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NASCAR Hall of Fame reduces class size, alters how nominees are considered

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Starting with the class of 2021, the NASCAR Hall of Fame will reduce the number of people it inducts each year and change how nominees are considered, NASCAR announced Wednesday

The number of inductees will be reduced from five to three. Potential nominees will be split into two ballots – one for contemporary stars and one for the sport’s pioneers. Two contemporary stars will be inducted each year along with one from the pioneer category.

Next year’s class will bring the total members of the Hall of Fame to 58.

The existing Nomination Committee will provide 10 nominees for the Modern Era Ballot.

Competitors are eligible for the Modern Era Ballot if their career started within the past 60 years (1961 for Class of 2021). Nominees can stay on the Modern Era Ballot for up to 10 years. Those whose careers began more than 60 years ago or who have been on the Modern Era Ballot for 10 years will be eligible for the Pioneer Ballot.

A new Honors Committee – largely comprised of all living Hall of Famers, Landmark Award winners and Squier-Hall Award winners – will evaluate and provide five nominees for the Pioneer Ballot. The Voting Panel will meet May 20 in Charlotte to debate and vote for the three-member Class of 2021 – two from the Modern Era Ballot and one from the Pioneer Ballot. All three are inducted equally, there will be no distinction between inductees from either ballot.

Twelve representatives from the Honors Committee, including seven new voters – Richard Childress, Rick Hendrick, Ron Hornaday Jr., Dale Jarrett, Roger Penske, Darrell Waltrip and Rusty Wallace – will serve on the Voting Panel.

Changes have also been made to crew chief eligibility to align it with driver eligibility. In addition to the requirement to participate in NASCAR for 10 years, crew chiefs must now also be retired for two years. Competitors with 30 years NASCAR experience and those aged 55 or higher are also eligible.

“When we opened the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2010, we had to catch up on more than 60 years of NASCAR history,” said NASCAR President Steve Phelps said in a press release. “Our plan has always been to evaluate the process as the Hall of Fame matured. With 55 of the sport’s greatest competitors enshrined, we felt the time was right to move to three inductees which will help maintain the high standard of enshrinement that’s been set.”

Said Winston Kelley, the Hall of Fame’s director: “From the time I first learned of the selection process NASCAR developed in 2009 and through the evolutions implemented as we gained valuable experience, I have been a huge proponent of our process. I feel our process is as strong as any Hall of Fame, sport and entertainment alike. I am equally enthusiastic about these changes to our process and concur wholeheartedly that now is the right time to transition to fewer inductees and establish a process dedicated to NASCAR’s iconic pioneers.”

Tony Stewart sprint car racing game launches Feb. 14

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Five days after he was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, it was revealed that Tony Stewart is getting his own video game.

Monster Games, a former developer of the NASCAR Heat series, has partnered with the three time Cup champion to produce “Tony Stewart’s Sprint Car Racing,” which will be released digitally on the XBox One and PlayStation 4 on Feb. 14 and sold for $30.

The game will feature 410 Winged Sprint Cars and TQ Midgets from the All Star Circuit of Champions, the dirt racing series Stewart owns. Players will also be able to race 305 Wingless Sprint Cars.

The game’s career mode will allow players to work their way up through the ranks of each series, racing on 24 unique dirt tracks. Multiplayer allows 25-player online races.

Along with Stewart, you will be able to play as Aaron Reutzel, defending champion of the All Star Circuit of Champions.

“I’m really excited to partner with Monster Games on this opportunity,” Stewart said in a press release. “The team has done a great job of capturing the sport, and putting it in the hands of any fan who wants to pick up the game and have a lot of fun playing it. With the quick-hitting action of sprint car racing, the qualifying, the heat races, and all events leading to the A-main, it’s really the perfect experience for a video game and I’m excited to be a part of it.”

Bobby Labonte gets last-minute help from brother at Hall of Fame induction

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Terry Labonte wasn’t supposed to be the man who would induct his little brother into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Friday night.

Bobby Labonte had given that honor to their father, Bob, the man who helped start both their racing careers in their home state of Texas and eventually owned Bobby’s Xfinity Series car when he won the 1991 championship.

But when the time came for the 2000 Cup Series champion to be inducted as part of the Hall of Fame’s 11th class – with Tony Stewart, Waddell Wilson, Buddy Baker and his former team owner Joe Gibbs – it was Terry, his older brother by eight years and a fellow Hall of Famer who welcomed him into NASCAR’s elite fraternity.

“My dad was going to and when we got down here today he didn’t feel like he could, he didn’t feel comfortable doing it,” Terry Labonte told NBC Sports. “I was happy to. (Bobby) turned to me and said, ‘You wanna do it?’ I said. ‘Ok.'”

It was the latest memorable moment the brothers have shared in their NASCAR careers.

When Bobby claimed his first of 21 Cup Series wins in the 1995 Coca-Cola 600, his older brother finished second.

A year later, when Terry won his second Cup championship in the season finale at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Bobby won the race. Afterward, the brothers shared a victory lap around the track.

When Terry handed his brother his Hall of Fame ring Friday night, Bobbly quietly slipped him a $20 bill before telling the audience, “You didn’t see that.”

The purpose of that transaction?

One brother paying off another for not embarrassing him.

“I told him, ‘Alright, I’m going to tell stories on you here unless you pay me,” Terry told NBC Sports. “I’ll stick to the script (if) you pay me,’ so he paid me.”

The brotherly moments didn’t end there. In the middle of his speech, Bobby surprised Terry by informing the audience that he was wearing the same red tie his brother wore during his induction into the Hall of Fame in 2016.

Terry Labonte during his 2016 Hall of Fame induction, wearing the same tie Bobby Labonte would wear for his induction four years later. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/NASCAR via Getty Images)

“I knew nothing about it,” Terry said. “My wife (Kimberly) brought it down for him. So he wore the tie. He can’t tie ties, so it was still tied from last year I guess.”

Bobby joked that he chose the tie because it was “cheap,” before revealing the real sentimental reason behind the wardrobe choice.

“The way that I structured my speech and because, my brother like I said, there’s a picture (from 1966) I posted on social media, I’m 2 years old, he’s winning a race, my dad’s sitting behind us wrenching the car. I’ve always wanted to be like my brother. I’ve always admired him and what he’s done. I just thought it was kind of funny to do the tie thing. So I asked Kim to bring it and she it brought it down here. Of course he looked at it and I (asked) him, ‘Did you know this was your tie?’

“He said ‘I had no idea.’

“He leaves stuff at my house all the time and he just leaves it and I give it back to him as a gift. It’s really cool. I just did it because I thought it was fun. But it meant a lot to me just for the fact that it seemed like that was a fitting thing for me as a little brother.”

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2020 NASCAR Hall of Fame induction ceremony honors new class

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The latest five-member class will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame tonight and the ceremony will air on NBCSN at 8 p.m. ET.

The class is headlined by three-time Cup champion Tony Stewart, who will be inducted with his former owner Joe Gibbs and former JGR teammate Bobby Labonte.

Here is a look at the five men who will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Tony Stewart

Stewart, AKA “Smoke,” retired from full-time Cup competition after the 2016 season, taking with him three Cup titles (2002, 2005 and 2011) and 49 Cup wins. On top of that, he has 55 Cup wins and two titles as co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing, which he left Joe Gibbs Racing for in 2009. Stewart’s three wins in his rookie Cup season in 1999 made him the first rookie to win in Cup since Davey Allison in 1987.

Among Stewart’s 49 Cup wins were two victories in the Brickyard 400 at his home track of Indianapolis Motor Speedway. A former IRL champion, Stewart is one of four drivers to attempt “The Double” of competing in the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 in the same day, doing so in 1999 and 2001.

Joe Gibbs

Former head coach of the Washington Redskins, Gibbs will be inducted into the Hall of Fame 28 years after Joe Gibbs Racing first hit the track with Dale Jarrett in the 1992 Cup season. JGR has earned five Cup titles since, including last year with Kyle Busch, and 176 Cup wins, the first coming in the 1993 Daytona 500 with Jarrett.

With 341 wins in Cup and Xfinity, JGR is the winningest organization in NASCAR national series history. Gibbs is the latest active team owner to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, joining Richard Petty, Rick Hendrick, Roger Penske, Jack Roush, Richard Childress and Leonard Wood.

Bobby Labonte

The younger brother of Hall of Famer Terry Labonte, Bobby Labonte ended his NASCAR career with the 2000 Cup title (Gibbs’ first) and the 1991 Xfinity Series title. He was the first of four drivers to win championships in both series.

Labonte earned 21 Cup wins, including the Brickyard 400 and Southern 500 in 2000. His first win came in the 1995 Coca-Cola 600.

Buddy Baker

A driver turned broadcaster, Baker made his first Cup start in 1959 and his last in 1992. In-between, he claimed 19 wins, including three in the Coke 600, the 1980 Daytona 500 and the 1970 Southern 500.

In 1980, he became the first driver to eclipse the 200-mph mark on a closed course while testing at Talladega Superspeedway. Upon his retirement, Baker transitioned into TV, serving as an analyst for TNN and CBS broadcasts and later as a co-host on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. Baker died in 2015 from lung cancer.

Waddell Wilson

A talented engine builder and crew chief, Wilson built the engines for the cars that won three Cup titles, two for David Pearson and one for Benny Parsons.

As crew chief, he won the Daytona 500 three times, with Baker (1980) and Cale Yarborough (1983-84).

If you can’t catch the induction on TV, watch 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 8 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Will Dale Earnhardt Jr. be on the next NASCAR Hall of Fame ballot?

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CHARLOTTE – Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a well-established devotee of racing lore.

But on the eve of the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s 11th class being inducted Friday, he is trying to avoid pondering something historic.

That he could be a part of its 12th class next year.

“It’s hard not to think about it, but that’s as far as I let myself go,” Earnhardt said. “I try not to get too wrapped up in it.

“I follow a lot of guys on social media that are passionate about the history of the sport even more so than I am, and there’s a lot of guys that belong in the Hall of Fame that probably should go in there before me. And my feelings about that are if I ever get in, I’ll be very honored. I hope that may happen one day.”

It’ll happen Friday for Tony Stewart, Joe Gibbs, Bobby Labonte, Waddell Wilson and the late Buddy Baker as the 2020 class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame formally is enshrined at the Charlotte Convention Center. The ceremony will be broadcast live on NBCSN at 8 p.m. ET.

The vote for the 2021 class likely will happen in May, and Earnhardt, who retired from full-time racing after the 2017 season to become an NBC Sports analyst, is eligible to be chosen among the 20 names on the ballot. According to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, drivers who have competed for at least 10 years and have been retired for two years are eligible for nomination.

The 2020 candidates, which are selected by a nominating committee next month, should be announced by mid-March. Among recently retired big-name drivers, Jeff Gordon and Stewart both were candidates in their first year of eligibility. Carl Edwards, who left NASCAR after the 2016 season, didn’t make the nominee list last year.

A 15-time Most Popular Driver and two-time Xfinity champion with 26 Cup victories, Earnhardt has credentials that can match those of others who have been elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

But he lacks the on-track resumes of Gordon (four championships, 93 wins in Cup) and Stewart (three titles, 49 wins in Cup), both of whom were first-ballot selections.

The NASCAR Hall of Fame annually inducts the top five in voting from 20 candidates. Last year’s top three vote-getters outside the top five were Mike Stefanik, Ray Fox and Hershel McGriff.

The trio is likely to return for consideration this year along with the 12 others on the 2020 ballot who weren’t selected: Sam Ard, Neil Bonnett, Red Farmer, Harry Gant, John Holman, Harry Hyde, Ralph Moody, Marvin Panch, Jim Paschal, Larry Phillips, Ricky Rudd and Red Vogt.

Votes are cast by a panel of more than 50 that includes NASCAR executives, track owners, media members, manufacturer representatives and the reigning Cup Series champion (Kyle Busch), as well as an online fan vote.

“I’m certainly young enough to wait it out if I need to, and there’s a lot of guys in our sport that belong in there, and there’s only so many that get inducted each year,” said the 45-year-old Earnhardt, whose late seven-time champion father was among the inaugural class in 2010. “There’s just so much history in our sport that should be acknowledged and appreciated and will be, so it’s got to be tough as someone who’s having to vote for who goes in.

“That’s got to be some of the toughest decisions to make that decision on who’s going to get there.”

He addressed his Hall of Fame prospects while attending a Jan. 15 news conference at the Uptown Charlotte shrine, which recently unveiled a new Glory Road exhibit that features 18 championship cars chosen by Earnhardt.

NASCAR Hall of Fame executive director Winston Kelley said Earnhardt was selected because of his appreciation of stock-car history. Earnhardt recently helped spearhead a project to map defunct North Wilkesboro Speedway for iRacing gamers, and he has an upcoming program about vanished racetracks slated for the Peacock streaming service.

One of his first forays into TV production was a documentary show called “Back in the Day” that celebrated classic NASCAR races and footage.

“I do love to be acknowledged for the passion that I have for the history,” said Earnhardt, whose favorite era is the 1970s. “If you’re a bit of a historian of the sport, any involvement in anything the Hall of Fame is going to be doing is awesome and going to be a great experience.”