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.”
Friday 5: Jimmie Johnson’s final Cup season also marks final tribute to friend
Blaise Alexander always beat Johnson across the finish line.
Alexander and Johnson got to be close friends when they raced against each other in what is now the Busch Series. As good of friends as they were, it made them want to beat the other that much more.
Alexander was killed in a crash during an ARCA race Oct. 4, 2001 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He was 25. Earlier that night, Johnson qualified for his first Cup race.
When Johnson drove his Busch car that weekend, one of his crew members, who was also was friends with Alexander, drew flames and Alexander’s initials on the front left bumper of Johnson’s car. That way Alexander would always cross the finish line before Johnson.
Johnson’s cars have paid homage to Alexander since. For a while, the design was drawn on to each car with a marker. Eventually, a decal was made and affixed in the same spot below the left front headlight sticker. Later, the tail number for the Hendrick plane that crashed and killed 10 was added to Alexander’s tribute.
During Thursday’s press conference, Johnson’s emotions remained steady as he explained the reasons why 2020 will be his final full-time Cup season.
But when asked about Alexander and how next year would mark the final year of the tribute on Johnson’s cars at NASCAR tracks, including Charlotte Motor Speedway, Johnson was taken aback.
He closed his eyes briefly, turned his head and was momentarily silent before saying, “wow” and shook his head.
“He was a very special friend,” Johnson said, taking a deep breath.
In previous years, if a team or manufacturer was behind in one season, they could count on rule changes to possibly give them a better chance the next season. That won’t be the case next year.
So it leads to the question of what is to prevent a repeat of this season with Joe Gibbs Racing winning more than half the Cup races and putting three of its four cars in the championship race and winning the title?
“I would just say it’s all about optimizing all of your testing time and your simulation time to give the drivers the best chance of unloading quick, adjusting quickly and then executing in the race,” said Jim Campbell, U.S. vice president of performance and motorsports for Chevrolet. “I think that’s really what it’s about. There’s limited on-track testing, so it really comes down heavily to simulation, driver loop activity.
“There is some aero testing. We’re limited, so we have to make sure every minute of those aero tests is productive, so that’s what we’ll do as a team. We have three major teams and we have a number of affiliates that we’ll use that to our best advantage. But it’s going to be about execution.”
Mark Rushbrook, global director of Ford Performance Motorsports, said he feels his teams can continue progressing with the package that will be used again next year.
“The rules changes for 2019, it took us a while to get our teams and our own heads around what those changes were and the aerodynamic effects especially, and I think we’ve seen some stronger performance in the latter half of the year, which we hope to continue into 2020,” he said. “I would also say that there are still rule changes for 2020, although the packages aren’t changing, some of the things like reduced wind tunnel time will be in place, and the effectiveness of your tools like aero, computational fluid dynamics will come into play more than wind tunnel testing is today. There’s still going to be, I think, some balance shifts. Maybe we’ll see who has the best aero CFD tool.”
But Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of racing, said this week on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive” that it is not as easy as that. He explained, describing what makes Homestead-Miami Speedway such a good track and why it’s hard to replicate that elsewhere.
“The variable degree banking is a terrific design,” Stucker said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “It creates racing in multiple grooves. The surface itself is pretty worn now, so that’s really what promotes the (tire) falloff that we see at Homestead over the course of a fuel run, about 2 1/2 seconds through the course of those runs.
“You have to be very careful to say that we can go in and design a tire that is going to produce that kind of falloff at any given race track. The falloff you see at Homestead is because of that race track and the worn surface. The same would be true of Darlington. The same would be true at Chicago and Atlanta. Those are worn surfaces that have lost some of their mechanical grip. … You have to be very careful (to) say we want to do that at every race track because at some places it’s just not possible. The surface itself just has enough mechanical grip that it just won’t work.
“We don’t want to artificially influence falloff or tire wear because that leads to not a good situation. You want something that is a natural progression from a wear and a falloff perspective.”
4. Who will be the fourth?
Winston Kelley, executive director of the NASCAR Hall of Fame and moderator for Jimmie Johnson’s news conference Thursday, noted that few would question Johnson’s place on NASCAR’s Mount Rushmore of drivers. Kelley raised the question of who would be the fourth.
It leads to an interesting debate. Presuming NASCAR’s Mount Rushmore features its three seven-time champions — Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt and Johnson — there could be quite a debate for the fourth spot.
Is it David Pearson? His 105 victories rank second on the all-time list. He rarely ran a full season but he did win three championships. Petty has said that he considers Pearson the sport’s greatest driver.
Or is it Jeff Gordon? His 93 victories are third on the all-time wins list and he has four championships in an era that was arguably more competitive than Pearson’s era.
Or is there a case to be made for Cale Yarborough? While his 83 career wins are one less than Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip each, Yarborough won three consecutive championships, a record that seemed unbreakable until Johnson won five in a row from 2006-10.
Or is it someone else?
5. Moving on
Overshadowed by Jimmie Johnson’s news this week was Justin Marks’ announcement Thursday that he was “hanging up the helmet.”
His one win came in the rain at Mid-Ohio in the 2016 Xfinity race there. No one could match him in the downpour there.
After 20 years, 400+ professional starts, 20+ wins, and the experience of a lifetime, I’m hanging up the helmet. Deeply appreciative of the amazing friendships I’ve made. I have not deserved this journey. Onwards and upwards. Time to reinvent. pic.twitter.com/vpTybtt5Pz
Marks has always looked at the sport in a different way with his background in multiple racing series. After finishing second in the inaugural Roval Xfinity race in 2018, Marks lauded the new way Charlotte Motor Speedway was used and said NASCAR could do more, suggesting a street course event.
“I’m a huge believer you have to take your product to the people,” Marks said that day. “In 2012, I went to the Long Beach Grand Prix as a competitor in the Pirelli World Challenge Series and I remember spending the weekend at that race there looking around at 100,000 people and thinking that 90,000 of these people aren’t racing fans. They’re here because it’s a great cultural event.
“I think that the days of people driving 500 miles from their home to spend four days at a race track camping are numbered.”
While he admitted there would be challenges with a Cup street race, he said: “I think it could be a hell of a show if they did it, especially if they went to a market like Detroit or LA or South Florida, or if they managed to pull something off in Nashville or Austin or something like that, great cultural hubs and great markets.”
As NASCAR looks to alter its schedule in the future, Marks’ words could prove prophetic.
Hall of Famer Ron Hornaday Jr. will serve as grand marshal for the race, while Bobby Labonte, who will be inducted into the Hall in January, will serve as the honorary starter.
“We are honored to have 2018 NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Ron Hornaday Jr. as Grand Marshal and 2020 inductee Bobby Labonte as Honorary Starter at the first NASCAR Hall of Fame 200,” NASCAR Hall of Fame executive director Winston Kelly said in a statement. “Ron is the series’ only four-time champion. As the 2000 premier series champion and 1992 Xfinity champion, Bobby is one of only 31 drivers who has won races in all three NASCAR national series with his lone truck series win coming at Martinsville.”
Said Clay Campbell, president of Martinsville Speedway: “We appreciate the NASCAR Hall of Fame making it possible to have two great NASCAR champions available to meet our fans Saturday morning before the NASCAR Hall of Fame 200. Having Ron and Bobby be a part of our race weekend is special for everyone at Martinsville Speedway.”
“Every year, our foundation, we go to Levine’s and walk around and hand out toys to all the kids, and I put my Santa hat on. It’s a lot of fun, so I really enjoy it,” Truex said. “Winston Kelley always goes there and helps.”
The duo talked as they prepared to give out toys when Kelly made an “out of the blue” statement.
Kelley tapped the Hall of Fame logo on his shirt.
“You know, you’re pretty much a lock to get in here now,” Kelley said.
“He told me that, and I was like, ‘Well, I hadn’t even thought of that. That’s insane,'” recalled Truex, who won eight times in 2017 to bring his career total to 15 wins. “That was one of the moments this winter that I forgot about, what it was like. Yeah, I can’t believe that. Just to think ‑‑ yeah, that’s just crazy. Blows my mind.”
Last week, Truex got a taste of what it would be like to be inducted when he introduced the induction of the late Red Byron.
The Furniture Row Racing driver will get at least one unforgettable moment between now and the start of the Cup season next month.
Truex will get to attend his first Super Bowl next weekend in Minneapolis, Minnesota (Feb. 4 on NBC).
To make it better, his favorite team, the Philadelphia Eagles, are vying for the franchise’s first Super Bowl title. They’ll play the five-time champion New England Patriots.
It’s only the third time the Eagles have made the title game in Truex’s lifetime.
“I was slated to go to the game before my team made it, which was kind of cool,” Truex said. “Yeah, going for NASCAR to do some NBC stuff with Dale Jr. (in) pregame, and excited about that. And then it was like, ‘All right, my team is pretty good this year, we’ve got a chance, we’ve got a chance,’ and the NFC Championship game was a pretty good celebration at my house last weekend … I’m really jacked about it. It’s going to be awesome.”
Truex has only seen the Eagles play twice in person.
“The fact that I’m going to the Super Bowl for the first time in my life, my favorite team is going, as well, for only the (third) time since I’ve been born, that’s pretty cool.”