Photo: Dustin Long

Long: Enjoy a trip back in time tonight, but the future beckons

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DARLINGTON, S.C. — For a few hours Sunday night, NASCAR transforms itself into the image many fans have from when they started following the sport.

For longtime fans, Clint Bowyer’s No. 14 reminds them of the car Ned Jarrett drove to his dominating 1965 Southern 500 win.  For others with less gray hair, William Byron’s No. 24 brings back memories of Jeff Gordon in a rainbow-colored car, and Austin Dillon’s ride recalls the time Dale Earnhardt shocked fans by driving a silver No. 3 in the 1995 All-Star Race. For new fans, there’s Martin Truex Jr.’s No. 78, which harkens back to March when he won at Auto Club Speedway, as crew chief Cole Pearn explained in a tongue-in-cheek tweet.

On a weekend that celebrates NASCAR’s past, it is the future that carries the discussion in and around the garage.

Many are guessing what is in the future for Truex, the reigning series champion, and Furniture Row Racing after 5-hour Energy announced in July it would not remain in NASCAR beyond this season. Some are convinced the team won’t race next year, others are convinced the team will be competing. Some just don’t know.

Truex said little about his future after qualifying third for tonight’s Southern 500 (6 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

“I’ve got no news,” Truex said.

What happens with the team and Truex likely will create a domino effect.

While many in the garage wait to see what happens, Kurt Busch says he’s got two offers for next season.

Those could be just the tip of a bevy of driver movements, with most of those happening with mid-tier teams or lower.

But those aren’t the only questions.

Jim France is again at the track this weekend. He’s the interim CEO and Chairman of NASCAR, but questions remain as to what NASCAR will do with its leadership and will it include Brian France.

NASCAR announced Aug. 6 that Brian France was taking a leave of absence after he was arrested by the Sag Harbor Village (New York) police and cited for aggravated driving while intoxicating and criminal possession of a controlled substance in the seventh degree. 

There also are questions about what next year will be like on the track. Rule discussions continue. NASCAR gave teams an outline of 2019 rules a month ago to ponder. There still seems to be an interest toward a package similar to what was run with at the All-Star Race but giving drivers greater throttle control.

Deals also are taking place in the garage as teams look to next year. Plans are being arranged for charters to switch teams after this season. Will anybody be left out in the movement or will somebody new move up to Cup and take a charter?

What will Toyota’s team lineup be next year? Yes, it will have Joe Gibbs Racing’s four Cup teams but who else? Will Leavine Family Racing join the fold as many expect? And, of course, there’s the status of Furniture Row Racing. A lot leads back to what car owner Barney Visser decides.

So enjoy tonight, the trip back to memory lane with the special paint schemes, crew uniforms and other stylish touches. The future – and answers to many of these questions – will be here soon enough.

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Cole Pearn explains throwback scheme for Martin Truex Jr.’s car

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While seven decades of NASCAR are being celebrated this weekend at Darlington Raceway and most teams have some sort of throwback scheme on their cars, one of the few cars that stands out without an obvious throwback look is the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing car of Martin Truex Jr.

Unlike previous throwback weekends at Darlington, there is no specific time period being highlighted. The throwback schemes vary from Clint Bowyer‘s car honoring Ned Jarrett’s 1965 win at the track to Jimmie Johnson‘s paint scheme that mirrors the 2012 car he drove to victory at this track for Hendrick Motorsports’ 200th Cup win.

Crew chief Cole Pearn had some fun on social media by explaining his team’s throwback look this weekend.

 

Clint Bowyer to honor Ned Jarrett with Darlington throwback scheme

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Clint Bowyer will honor Hall of Fame driver Ned Jarrett with his paint scheme for the Sept. 2 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

Fifty-three years ago Jarrett won the 1965 Southern 500 by 14 laps – and it is fitting that victory will be honored by the No. 14 car.

“Stewart-Haas Racing and the Carolina Ford Dealers got together and decided to honor someone who’s had such a huge influence in the sport, and we immediately thought of Ned Jarrett,” Bowyer said in a press release.

Bowyer will not have the same dominant performance as Jarrett did when he won his 49th and next-to-last Cup race. But just like in 1965, Bowyer knows that winning the Southern 500 is about conserving equipment.

“We ran well during the race and led some laps and then things began to turn our way in the last 100 miles or so,” Jarrett recalled of that hot summer day.

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Battling an overheating problem, the crew tried to call Jarrett into the pits.

“I knew we didn’t need to pit, but they knew the car was overheating, so I kept going because something told me stronger than the officials of Ford and my own pit crew that I needed to stay out there and keep going.”

Jarrett was correct and he went into the record books that afternoon with the biggest margin of victory in the history of NASCAR.

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Former NASCAR driver James Hylton, son killed in auto accident

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TALLADEGA, Ala. — James Hylton, the 1966 Cup rookie of the year, and his son were killed in an auto accident in Georgia, NASCAR confirmed Saturday afternoon.

Hylton was 83. His son James Harvey Hylton Jr. also was killed in the accident on I-85 in Franklin County, Georgia. No other details were available. Georgia State Patrol declined to provide details to NBC Sports about the incident, stating a report would be available Monday.

The Roanoke Times reported that Hylton and his son and crew chief Terry Strange were traveling back to South Carolina after Friday’s ARCA race at Talladega Superspeedway when the accident happened around 6 a.m. Saturday, according to Hylton’s ex-wife Evelyn Hylton.

MORE: Racing community reacts to death of James Hylton

She told The Roanoke Times that a police officer came to her door Saturday morning and informed her what happened.

“[The officer] said Terry … told them that he thought James was having a heart attack and he looked over at him and lost control of the truck and went across the median and then across the other lane of traffic and hit an embankment,” Evelyn Hylton said in a phone interview with The Roanoke Times. “The truck, towing a big trailer with a race car on it, thousands of pounds, you have to be really careful.”

NASCAR and ARCA issued a statement on Hylton’s death.

“Racing competitively in parts of six decades, James Hylton’s dedication, passion and longevity in motorsports is virtually unmatched. Hylton won the rookie of the year at NASCAR’s highest level, the 1972 race at Talladega Superspeedway and regularly contended for championships during the early years of his career. His racing influence continued into the ARCA series, where he competed as a driver and, most recently, a car owner. We have lost a truly special member of the racing family and a beloved figure among generations of competitors and race fans alike. We extend our deepest condolences to the Hylton family on the tragic loss of James Hylton and his son James Jr.”

Hylton was born on his family’s Virginia farm in 1934 and learned to drive on his father’s Ford Model T. During his motorsports career, he worked as a mechanic for NASCAR Hall of Famer Rex White and as a crew chief for Hall of Famer Ned Jarrett before becoming a driver.

Hylton, an independent driver, won two Cup races in 602 career starts. He won at Richmond in 1970 and at Talladega in 1972. He last drove in a Cup race in 1993 at Darlington Raceway. Hylton finished second in points in 1966, ’67 and ’71.

He made his NASCAR Premier Series debut in the 1964 Old Dominion 400 at Old Dominion Speedway in Manassas, Virginia. Hylton finished 19th in a 20-car field. Jarrett won that race and was among four NASCAR Hall of Famers in that race (David Pearson was second, Richard Petty was eighth and Wendell Scott was 18th).

Hylton made his first start in ARCA in 1986 and climbed out of the car for the final time in that series in 2013 after running the entire schedule. He competed in 175 ARCA races with a best finish of 14th three times. Hylton was a car owner in ARCA. Brad Smith finished 31st in Friday’s ARCA race at Talladega Superspeedway.

 

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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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