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Friday 5: Questions about size of future Hall of Fame classes

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After NASCAR celebrates the ninth Hall of Fame class tonight (8 p.m. ET on NBCSN), questions may soon arise about how many inductees should be honored annually.

NASCAR inducts five people each year. When NASCAR announced eligibility changes in 2013, a former series executive said that the sanctioning body would “give strong consideration” to if five people should be inducted each year and if there should be a veteran’s committee “after the 10th class is seated.’’

The 10th class — which Jeff Gordon will be eligible for and expected to headline— will be selected later this year and honored in 2019. That gives NASCAR a year to determine what changes to make if officials follow the schedule mentioned in 2013. NASCAR has discussed different scenarios as part of its examination of the Hall of Fame.

Among the questions NASCAR could face is should no more than three people be inducted a year? Should only nominees who receive a specific percentage of the vote be inducted? Should other methods be considered in determining who enters the Hall? 

Only one of the last five classes had all five inductees selected on at least 50 percent of the ballots. Five people in the last three classes each received less than 50 percent of the vote.

The challenge is that if NASCAR reduced the number of people inducted after the Class of 2019, it could create a logjam in the coming years.

Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards (provided Edwards does not return to run a significant number of races) would be eligible for the Class of 2020.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth (provided Kenseth does not return to run a significant number of races) would be eligible for the Class of 2021.

Stewart would appear to be a lock for his year and it seems likely Earnhardt would make it as well his first year.

If the Hall of Fame classes were cut to three a year, and Stewart, Earnhardt and Kenseth each were selected in those two years, that would leave three spots during that time for others.

The nominees for this year’s class included former champions Bobby Labonte and Alan Kulwicki, crew chief Harry Hyde (56 wins, 88 poles) and Waddell Wilson (22 wins, 32 poles), car owners Roger Penske, Jack Roush and Joe Gibbs and Cup drivers Buddy Baker, Davey Allison and Ricky Rudd.

A 2019 Class that might feature Jeff Gordon, Harry Hyde, Buddy Baker and two others would still leave some worthy candidates who might not make it for a couple of years if the number of inductees is reduced.

Of course, there are those who haven’t been nominated that some would suggest should be, including Smokey Yunick, Humpy Wheeler, Buddy Parrott, Kirk Shelmerdine, Neil Bonnett, Harry Gant and Tim Richmond. That could further jumble who makes it if the number of inductees is reduced.

Those are just some of the issues NASCAR could face as it examines if any changes need to be made.

2. Hall of Fame Classes and vote totals

Note: NASCAR did not release vote totals for the inaugural class (2010 with Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Junior Johnson, Bill France Sr., and Bill France Jr.). Below are the other classes with the percent of ballots each inductee was on:

2018 Class

Robert Yates (94 percent)

Red Byron (74 percent)

Ray Evernham (52 percent)

Ken Squier (40 percent)

Ron Hornaday Jr. (38 percent)

2017 Class

Benny Parsons (85 percent)

Rick Hendrick (62 percent)

Mark Martin (57 percent)

Raymond Parks (53 percent)

Richard Childress (43 percent)

2016 Class

Bruton Smith (68 percent)

Terry Labonte (61 percent)

Curtis Turner (60 percent)

Jerry Cook (47 percent)

Bobby Isaac (44 percent)

2015 Class

Bill Elliott (87 percent)

Wendell Scott (58 percent)

Joe Weatherly (53 percent)

Rex White (43 percent)

Fred Lorenzen (30 percent)

2014 Class

Tim Flock (76 percent)

Maurice Petty (67 percent)

Dale Jarrett (56 percent)

Jack Ingram (53 percent)

Fireball Roberts (51 percent)

2013 Class

Herb Thomas (57 percent)

Leonard Wood (57 percent)

Rusty Wallace (52 percent)

Cotten Owens (50 percent)

Buck Baker (39 percent)

2012 Class

Cale Yarborough (85 percent)

Darrell Waltrip (82 percent)

Dale Inman (78 percent)

Richie Evans (50 percent)

Glen Wood (44 percent)

2011 Class

David Pearson (94 percent)

Bobby Allison (62 percent)

Lee Petty (62 percent)

Ned Jarrett (58 percent)

Bud Moore (45 percent)

3. Charter Switcheroo

Five charters have changed hands since last season. One will be with its third different team in the three years of the charter system.

In 2016, Premium Motorsports leased its charter to HScott Motorsports so the No. 46 team of Michael Annett could use it.

The charter was returned after that season, and Premium Motorsports sold the charter to Furniture Row Racing for the No. 77 car of Erik Jones for 2017.

With Jones moving to Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing not finding enough sponsorship to continue the team, the charter was sold to JTG Daugherty for the No. 37 team of Chris Buescher for this season. (The No. 37 team had leased a charter from Roush Fenway Racing last year).

So that will make the third different team the charter, which originally belonged to Premium Motorsports, has been with since the system was created.

4. Dodge and NASCAR?

Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne excited fans when he said in Dec. 2016 about Dodge that “it is possible we can come back to NASCAR.’’

One report last year stated that Dodge decided not to return to NASCAR, and another countered that report.

While questions remain on if Dodge will return to NASCAR, Marchionne announced this week at the Detroit Auto Show that he’ll step down next year, and that Fiat Chrysler will release a business plan in June that will go through 2022. The company will announce a successor to Marchionne sometime after that.

Marchionne said, according to The Associated Press, that the U.S. tax cuts passed in December are worth $1 billion annually to Fiat Chrysler.

A Wall Street Journal story this week stated that Fiat Chrysler makes most of its profit from its Jeep and Ram brands, writing that those brands “have been on a roll as U.S. buyers shift to these kinds of light trucks and away from sedans, which is a segment the company has largely abandoned.’’

5. NMPA Hall of Fame

The National Motorsports Hall of Fame will induct four people into its Hall of Fame on Sunday night. Those four will be drivers Terry Labonte and Donnie Allison and crew chiefs Jake Elder and Buddy Parrott.

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Report: Dodge’s return to Cup likely dead

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As NASCAR courts new manufacturers, a return by Dodge to the Cup Series reportedly is off the table.

In a story posted Friday afternoon on The Drive.com website, longtime automotive journalist Steven Cole Smith reported that Dodge executives had decided NASCAR was “too complex and, more importantly, too expensive” after researching the project since Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne declared his interest last December. Fiat Chrysler is the parent company for Dodge.

During a Ferrari event at Daytona International Speedway, Marchionne said “it is possible we can come back to NASCAR” after meeting with NASCAR vice chairman Jim France and board member Lesa France Kennedy.

Dodge and NASCAR executives met in January in Detroit at the North American International Auto Show (where Toyota unveiled its 2018 production and racing Camry). A few weeks later, Roush Yates Engines CEO Doug Yates it would be feasible for Dodge to be back in Cup by 2018 because of its existing engine architecture from its final season in 2012 (when it won the championship with Brad Keselowski).

But there hadn’t been many rumblings about Dodge in NASCAR since shortly after 2017 Speedweeks, though manufacturer involvement in NASCAR remains a hot topic. Last week, Keselowski said “adding another manufacturer is the most important thing that we could do to this sport right now.”

Senior vice president and chief racing development officer Steve O’Donnell told SiriusXM Radio this week that NASCAR aggressively was pursuing new automakers in ongoing conversations. “It’s a tough process,” he said. “There’s a lot to consider doing this, but that is a huge goal for the sport right now.”

 

NASCAR ‘aggressively pursuing’ new manufacturers

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NASCAR is in “aggressive conversations” with manufacturers to join the sport, Steve O’Donnell told “The Morning Drive’’ on Monday.

“We are aggressively pursuing new (manufacturers),’’ O’Donnell said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio without divulging details. “We want to make sure that they come in similar to how Toyota did and it’s really changed the sport. They’ve done a tremendous job and really helped the industry.

“Those conversations are ongoing. It’s a tough process. There’s a lot to consider doing this, but that is a huge goal for the sport right now.’’

Toyota was the last manufacturer to move to the Monster Energy Cup Series, joining in 2007. Toyota debuted in NASCAR’S Goody Dash Series in 2000 and moved to the Truck series in 2004 before going to Cup and Xfinity three years later.

Toyota won its first Cup title in 2015 with Kyle Busch and Joe Gibbs Racing.

The Cup series last had four manufacturers in 2012 with Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford and Toyota. Dodge left the sport after that season, going out with Brad Keselowski and Team Penske winning the Cup title for the manufacturer. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne told reporters in December that he thought the Dodge brand, owned by Chrysler, possibly could return to NASCAR but didn’t give any timetable.

Talk of manufacturers come as Keselowski stated last week on “Race Hub” on Fox Sports 1 that adding a fourth manufacturer is the “most important things that we could do to this sport right now. … Everyone wins with the increased competition, the increased investment and the return to our fans and to the sport in general.’’

After crashing Saturday night at Kentucky Speedway, Keselowski was vocal about the car design, saying that changes need to be made.

“It is time for the sport to design a new car that is worthy of where this sport deserves to be and the show it deserves to put on for its fans,’’ he said.

O’Donnell said he was “disappointed” in Keselowski’s comments about the current car.

“My immediate (reaction) is that Brad Keselowski had input on this rules package,’’ O’Donnell said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Monday. “I think he was frustrated. He had a tough night, and the cars are supposed to be hard to drive. These are the best drivers in the world. You’ve got one of the best seasons we’ve had in a while in the terms of different winners. I’d chalk that up with frustration, heat of the moment, but it’s something we always work on improving the racing.

“Brad is a leader of our sport. Understand heat of the moment but definitely disappointing to see that because I think you’ve got to take the entire context and that’s more of our job. You can’t react just to one event, obviously, unless it’s a safety thing where you’ve got to make an immediate change. For us it’s balancing what we’ve seen over the entirety of the year to so far.’’

O’Donnell said last week on the NASCAR on NBC podcast with Nate Ryan that NASCAR would meet with team owners this month to begin working on the long-term strategy for the Gen 7 car, which could make its debut in two to four years.

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Could Dodge be ready to return to NASCAR by 2018? Doug Yates believes so

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A top NASCAR engine builder said Tuesday morning on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that Dodge could race the Daytona 500 in 2018 “if they really wanted to be there.”

In an interview on “The Morning Drive” with hosts Pete Pistone and Lee Spencer, Roush Yates Engines CEO and president Doug Yates said Dodge retains a relevant for blueprint for a Cup Series engine from five years ago. The manufacturer exited NASCAR after winning the 2012 championship with Brad Keselowski.

“Obviously, I’m not as close on the car and other aspects, but from an engine perspective, the engine they had in 2012, we had the same FR9 engines racing then,” Yates said. “Obviously, there (have) been many years of development in between, and they would have some catching up to do, but the base engine is probably OK.”

In December at Daytona International Speedway, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne told reporters he thought the Dodge brand (owned by Chrysler) possibly could return to NASCAR. Marchionne said he had dinner with NASCAR vice chairman Jim France and International Speedway Corp. CEO Lesa France Kennedy. The Drive reported that NASCAR and Dodge executives met at the Detroit Auto Show earlier this month.

“We are in a different place now,” Marchionne said in December. “I think it is possible we can come back to NASCAR. I think we need to find the right way to come back in, but I agreed with both Jim and Lesa we would come back to the issue.”

There are major hurdles to clear for Dodge to return. Fiat Chrysler could face EPA sanctions for diesel emissions and accompanying massive fines, and its year-over-year U.S. sales for light cars and trucks fell 10 percent in December.

The manufacturer also would need to either find a new or existing team partner and shoulder some massive startup costs.

Yates said his company will build about 750 Cup engines this year and employs 200 (including 30 added this year with the addition of Stewart-Haas Racing to Ford Performance). Its machine shop is certified to build parts on par with aerospace-level technology.

“If you were to start anew, it would take two to three years to design, manufacture, develop and release an engine” for Cup, Yates said. “To build the infrastructure that you need, such as what we have here. Obviously, we have lots of teams and a new manufacturer may not have as many teams. But there are a lot of processes and things you go through to build an engine and engine company.

“But if you’re someone like Dodge that has an engine already, I think that you can get to the track pretty fast.”

Yates said he welcome the addition of a new manufacturer in NASCAR’s premier series, which currently has Ford, Chevrolet and Toyota.

“We may lose some customers over that, but from an overall sports perspective, I think another manufacturer would be very healthy,” he said. “Obviously I care deeply about NASCAR and the success of the sport is success for all of us, and that’s what we all want.”

Report: Chrysler CEO: ‘Possible we can come back to NASCAR’ after 2012 departure

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During the Ferrari Finali Mondiali at Daytona International Speedway, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO Sergio Marchionne told The Daytona-Beach News Journal he thinks “it is possible we can come back to NASCAR.”

Chrysler owns the Dodge brand, which left NASCAR’s top three series following the 2012 season after having returned to the sport in 2001. The departure came right after Brad Keselowski and Team Penske won Dodge a Cup championship.

Currently, only Ford, Chevrolet and Toyota are in NASCAR’s top circuits, though some small Xfinity Series teams still use old Dodge bodies and the NASCAR Pinty’s Series is still supported by Dodge.

Marchionne told the News Journal he met with NASCAR vice-chairman Jim France and International Speedway Inc. CEO Lesa France Kennedy Saturday night and discussed the possibility of Dodge returning to the NASCAR fold.

“We are in a different place now,” Marchionne said, also noting it was his decision to leave the sport after the financial crisis that began in 2008. “I think it is possible we can come back to NASCAR. I think we need to find the right way to come back in, but I agreed with both Jim and Lesa we would come back to the issue.”

Dodge won 57 races in the Cup series from 2001-2012.

NASCAR spokesperson David Higdon said in regards to the report: “There is increasing excitement around NASCAR. We continue to have on-going dialogue with a number of auto manufacturers about their interest in joining our sport. We look forward to exploration with them on this topic.”

Click here for the Daytona Beach News Journal’s full report.