Ned Jarrett

Dale Jr. highlights NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2021

3 Comments

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.

***************

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

Cup Series Wednesday night racing factoids

Leave a comment

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we live in strange times.

It’s forced NASCAR to make seemingly unprecedented scheduling decisions that see the sport attempting to hold four Cup Series races in 11 days, with the second scheduled to take place tonight at Darlington. A third is set for Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway followed by another Charlotte race on May 27.

While this all seems new, such a compact schedule is simply a throwback to NASCAR’s past, which is appropriate for Darlington.

The last time the Cup Series had four races in 11 days was in 1971, the year before NASCAR’s Modern Era began. That season the Cup Series held 48 races.

From July 14-28, the series competed at Albany-Saratoga (N.Y) Speedway, Islip (N.Y) Speedway, Trenton (N.J.) Speedway and Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville, Tennessee. Richard Petty won all four races. Only Albany-Saratoga, a dirt track, and Fairgrounds Speedway still exist.

Should tonight’s Darlington race not be rained out, it would be the 34th Cup race held on a Wednesday, but the first since 1984.

That race was the July 4 event held at Daytona that Richard Petty won for his 200th career victory. The last Wednesday race held somewhere other than Daytona was the 1971 race at Albany-Saratoga.

Other Wednesday/Darlington racing factoids:

– Nineteen drivers have earned victories in races held on Wednesdays. Ten of them are members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

– The drivers with the most Wednesday victories are Richard Petty and Ned Jarrett with five each.

– This would be the first time that Darlington, Charlotte (May 27) and Martinsville (June 10) would host a Cup Series race on a Wednesday.

– The starting lineup of tonight’s race features an inversion of the top-20 finishers from Sunday’s race. Since 2000, the only driver to start a Darlington race from 15th-20th and win was Erik Jones in last year’s Southern 500 (he started 15th).

– Jones has yet to finish outside the top 10 in four Cup starts at Darlington

– Only three drivers in the Modern Era (since 1972) have earned their first Cup win at Darlington: Terry Labonte (1980), Lake Speed (1988) and Regan Smith (2011). Speed’s and Smith’s wins were their only Cup victories.

– In the Modern Era, Darlington has seen only three last-lap passes for the win. The last came in 2003 (Ricky Craven).

Kevin Harvick aware of ‘responsibility’ that comes with 50+ Cup wins

Leave a comment

Kevin Harvick entered another tier of excellence Sunday with his dominating NASCAR Cup Series victory at Darlington Raceway.

With his second career victory at the track “Too Tough To Tame,” the 44-year-old driver notched the 50th Cup Series win of his two-decade career.

That’s an achievement only 13 other Cup drivers – including two who are active – have reached. All 11 retired drivers who have reached the mark are in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

With the victory, Harvick joins competitors Jimmie Johnson (83 wins) and Kyle Busch (56) in the 50+ win club.

More than half of Harvick’s wins – 27 of them – have come since he joined Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014. He’s now tied with Junior Johnson and Ned Jarrett.

“I’m always very cautious in trying to analyze things that I do personally, just because I feel awkward doing that,” Harvick said Monday on NBCSN’s “Lunch Talk Live” with Mike Tirico. “But I think in this particular instance, when you talk about Ned Jarrett and Junior Johnson and those types of names, you have to kind of sit back. For me I almost have to pinch myself, because those are people that have had a major impact on our sport. So you hear those names, sometimes I sit back and try to ask myself, ‘Have you done what you needed to do in order to live up to the expectation of what those guys have done besides just winning 50 races?’

“There is a responsibility that comes with all that when you put yourself up next to names like that and for me that’s a good reminder of making sure that you take seriously the responsibility of trying to make the sport better and move it forward, because that’s what those names have done and they’re icons in our sport and I’m personally holding myself responsible to try to come close to living up to those expectations.”

The last time the Cup Series boasted three active drivers with 50+ wins was the 2001 Daytona 500, the weekend before Harvick’s debut.

In the field that day were Dale Earnhardt Sr., Jeff Gordon and Rusty Wallace. Earnhardt had 76 wins and Gordon and Wallace had joined the 50-win club within three weeks of each other the previous season.

Earnhardt’s death in a crash on the last lap of the Daytona 500 resulted in Harvick being promoted by Richard Childress Racing to take his place the following weekend at Rockingham. He’d earn his first Cup win in his third start, beating Gordon in a photo finish at Atlanta.

With Johnson set to retire from full-time Cup racing after this season, the active 50-win club will be back to two drivers relatively quickly.

Harvick might be the last driver to enter the 50-win tier in the Cup Series for at least a few years.

The next active driver on the all-time wins list is Denny Hamlin. Hamlin, 39, sits at 38 victories following his win in the Daytona 500 in February. He’s won seven times over the last two seasons after going winless in 2018.

Behind Hamlin is Kurt Busch (31 wins) and Brad Keselowski (30 wins). Busch, 41, is in his 20th full-time Cup season and hasn’t had a season with more than one victory since 2015.

Keselowski, 36, has been winning at a consistent rate the last four seasons, winning at least three times each year since 2016. If he kept that pace up, he’d need another six to seven seasons to reach 50.

Long: A day unlike any other in NASCAR

Leave a comment

Drivers walked alone to their cars Sunday at Darlington Raceway. No team members with them. No family around them. No fans anywhere.

New procedures in an era of the coronavirus.

Drivers carried their helmet, water bottle and other supplies. They headed to their cars amid questions about NASCAR’s first race in 10 weeks, making it the first major U.S. professional sport to return during these times.

Would masks and social distancing be effective? What if someone showed symptoms? What if it was a driver?

“Up until probably about two or three hours before the race, I was ready for something to go wrong,” Brad Keselowski said in a zoom call with media after finishing 13th in a race won by Kevin Harvick.

“What’s it going to be? Is someone going to be sick? Or is there going to be somebody boycotting outside the racetrack? But nobody did. Nothing bad happened. They pulled this thing off. It feels little bit like a Christmas miracle.”

Consider it Christmas all alone.

The track was empty except for about 900 essential personnel that included drivers, team members, series officials, safety personnel, TV personnel, media and others.

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, said everyone who went through the health screening passed and “our doctor at the check‑in … was 100% confident we were in a good place to go racing.”

NASCAR Chairman and CEO Jim France was at the track but stayed out of the infield. Instead, he got on the track’s p.a. system before the race to thank the teams for their efforts to bring racing back.

Joey Logano carries his equipment to his car before Sunday’s Cup race at Darlington Raceway. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Many were excited to be at the track again. Joey Logano said he was the first driver to arrive Sunday. After he passed his health screening, he went to his motorhome to isolate for a few hours before going to the car. When he unpacked his uniform — which normally would have been on the team’s hauler but is now the driver’s responsibility to limit contact with team members — Logano realized he had packed two left shoes.

Thankfully there was an extra pair in the hauler, but I thought that was funny,” he said.

After a few hours alone, the waiting finally ended and drivers emerged from their motorhomes or vehicles.

“About 10 minutes before we are supposed to be (by the cars), all of a sudden you see drivers popping out of their motorhomes carrying their helmets and walking to the grid,” Logano said. “That was funny. I have never seen anything like it.”

No one has.

Or heard anything like they did Sunday.

“Just very subdued, very quiet,” Denny Hamlin said. “That’s the biggest thing I noticed, it was just how quiet everything was.”

Erik Jones said it felt as if they were at a test.

“Then you get on pit road, and it feels more like a race,” he said, noting the pit crews in their stalls and cars on the grid. “You are just missing the fans. Unique, different. It was weird standing there for the anthem and it’s playing over the loudspeakers and then you hop in and go.”

After Darius Rucker sang the National Anthem, which was videotaped, a montage of healthcare workers came on TV screens and over the p.a system to give the command to start engines for the first time in 71 days.

“Man, that is a good sign,” Jimmie Johnson said to his team on the radio after he cranked his engine.

But the jitters remained for many.

No one knew what to expect when the green flag waved to begin the race. With no practice and no qualifying, drivers were making their first lap at speed on Lap 1. Seven of the 40 drivers competing Sunday had never run a lap at speed in a Cup car at Darlington.

“The feelings, the nerves, the anxiety, the excitement, knowing we were in uncharted territory,” Kurt Busch said about the start.

But nearly as soon as the green came out, the yellow flag waved. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. made contact with another car and crashed into the SAFER barrier on the inside wall along the backstretch. His race was over before completing a lap.

Drivers had a chance to catch their breath and then do it again.

Then, it became about racing. The lack of fans was noticeable in the background of TV shots. The color of the cars contrasted with the gray of many of the track’s empty seats.

As the race progressed, the focus remained on the track. Johnson wrecked on the final lap of Stage 1. Harvick and Alex Bowman showed they had the two best cars.

Bowman battled Harvick for two laps after a late restart but Harvick pulled away and went on to score his 50th career victory, tying him with NASCAR Hall of Famers Junior Johnson and Ned Jarrett on the all-time wins list.

A milestone victory, a first win this season, a fifth consecutive top-10 finish. All things to celebrate. Harvick screamed on the radio in celebration and did doughnuts at the start/finish line and then climbed to his car to silence.

“The weirdest part of the day for me was getting out of the car and not hearing anybody cheering,” Harvick said.

After his TV interview, he drove to Victory Lane for a muted celebration.

“There were two photographers there, no team guys,” Harvick said. “I was able to kind of get my team guys a nice little elbow bump there as I left Victory Lane, tell them great job. Those guys didn’t get a chance to take a picture with their car. Just a lot of sacrifices that go into it.

“But in the end, in the big picture of things, being able to do what we did today, and that’s race, is what everybody wants to do.”

 and on Facebook

May 6 in NASCAR: Harry Gant gets controversial aid from teammate for Talladega win

Leave a comment

Darrell Waltrip objected.

Dale Earnhardt’s team objected to Waltrip.

Every one of the top-three finishers in the May 6, 1991 Winston 500 at Talladega thought they should be declared the winner.

When the dust settled, Harry Gant would remain the victor of the controversial race.

The events leading to the objections began when Gant pitted on Lap 132 of 188. He would attempt to go the rest of way on a tank of gas. Earnhardt made his pit stop on Lap 168 and teamed with Waltrip for a two-car draft. Meanwhile, Gant ran with his teammate, Rick Mast, who was a lap down in 10th.

Gant’s team had been warned Mast couldn’t push him across the finish line to take the checkered flag. It appeared Mast pushed or drafted closely to Gant as they raced into Turn 3 on the final lap. Mast was again on Gant’s bumper as they neared the tri-oval.

Mast pulled to the left before the finish line to show he wasn’t pushing Gant.

“The motor cut off and I was out of gas,” Gant said according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: Forty Plus Four.” “Rick gave me a good boot when my car cut off in Turn 3. He gave me another good push and I was able to make it to the finish line.”

The protests quickly began.

“You can’t push the lead car in on the last lap,” Waltrip declared according to “Forty Plus Four.” “If they don’t take the win away from him I’m going to be mad. That’s plainly spelled out in the rule book. It’s not a judgement call.”

The objections from Earnhardt’s camp, via team owner Richard Childress, were about Waltrip’s rear spoiler.

“Waltrip’s spoiler was less than the 30 degrees allowed, we ought to get the win,” Childress said according “Forty Plus Four.”

It took three hours for NASCAR uphold Gant’s win, ruling his No. 33 car was “tapped” by Mast’s car and “not assisted.”

As for Waltrip’s spoiler, official Dick Beaty said it wasn’t checked until after cars had gone to the garage.

“Anybody could have adjusted that spoiler in the garage area,” he said according to “Forty Plus Four.” “We’ll do things differently in Daytona.”

Also on this date:

1961: After a fender-banging battle, Fred Lorenzen passed Curtis Turner with two laps to go and won by six car lengths at Darlington. “If I could have caught him before he got to the checkered flag, I guarantee you he never would have finished the race,” Turner said afterward according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Superspeedway Boom.”

1962: Joe Weatherly won at Hickory (N.C) Speedway in a 200-lap race plagued by track conditions so poor that Ned Jarrett made one lap and withdrew from the event, according to “Forty Years of Stock Car Racing: The Superspeedway Boom.” Weatherly survived the last 50 laps with a jammed accelerator. To navigate the turns, Weatherly would turn the car off before re-engaging the ignition on the straightaways.

1973: In a race that began with 60 cars and saw a 21-car crash on Lap 9, David Pearson survived to beat Donnie Allison by one lap.

1984: In a race that saw 75 lead changes among 13 drivers, Cale Yarborough passed Harry Gant on the last lap to win at Talladega.

2000: Dale Earnhardt Jr. passed his father for the lead with 31 laps to go and went on to win at Richmond over Terry Labonte. Dale Jr. was the first repeat winner of the season after earning his first Cup win in April at Texas.