 to 2003.

“As the sport ushers in a new era, it’s fitting that my father’s name is associated with the highest mark of excellence in our sport,” said Jim France, NASCAR Chairman and CEO, in a press release. “My father and brother’s vision for NASCAR has been realized, many times over, as millions of fans follow and engage each week with the best racing in the world.”

The trophy will be given out on Nov. 8 at Phoenix Raceway.

Created by Jostens, the Bill France Cup, will maintain the size and shape of last year’s championship trophy and will feature outlines of the 24 Cup Series racetracks that comprise the 2020 season schedule. The trophy design will be updated as the race schedule evolves, and new tracks are introduced to Cup Series competition.

Dale Jr. Download: Richard Childress’ fighting advice: ‘Always take off your watch’

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Richard Childress learned a valuable lesson in the 1970s when it came to getting into a brawl. Take off your watch.

“We used to go out to the bars and have a good time and everything,” Childress recalled on this week’s Dale Jr. Download (airs today at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN). “We were up at an old bar at Daytona one night and a big fight broke out. I happened to be in it. I had a Rolex. First Rolex I ever had in my life. I lost it in that fight. Ever since that you always take your watch off.”

That creed is now synonymous with Childress thanks to a 2011 altercation with Kyle Busch.

But the buildup to that confrontation began the previous year in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“We were running for the (Cup) championship,” Childress said. “The 18 (Busch) was kind of holding Kevin (Harvick) up. Kevin wrecked him coming off of (Turn) 4.

“That night, hell, I was good friends with Kyle. We were eating at a place and him and I think his girlfriend at the time, this was before he got married, and a guy from Toyota was there. (Toyota) had won the (Truck) championship.”

Childress went over to congratulate them on the Truck championship.

“You know I’m going to wreck your car?” Busch said, according to Childress.

“What do you mean?” Childress asked.

“Kevin wrecked me today. I’m going to wreck your car,” Busch repeated.

“What you need to do is wreck his Xfinity car, don’t wreck my car,” Childress said.

Kevin Harvick wrecks in the 2011 Southern 500. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images for NASCAR)

“Nope, I got to do it in Cup,” Busch said, according to Childress.

That didn’t sit well with Childress.

“If you wreck my car I’m going to whip your ass,” he told Busch.

Six months later, Busch and Harvick were in a wreck in the closing laps at Darlington. The fallout spilled onto pit road, where Harvick reached into Busch’s car and Busch sped away, pushing Harvick’s car into the pit wall.

“So they carried us over in the (NASCAR) trailer,” Childress said. “Got on to all four of us. I think Joe (Gibbs) was in there. Kyle and me and Kevin. I just told them what I was going to do and I kept my word.”

Three race weekends later, Busch was upset by how RCR driver Joey Coulter raced him in the closing laps of the Truck Series event at Kansas Speedway. That led to Busch rubbing fenders with him on the cool down lap.

Afterward, a watchless Childress confronted Busch in the garage and put him in a headlock

During Childress’ visit to the Dale Jr. Download, he also recalled a feud from Dale Earnhardt’s heyday.

Childress doesn’t remember how the late 1980s rivalry between Earnhardt and Geoff Bodine started, but he’s sure of one thing.

“It was one of those deals where whatever he gave that guy, Bodine, he deserved,” Childress said. “It was one of them deals we didn’t want to be run over and they started it. In my opinion, he started it. Once it started, we wasn’t going to be the ones to give up. Mr. France helped us give up.”

“Mr. France” was Bill France, Jr., the president of NASCAR at the time who played a hand in diffusing the rivalry that inspired Cole Trickle and Rowdy Burns’ feud in the 1990 film, Days of Thunder.

“A lot of the story part was true,” Childress recalled. “But it didn’t all go down like that. I remember Bill France bringing us in there and telling us, ‘I want to see you guys running and if you have to run on each side of the race track, you’re not going to get together again.’ He said, ‘You’re not going to destroy our sport.'”

There is one detail about the film, which Childress has only seen once, that he took issue with.

“They had some fat guy doing me as the owner (actor Randy Quaid) and I didn’t like that,” Childress said.

Friday 5: A final quest at a ‘childhood dream’

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Elliott Sadler is blunt when he considers his NASCAR career ending without a championship.

“(It) would be a huge void in my life,” he said.

The 43-year-old driver, in his 22nd and final full-time NASCAR season, makes his last run at an Xfinity title beginning with tonight’s playoff opener at Richmond Raceway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

Four times in the last seven years Sadler finished runner-up for the Xfinity crown, including last season when he lost the title in the final laps to JR Motorsports teammate William Byron.

“Last year really hurt,” Sadler said. “Really, really hurt. We were in position to win that championship. I don’t know if I’m 100 percent over it yet.”

Sadler was upset last year with Ryan Preece, who slowed Sadler by challenging him for position as Sadler tried to hold off Byron with 10 laps left. Byron got by Sadler. Any hopes Sadler had for a title ended when he made contact with Preece’s car and cut a right front tire. 

Sadler’s anger bubbled after the race and he yelled at Preece on pit road as NASCAR officials stood between them.

Sadler, who competed full-time in Cup from 1999-2010, has called it a “childhood dream” to win a NASCAR championship.

“If we’re not able to win a championship, it would definitely be a scar in my mind of not being a NASCAR champion after putting 20 years of effort into it, after being a kid and a fan and dreaming of being a part of this sport,” he said. “Now, that will not define me as a dad or define me as a person. I’ll still be able, hopefully, to do good things in my community, but it will definitely leave a mark.”

Before he gets to that point, he will have to get through his final race at his home track tonight. Richmond Raceway will honor the Emporia, Virginia, native by having Sadler’s children help with the command to start engines.

Even better for him would be going to Victory Lane with his family. Sadler has never won at Richmond in 56 starts in Cup, Xfinity and Trucks. Asked to recall his biggest moment at the track, he instantly brings up the 2005 Xfinity race when Carl Edwards bumped him out of the lead on the last lap to win.

“I’m probably more nervous about going to Richmond, trying to win the race than I am trying to make it to Homestead,” Sadler said.

When the season ends in two months, don’t expect to see Sadler at the track often in the future.

“I don’t see myself involved in any racing at all,” Sadler said of his post-driving career. “I’ve been offered a job to come do TV, but I don’t see traveling away from home to talk about racing.”

Instead he’ll coach youth sports teams.

“My dad was a huge coach growing up,” Sadler said. “My brother is a wonderful coach and I’ve been doing it for 15 years. I love it. We’re at the facility every night hopefully changing kids’ lives. It would be hard for me to do both at 100 percent. It’s not really that I’m retiring from racing, I’m retiring to coaching and to my kids.”

2. What might have been

Jimmie Johnson has witnessed how fine a line it is between winning and finishing in the pack the past two weeks.

At Indianapolis and Las Vegas, Johnson ran with Brad Keselowski during parts of those races only to see Keselowski win both and Johnson finish far behind.

After the end of stage 2 at Indianapolis, Keselowski was 16th and Johnson was 17th. About 30 laps later, Keselowski was third and Johnson fifth. Keselowski went on to win and Johnson finished 16th.

At Las Vegas, Keselowski was sixth and Johnson seventh with just over 100 laps left. Keselowski won. Johnson was headed for a top-five finish before contact late in the race with Kurt Busch’s car cut a tire and forced Johnson to pit. Johnson finished 22nd.

Keselowski has said that he has not had the fastest car in each of the three races he’s won heading into Saturday night’s race at Richmond (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN). Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports team seek to perform the way Keselowski’s team has.

“Drivers make mistakes,” Johnson said. “Pit stops can go wrong. Unfortunate racing luck can happen. To get all of that to rise together, it takes a little bit of time. We have made a nice jump in speed. I still think we have some room to go there, but now we need to execute on all levels and take advantages of those opportunities that (Keselowski) has.”

While the team seeks to find that speed and execute, Johnson has gone winless in a career-long 50 races.

“I’ve been in a deeper hole before, my own personal experiences in motorsports,” Johnson said, referring to early in his career in off-road racing and then in NASCAR when he “risked it all” and moved to North Carolina to pursue a career in stock car racing.

“I didn’t have as big a spotlight on me and wasn’t a seven-time champion, so nobody really remembers those except me. So I know I will get through this. I’ve been through worse.

“We are moving the right direction. I believe we have hit the valley and are climbing back out.”

He’ll need to do so to advance to the next round of the playoffs. Johnson enters Richmond six points behind teammate Alex Bowman for the final cutoff spot to the second round.

3. Cole Custer’s self-assessment

With no driver announced for the No. 41 Cup car next year at Stewart-Haas Racing, it was easy for some to think that Cole Custer could move up to that ride.

Car owner Gene Haas seemed to quell such talk last weekend at Las Vegas. While saying he believes Custer “is a good talent,” Haas said of the young driver: “He needs to prove that he can win consistently in Xfinity before I think we’ll consider him for a Cup ride.”

Custer has one Xfinity victory in 64 career series starts. He’s placed second or third in five races this season.

So where does Custer believe he needs to improve?

“I think there are little things that I can do better,” he said. “Having the Cup experience this year has helped me with what happens in that series.

“I think for the most part I have speed every single weekend (in Xfinity). It’s just a matter getting the restarts right and working traffic better and controlling the race when you have the fastest car.”

Custer, who is in the Xfinity playoffs, also will run in Saturday’s Cup race. He’ll drive the No. 51 for Rick Ware Racing. It will be Custer’s third career Cup start.

4. Going for 4 in a row

Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon are the only drivers to win four consecutive Cup races in the last 20 years. That’s the feat Brad Keselowski will seek to equal Saturday night at Richmond.

Since NSACAR’s modern era (1972), eight drivers have won four consecutive races: Cale Yarborough (1976), Darrell Waltrip (1981), Dale Earnhardt (1987), Harry Gant (1991), Bill Elliott (1992), Mark Martin (1993), Gordon (1998) and Johnson (2007).

5. NASCAR’s 5th President

Steve Phelps will become the fifth president in NASCAR’s history on Oct. 1.

Bill France Sr. held the position from 1948-72. Bill France Jr. took over from his father until 2000. Mike Helton was in that role from 2000-2015 before he was promoted to Vice Chairman of NASCAR.

The president’s position was not filled after Helton’s promotion until Brent Dewar took over that role July 13, 2017. Phelps is replacing Dewar, who will remain with NASCAR through the end of the season and transition to a senior consulting and advisory role in 2019.

Phelps will oversee all competition and business operations for the sanctioning body in his new role.

He has been more visible at races lately and presented Kyle Busch the regular-season champion’s trophy at two weeks ago at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

In January, Phelps, as NASCAR’s chief global sales and marketing officer at the time, was thrust into the controversy about how NASCAR marketed younger drivers after Busch complained about the tactics and Clint Bowyer raised questions about the sanctioning body’s actions.

In July, Phelps defended the sport’s ability to attract sponsors.

“I think there’s a misconception out there that sponsorship in NASCAR is not doing well, and that’s not true,” he said at Pocono Raceway during an announcement that Gander Mountain will sponsor the Truck Series beginning in 2019. “We have more sponsors in this sport today than we’ve ever had. We’ve got almost half the Fortune 100, almost a third of the Fortune 500. It’s a lot of large companies who are in the sport not because it would be really cool to go racing. It’s because it works.

“So people tend to focus on, ‘Oh, my gosh, sponsor A left and sponsor B left,’ and for us, it’s like, ‘Okay, well, C, D, E and F also came on board as brand new sponsors.’ And then a plethora of others have renewed or extended for a period of time.

“I think this industry tends to focus on the negative. I’m not really sure why.”

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