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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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Here’s your Cup Round of 8 and Martinsville history primer

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Martinsville Speedway may be the smallest track on the NASCAR Cup circuit, but it’s one of the biggest and most important tracks in the Cup playoffs.

Sunday’s First Data 500 kicks off the Round of 8 semifinal round of the playoffs. Sunday’s race is followed by races at Texas Motor Speedway next week and Phoenix Raceway in two weeks.

Thanks to Racing Insights, here’s everything you need to know about NASCAR’s oldest track:

NASCAR Cup 2017 Season Breakdown:

  • Different Winners: 14.
  • Most Wins: 7 – Martin Truex Jr.
  • Most Poles: 8 – Kyle Busch.
  • Most Runner Ups: 8 – Kyle Larson.
  • Most Top-fives: 15 – Martin Truex Jr.
  • Most Top-10s: 22 – Marin Truex Jr.
  • Most Laps Led: 2068– Martin Truex Jr.
  • Stage Wins: 19 – Martin Truex Jr.
  • Stage Top-5s: 42 – Martin Truex Jr.
  • Stage Top-10s: 51 – Kyle Larson
  • Playoff Points: 69 – Martin Truex Jr.

2017 NASCAR Cup Season Highlights:

  • Joe Gibbs Racing (six), Furniture Row (five) and Chip Ganassi Racing (two) won 13 of the last 15 races.
  • The pole winner has won six times in 2017: Kyle Larson ACS, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Talladega-1, Kyle Larson MIS-1, Kyle Busch POC-2, Kyle Busch NH-2, Martin Truex Jr. KS-2.
  • The final lead change came in the last 10 laps in 17 of 32 races in 2017, the final three laps in 12 races and on the last lap in three races.
  • Either Martin Truex Jr. or Kyle Busch have won a stage in 23 of 32 races in 2017.
  • Martin Truex Jr. has won at least one stage in 14 of 32 races in 2017 but has not won a stage in the last four races which is tied for his longest stretch of races without a stage win.
  • Martin Truex Jr. is the only driver to win both stage 1&2 and go on to win the race (Las Vegas, Kentucky).
  • Five drivers have won a race but have not won a stage in 2017.
  • Four drivers have won a stage but have not won a race in 2017.
  • Atlanta, Pocono-1, Michigan-2 and Chicagoland are the only races without a caution before the end of stage 1.
  • Atlanta, Michigan-2 and Chicagoland are the only races to not have a caution other than stage breaks in the first two stages of the race.
  • Three cautions at Watkins Glen are the fewest in a race in 2017.
  • 15 cautions at Kansas-1 and Dover-1 are the most in a race in 2017.
  • The last three races all had 10 or more cautions, there were less than 10 cautions per race in the prior nine races of 2017.
  • Three times a driver has won after going to the rear: Jimmie Johnson Texas-1 (unapproved tire change), Joey Logano Richmond-1 (transmission change), Jimmie Johnson Dover-1 (rear gear change).
  • Denny Hamlin won in New Hampshire-1 after going to a backup car prior to qualifying.
  • Three times in 2017 a driver has gone on to win after a speeding penalty: Kurt Busch Daytona-1, Brad Keselowski Martinsville-1 and Martin Truex Jr. Chicagoland.
  • Martin Truex Jr. won at Kansas after a restart violation on lap 36, it was the fourth time in 2017 a driver has recovered from a in race infraction to win and the second time by Martin Truex Jr.
  • Three drivers got their first career win in 2017: Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Talladega-1, Austin Dillon Charlotte-1, Ryan Blaney Pocono-1, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. is the first first-time winner to get his second win in 2017.
  • There has been one track record set in 2017: Kyle Busch (Kentucky).
  • Three races were won with a last lap pass: Daytona-1 Kurt Busch passed Kyle Larson, Talladega-1 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. passed Kyle Busch, Talladega-2 Brad Keselowski passed Ryan Newman.
  • Three drivers ended the longest winless streaks of their career in 2017: Ryan Newman 127 races, Kasey Kahne 102 races, Kyle Busch 36 races.

Martinsville recent race history:

  • October 2016 ended a six race Martinsville winless streak for Johnson, tied for his longest drought at the track.
  • The last seven Martinsville races were won by seven different drivers, the previous 19 races were won by six different drivers.
  • In April Brad Keselowski became just the sixth first time Martinsville winner in the last 25 Martinsville races.
  • The race winner has started seventh or better in the last four Martinsville races.
  • Joe Gibbs Racing drivers were passed for the win in four of the last five Martinsville races, Kyle Busch was passed by Brad Keselowski with 43 laps to go in April.
  • The winner of five of the last eight Martinsville races got his only win of the season.
  • Only once in the last eight Martinsville races has the driver who led the most laps gone on to win (Kyle Busch in April 2016).
  • The Martinsville race winner led less than 100 laps in six of the last eight Martinsville races.
  • Since caution data has been available there has never been a Martinsville race that went caution free for the first 130 laps (length of stage 1.
  • Last October at Martinsville the final 114 laps went green, the longest green flag stretch to end a race at Martinsville in the last 54 races.
  • There were 14 cautions at Martinsville in April, more than both races at Martinsville in 2016 combined.
  • Although there were 14 cautions in April there was still a green flag stretch of 120 laps.
  • There have been five overtime finishes at Martinsville, the most recent was April 2012.
  • There was one last lap pass for the win at Martinsville, Darrell Waltrip passed Dale Earnhardt on lap 500 in September 1987 after Earnhardt and Terry Labonte made contact in turn three and Waltrip took the lead from third.
  • 12 Drivers got their first Cup win at Martinsville but only one has done so in the last 33 years, Ricky Craven in 2001.
  • 11 of the last 14 Martinsville races were won from a top-10 starting position.
  • Brad Keselowski won at Martinsville in April, Ford’s only Martinsville win in the last 29 races at the track before April they had not won at Martinsville since October 2002.
  • Chevrolet drivers won 10 of the last 13 Martinsville races, Chevrolet has not gone more than one Martinsville race without a win since 2010.
  • 28 of the last 29 Martinsville races were won by four organizations: Hendrick Motorsports (16 wins), Joe Gibbs Racing (7 wins), Stewart-Haas Racing (3 wins), Team Penske (2 wins) (RCR won the other race).
  • Hendrick Motorsports has 24 Martinsville wins, including the organization’s first win by Geoff Bodine in 1984, the most wins at a single track by an organization in Cup Series history.
  • Five different drivers won a race at Martinsville driving for Hendrick Motorsports, tied with Junior Johnson for the greatest number of different winners by an organization at Martinsville.
  • Jimmie Johnson won at Martinsville last October, it was his ninth win at the track again tying Jeff Gordon for third in Martinsville wins.
  • The all time Martinsville wins leader is Richard Petty with 15, Darrell Waltrip is second with 11, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson are third with nine.

Martinsville Playoff Highlights:

  • Martinsville has been a playoff race in all 14 years of the playoffs.
  • 11 of the 13 playoff races held at Martinsville have been won by a playoff eligible driver.
  • Chevrolet has won 11 of the 13 playoff races held at Martinsville including the last six straight.
  • Hendrick Motorsports drivers won the last five playoff races at Martinsville.
  • Ford has never won a playoff race at Martinsville.
  • Jimmie Johnson has won six of the playoff races held at Martinsville, the most of all drivers.
  • Johnsons six Martinsville playoff race wins are the most by a driver at a track.
  • Only five drivers won the 13 Playoff Races at Martinsville: Jimmie Johnson (6 wins), Jeff Gordon (3 wins), Denny Hamlin (2 wins), Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (1 win each).
  • Three organizations have won the 13 playoff races at Martinsville: Hendrick Motorsports (10 wins), Joe Gibbs Racing (2 wins), Stewart-Haas Racing (1 win).
  • In the three years of the elimination format (since 2014), Jimmie Johnson in 2016 is the only driver to win at Martinsville and go on to win the championship.
  • Five cautions in the 2016 Martinsville playoff race, the fewest in the 13 playoff races at the track and the only race with less than 11 cautions.
  • There was a caution in the first 50 laps in all 13 playoff races at Martinsville Short Track Highlights.

Short Track Highlights:

  • Jimmie Johnson’s 14 short track wins are the most of all active drivers, Kyle Busch ranks second with 11.
  • Five different drivers won the five short track races in 2017, the last time six different drivers won the six short track races in a year was 2013.
  • Three drivers finished in the top-10 in four of five short track races in 2017: Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano and Ryan Newman.
  • Six drivers led 84% (1,937 of 2,304) of the laps raced on short tracks in 2017: Kyle Busch (469), Martin Truex Jr. (356), Kyle Larson (353), Matt Kenseth (264), Erik Jones (260) and Brad Keselowski (235).
  • Joey Logano has an average finish of 5.0 on short tracks in 2017 the best of all drivers and is the only driver to finish in the top-five in four of the five races on short tracks this season.
  • Six drivers finished on the lead lap in all five short track races in 2017: Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Ryan Newman and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
  • Six different drivers won a stage on a short track in 2017, Martin Truex Jr.’s three stage wins on short tracks are the most.
  • Kyle Larson’s 61 stage points on short tracks are the most of all drivers.

Martinsville Track History and Fast Facts: 

  • Henry Clay Earles was the owner of The Spot service station and several houses in Martinsville. After attending a few races in 1947 with his friend Sam Rice, the budding entrepreneur thought that racing would be a profitable business. With partner’s Sam Rice and Henry Lawrence, a site for a racetrack was located at an overgrown 30 acre cornfield just outside Martinsville. The track was soon underway and ended up costing $60,000. The first race was for modified stock cars on September 7, 1947 (pre-NASCAR). William H. G. France had persuaded Earles that stock cars were the future of racing and he helped to promote the event for a percentage. The total purse was $2,000. Only 750 of the planned 5,000 seats were ready and parking capacity was 1,400 cars. The crowd was overwhelming. Earles said that nearly 10,000 fans attended, 3,000 unpaid. Red Byron won the race and $500.
  • The first NASCAR sanctioned race was for Modified stock cars won by Fonty Flock on July 4, 1948. The eighth place finisher was Bill France.
  • The first NASCAR Cup (Grand National) race on September 25th, 1949, won by Red Byron over Lee Petty. Byron drove the No. 22 Raymond Parks owned Oldsmobile led by crew chief Red Vogt, the race consisted of a 15 car field.
  • The track surface was dirt for the first 12 Cup races.
  • In 1964 Earles decided it was time for a different type of trophy for race winners. His choice was a grandfather clock produced by nearby Ridgeway Clock Company. On September 27, 1964, Earles awarded the first Clock trophy to Fred Lorenzen, the winner of the Old Dominion 500 that afternoon.
  • Richard Petty has the most clocks with 12 (he won three times at Martinsville prior to the introduction of the clock. Darrell Waltrip won 11 Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson each have 9 clocks.
  • In 1976 the corners were resurfaced in concrete. The track was completely resurfaced following the spring 2004 race when Jeff Gordon ran over a chunk of concrete that had come loose in turn 3.
  • International Speedway Corporation (ISC) purchased privately owned Martinsville Speedway in 2004 for $192 million.
  • Starting in March of 2015 the Iconic Martinsville Hot Dog has been provided by Valleydale Hot Dogs, a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods. Valleydale provides a dog that closely resembles the Jesse Jones Southern Style hot dog in taste and color and will continue to cost $2. The change ended a relationship with Jesse Jones that dated back to 1947. South Boston Speedway and Ace Speedway in Altamahaw, N.C. continue to sell Jesse Jones dogs.
  • On October 12, 2016 Martinsville track president Clay Campbell announced that the track would have an LED lighting system in place for the 2017 season, which would coincide with Martinsville’s 70th anniversary. The project cost an estimated $5 million and is described as more of an “insurance policy” against late after noon finishes like the one in October 2015. No night races are scheduled for 2017 at Martinsville.
  • Martinsville has become the 15th of 23 tracks on the Cup circuit with permanent lights in place. The only tracks that now remain without lights: Dover, Indy, Michigan, New Hampshire, Pocono, Sonoma, Talladega and Watkins Glen.
  • October 29th will be the 138th race at Martinsville, every season since 1949 and multiple races a year every year since 1950.
  • Martinsville is the only track to host a race in every season of NASCAR’s existence, and is the only remaining active “Charter Track” on the schedule.
  • At 0.526 miles in length Martinsville is the shortest track on the Cup schedule.

Social Roundup: 2017 NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction

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Last night, the NASCAR Hall of Fame inducted its eighth class, including Rick Hendrick, Richard Childress, Mark Martin, Benny Parsons and Raymond Parks.

The night was filled with current and future Hall of Famers celebrating the history of the sport and the lives of the five inductees.

MORE: Benny Parsons’ Hall of Fame induction an emotional celebration

MORE: Mark Martin went from a “broken man” to a Hall of Famer

Here’s a look at how the night played out on social media with observations on the inductees from current NASCAR drivers and one message from future NFL Hall of Famer Peyton Manning.

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Benny Parsons’ Hall of Fame induction an emotional celebration

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Terri Parsons wasn’t going to watch the video honoring her late husband, Benny Parsons, as she stood backstage moments before accepting the honor of his induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

She was afraid to watch the video Friday night because this had been such an emotional week.

Ten years ago Monday, Benny Parsons died. Now, four days later, NASCAR celebrated the 1973 champion with its highest honor, as he joined Rick Hendrick, Richard Childress, Raymond Parks and Mark Martin in the Hall’s eighth class.

In between those days were memories, stories, laughter and tears.

“It’s just been a roller-coaster ride,’’ Terri Parsons told NBC Sports.

This week brought a flood of friends, crew chiefs, crew members and drivers sharing stories of Benny. Some, Terri had never heard.

Martin told her about the time in 1978 that his dad contacted Benny to ask what they could do to help Martin’s chances of reaching NASCAR.

Benny told them to come to Ellerbe, North Carolina, and they’d talk. He took them to lunch and offered his advice.

“Can you imagine?’’ Martin told NBC Sports, recounting what the former champion did for him. “Yeah, come on down and I’ll take you to lunch. That’s unbelievable.’’

That was Benny, friends said.

Ricky Craven bought the farm Benny once owned. The conversation started when Craven won a pole award and Benny presented it. Craven said he wanted to buy the farm. A few weeks later, Craven won another pole and said the same thing to Benny.

Benny agreed to it. But what price? Benny said they would get someone to appraise the land and that would be the price Craven would pay. It’s a standard Craven says he’s used even these days when selling items to friends.

Perhaps one of the greatest signs of Benny’s impact on those around him was that 1973 season finale at North Carolina Speedway in Rockingham. He couldn’t avoid a wrecked car in front of him and tore off the right side of his car. His crew and others helped rebuild the right side so he could complete enough laps to win the title.

“You can’t say enough good about him,’’ said Waddell Wilson, the engine builder for Benny that championship season. “He was a gentlemen’s gentlemen. He was one you’ll never forget.’’

Brad Keselowski, who introduced the video segment on Benny, told Terri how Benny had been such an influence and hero to him.

She didn’t know that.

It’s not surprising. There are many more stories of Benny Parsons. A friend of those in the garage and an advocate for the fans, his popularity soared through his racing and TV career with ESPN, TNT and NBC. Fans embraced him, placing him on their Hall of Fame ballot each of the past six years, longer than any other nominee.

Backstage, Keselowski and Hall of Famer Dale Jarrett convinced Terri Parsons to watch the video. Soon the memories returned, seeing the smile and hearing that sweet, melodious Southern voice.

Then it was time for her to go on stage. The last thing she wanted to be was emotional.

As she stood before the crowded ballroom, Terri Parsons wanted to make sure everyone knew how important they were to Benny.

“The most important thing about tonight for him would be the people and especially the fans, understand how much they meant to him and how much he loved each and every one of you,’’ Terri Parsons said. “You all have such great stories, and tonight is really a celebration of his life. This is not sad, this is happy.  I’m the only one that’s sad.’’

Her voice quivered again.

When she exited the stage, she went to her seat on the front row with the other inductees. She sat down in front of seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson.

He rubbed her back and told her: “Terri, it’s fine. It’s good to show emotion.’’

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Rick Hendrick, Richard Childress are rivals, friends and Hall of Famers

Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images
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They witnessed history and were a part of it. Even through their battles on and off the track over the years, they remained friends and will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame together.

There really isn’t any other way for Rick Hendrick and Richard Childress to be honored at 8 p.m. ET Friday on NBCSN. They’ll join Mark Martin, Benny Parsons and Raymond Parks in the eighth Hall of Fame Class.

Both Childress and Hendrick have had at least one Hall of Fame member drive for their teams. Childress and Hendrick drivers have combined to win 18 of the last 31 Cup championships (12 by Hendrick drivers and six by Childress drivers).

From 1990-98, Childress and Hendrick to combined to win eight of nine championships. The lone exception was Alan Kulwicki’s 1992 title. That was the only time in that period that a Childress or Hendrick driver did not finish in the top two in the points.

For all that they’ve overcome and accomplished, both cite a shared moment — not a victory — as among their most memorable in the sport.

They were both a part of the storied meeting NASCAR’s Bill France Jr. held in 1989 with Geoff Bodine and Dale Earnhardt.

Bodine, who drove for Hendrick, and Earnhardt, who drove for Childress, had several on-track incidents and neither owner could curtail their driver’s aggression. France, who ran the sport at the time, called both drivers and car owners to Daytona Beach, Florida, for a meeting that gained notoriety when a similar scene played out in the movie “Days of Thunder.’’

“I remember Rick and I sitting in with Bill Jr. and Bodine and Earnhardt at Daytona after the melees that we had then and Rick and I made a pact,’’ Childress said. “These guys are drivers. You and I are aren’t drivers. We’ll do our best to keep them straightened out. We’ve had a great relationship and still do.’’

Said Hendrick: “I remember one day they tore the cars all to pieces, (Childress) and I walked down pit road and we were both shaking our heads. What I know about Richard Childress is if you treat him with respect, he’s going to treat you with respect. We got to be friends and we understood each other. We wanted to beat each other, that’s no different than me and Roger Penske.’’

Hendrick became a car owner in NASCAR in 1984, two years before Childress won his first series title with Earnhardt. That was the first of six titles the duo won in nine years.

“He and Dale Earnhardt, they were the standard,’’ Hendrick said of Childress. “When I first started, I didn’t think anybody would ever beat them. When Jeff (Gordon) came along and started running really well, he was challenging them. It kind of got to be a little bit of a deal between Jeff and Dale. It was very, very, very competitive, but Richard and I … (remained) good friends.’’

Hendrick’s drivers have won seven of the last 11 championships, including Johnson’s record-tying seventh crown last season.

“Today, they’re the goal we’re all shooting for,’’ Childress said of Hendrick.

Tonight, they both will be on the same stage with many others looking to be in their place some day.

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