Jeff Gordon leads 2019 Hall of Fame Class

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Jeff Gordon, the four-time Cup champion who ushered in a new era of NASCAR on and off the track and opened a pathway for younger drivers to the premier series, was selected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s Class of 2019 on Wednesday.

The 46-year-old Gordon is the youngest inductee among the 10 Hall of Fame classes.

Joining Gordon in the Class of 2019 are: Jack Roush, Roger Penske, Davey Allison and Alan Kulwicki.

Gordon was selected on 96 percent of the ballots — surpassing the record of being on 94 percent of the ballot shared by David Pearson (Class of 2011) and Robert Yates (Class of 2018).

Roush was selected on 70 percent of the ballots, Penske was on 68 percent, Allison was on 63 percent and Kulwicki was on 46 percent.

They will be inducted Feb 1, 2019.

The next three top vote-getters were Buddy Baker, Hershel McGriff and Waddell Wilson.

A total of 57 ballots were cast — 56 by Hall of Fame voting members and one online fan ballot. The fan ballot had Allison, Gordon, Kulwicki, Baker and Harry Gant.

Jim Hunter was selected as the Landmark Award winner for his contributions to NASCAR as a media member, p.r. person, track operator and NASCAR official.

Gordon’s selection marks the third consecutive class that features a member of Hendrick Motorsports. Car owner Rick Hendrick was selected to the Class of 2017. Ray Evernham, Gordon’s crew chief for three of his titles, was voted to the Class of 2018. 

“I think it tells you a lot about that combination, what Rick created in his organization and the people,” Gordon said. “When Ray and I came to work, Ray told me all the resources are there, this could be something really special. It obviously ended up being way more than we ever anticipated. Those two are like family to me. To be able to follow them is very, very, very special. … Besides my parents, I owe those two everything to how they contributed to my life in more than just racing.”

Gordon’s success made car owners more open to hiring young drivers. Gordon also opened a pipeline from Midwest sprint car racing that helped future Hall of Famer Tony Stewart, among others, move to NASCAR.

Gordon’s influence goes beyond the track. He introduced NASCAR to mainstream America in the 1990s when he dominated, winning Cup titles in 1995, ’97 and ’98. Gordon appeared in national ads that weren’t just during NASCAR races and was the first — and only — NASCAR driver to host Saturday Night Live.

Gordon won 47 of his 93 career Cp wins between 1995-99. The driver dubbed “Wonder Boy” early in his career by Dale Earnhardt won his fourth title in 2001 — the year Earnhardt died in a last-lap crash in the Daytona 500. Gordon won three Daytona 500s, five Southern 500s and five Brickyard 400s.

Off the track, Gordon displayed class and poise throughout his career. He also displayed emotions. Gordon cried when he won his first points race, the 1994 Coca-Cola 600. He celebrated what was his final Cup win in November 2015 at Martinsville by bouncing, hooting and shouting “We’re going to Homestead!”

With Gordon’s selection the top five all-time winners in Cup will be in the Hall of Fame — Richard Petty, David Pearson, Bobby Allison, Darrell Waltrip and Gordon.

Kulwicki, the 1992 Cup champion, joins the Hall of Fame after coming close the past two years. He was among the top three vote getters not selected to the Class of 2016. He was tied with Ron Hornaday Jr. for the last spot in the Class of 2017. Both were selected on 38 percent of the ballots and Hornaday was selected in a second vote.

Kulwicki is revered for his underdog run to the ’92 title where he beat Bill Elliott by 10 points as a driver/owner. Kulwicki won five career Cup races before he was killed in a plane crash in 1993 on the way to Bristol Motor Speedway from a sponsor appearance.

Allison won 19 races, including the 1992 Daytona 500. He also was the 1987 Rookie of the Year and finished second to his father in the 1988 Daytona 500.

Allison was a fan favorite for his personality and persistence. Three months after Kulwicki died in a plane crash, Allison died from injures suffered in a helicopter crash at Talladega Superspeedway.

Roush, whose name has been synonymous with success for most of his Cup career, joined the premier series in 1988 with Hall of Famer Mark Martin.

Roush, who has scored a record 325 victories across NASCAR’s national series, won his first Cup title in 2003 with Matt Kenseth and won the 2004 crown with Kurt Busch. Roush has five Xfinity championships and one Camping World Truck Series title.

Penske is better known for his success in IndyCar, including his 16 Indianapolis 500 victories as a car owner, but he’s also made an impact in NASCAR.

Penske won the 2012 Cup title with Brad Keselowski and has two Daytona 500 victories. He also built Auto Club Speedway and once owned Michigan International Speedway and North Carolina Motor Speedway. In Team Penske’s 52-year history, it has 489 major race wins across all series and 553 poles. Included are wins in IndyCar, NASCAR, Formula 1 and the 24 Hours of Daytona.

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Improved communication has boosted Clint Bowyer, Stewart-Haas Racing

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Sunday saw more of the same for Stewart-Haas Racing, or at least more of what could be the new normal.

Kevin Harvick visited victory lane for the fourth time this year.

But to get the win, he had to get around a teammate. That was Clint Bowyer, who is getting used to running up front consistently for the first time in years.

Harvick passed Bowyer with 63 laps to go and ran away for the win. Bowyer came home second for his third top five of the season. Bowyer, who led 40 laps, contended despite an unscheduled pit stop for a loose wheel early in the race.

Kurt Busch finished fifth to give Stewart-Haas Racing three cars in the top five. New teammate Aric Almirola placed 11th.

“This year, we’ve been working well every single weekend,” Bowyer said. “We’re pushing each other to be better, and our setups are all relatively the same, and it shows on the racetrack. (Crew chief Mike Bugarewicz) and I have done such a way better job of communicating, and all that comes with success. Make no mistake about it, those things come with success, and we’ve had that so far this year, and it makes all the communication and everything a lot better.”

Bowyer also pointed to a restructuring at Stewart-Haas Racing in the offseason that included Busch’s former crew chief, Tony Gibson, taking an oversight position in the SHR shop. Or as team co-owner Tony Stewart said, a “floor babysitter.”

“We had one car (Harvick) last year that was running well, and it doesn’t do an organization very much if you only have one car running well,” Bowyer said. With Gibson coming off the road and “collaborating amongst the teams,” Bowyer said he is “making sure all those cars are ready for battle when they go to the racetrack” and that they’re essentially alike.

“That’s the biggest thing is when you go to the track, you need to be able to bounce off each other and work with one another, and sometimes something is different or whatever, it’s hard to do that,” Bowyer said.

SHR is making it look easy, having claimed five wins through 11 races, with Bowyer earning his first since 2012.

The team has 13 top fives and 25 top 10s among its four drivers. Last year, with the team in its first season with Ford and Danica Patrick driving the No. 10, SHR had 26 top fives (14 from Harvick) and 52 top 10s the entire season.

“When you have confidence in the cars and the tools and everything going on, I think the biggest thing is just all the cylinders are clicking right now,” said Rodney Childers, crew chief for Harvick. “The biggest thing is we haven’t went back and talked about the races that we’ve won. We go back and we talk about how to get better every week, and we build better race cars and they build better engines, and we’ve done better on pit road. To keep this going, we’re going to have to get a lot better every single week, and to keep it to where it needs to be when the championship comes around.”

Stewart said everything about SHR’s operation is “on point” through 11 races. Earlier this season he saw all four of his cars finish in the top 10 for the first time at Phoenix.

“I think Brett Favre said this in a quote once, is that success is kind of one of the worst things that can happen to you because some guys feel like they’ve got where they need to be and they lose that intensity,” Stewart said “That’s something that I feel like our group is really good about, not losing that focus on the fact that we’re a technology‑driven sport, and we have to keep pushing all the time to keep finding more things to go faster and be better than we were the week before.”

All the work SHR has put in has three of their drivers in the top six in points through 11 races. Bowyer, in his second season with SHR, is fourth.

He hasn’t finished in the top 10 since 2013.

“It’s fun to be up in the limelight,” Bowyer said.

NASCAR’s Avengers are here to save the day

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In case you haven’t heard, a little movie called Avengers: Infinity War was released last week and it has made all the money.

The Avengers, also known as “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes,” are a ragtag cast of characters and personalities that on paper shouldn’t work, but in reality make for drama that has captured audience’s attention for 10 years in cinemas and decades in comic books.

This raises an obvious question.

Which NASCAR Cup drivers – current and retired – would make up the Avengers?

Here’s an exhaustive (one afternoon of contemplation) evaluation of NASCAR’s best.

Send your Avengers/NASCAR recommendations to Daniel McFadin.

Nick Fury – Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, is the most visible face of NASCAR’s leadership. Now imagine that face with an eyepatch.

Iron ManAustin Dillon has that Tony Stark style and he parties like the billionaire playboy philanthropist would if he owned a barn.

Rocket Raccoon – No, Tony Stewart isn’t a talking animal. But the talking raccoon is a weapons expert who likes to make things go boom. If you’re ever in a tight spot that requires the use of a flame thrower, Stewart is your man.

Star Lord AKA Peter QuillClint Bowyer has a couple of things in common with this character. Both are from the Midwest. Bowyer hails from Kansas and Star Lord from Missouri. Also, Bowyer is the driver most likely to call someone a “turd blossom.”

Captain America/Falcon – These modern-day best friends and allies bring to mind the Ryan Blaney/Darrell Wallace Jr. duo and NASCAR’s best bromance.

Spider-Man – The youngest member of the Avengers is a tech savvy teenager just getting his feet wet in the superhero world while also attending high school. William Byron fits the mold of the webslinger as he navigates his rookie year in Cup while taking college courses.

The Incredible Hulk – Don’t make Matt Kenseth angry. He might not be physically imposing, but poke the bear enough and you’ll have to face his inner Hulk in-between haulers after a race or find yourself punted into the wall at a short track.

ThorJeffrey Earnhardt has the beard, he just needs the hammer.

Doctor Strange – The Sorcerer Supreme has the ability to manipulate time and space. When it comes to restrictor-plate racing these days, few are better than Brad Keselowski at manipulating the draft to work their magic.

Drax the Destroyer – Just like this Guardian of the Galaxy, it takes a lot to make Paul Menard smile.

Black Widow – For a long time the former Russian spy was the only woman in the Avenger boys club and Danica Patrick was in a similar position in Cup until moving on after this season’s Daytona 500.

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NASCAR America Fantasy League: 10 Best at Talladega in last three years

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In order to protect their position in the points, NASCAR drivers have to survive the restrictor-plate tracks with minimal damage. The same is true for fantasy players.

Avoiding the ‘Big One’ crash is not easy. If a driver runs long enough, they are going to sustain damage. Fantasy players cannot realistically expect all of their drivers to get to the end of the race without damage – but there is still a strategy that can be employed.

Marquee drivers are just as likely to have problems in the Geico 500 at Talladega SuperSpeedway, but when they do, the majority of players will be equally impacted. That puts a premium on selecting the perfect dark horse. Luckily, there are a quite a lot of drivers deep in the points with great records on this wildcard track.

Track your progress in the NASCAR America Fantasy league at nascar.com/nbcsportsfantasy, and then share your results on Twitter using #NASCARAmericaFantasy.

1. Ty Dillon (three-year average: 10.00 in three races)
Dillon did not earn Cup points in the 2016 Geico 500, but he finished sixth in relief of Tony Stewart. Last year, he swept the top 15 at Talladega and that makes him a very attractive dark horse.

2. Kurt Busch (10.83)
Streaks on restrictor-plate superspeedways are incredibly difficult to create and maintain. Busch entered last fall’s Alabama 500 with a six-race streak of top-12 finishes until he was sidelined by an accident on lap 171.

3. Paul Menard (11.50)
The saving grace of Talladega is that fantasy players get a chance to start drivers they might not otherwise. Menard has five results of 13th or better in his last six races on this 2.66-mile behemoth.

4. Brad Keselowski (12.17)
Team Penske has combined for five wins in the last seven Talladega races. Keselowski has earned three of these. His most recent came last fall in the Alabama 500.

5. Aric Almirola (12.50)
Almirola is the only driver entered this week with a three-race, top-10 streak at Talladega. Last year, he was the only one to sweep the top five.

6. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (13.83)
Stenhouse is the defending winner of the Geico 500. He posted another victory at Daytona in July 2017, so he knows how to stay out of trouble on the plate tracks.

7. Gray Gaulding (14.50 in two races)
Winning in fantasy racing on the wild card restrictor-plate superspeedways often means guessing which driver will survive the carnage. Last fall at Talladega, Gaulding was involved in two accidents, but managed to finish ninth.

8. Kyle Busch (14.60 in five races)
Busch has compared winning a fourth consecutive race at Talladega to winning the lottery. He won the 2008 Aaron’s 499 and finished second and third in two of the last five races there.

9. Kevin Harvick (14.67)
Harvick’s three-year Talladega average from 2013 through 2016 was a stellar 10.4, but his numbers suffered last year on the heels of two 20-something results.

9. Ryan Newman (14.67)
Newman’s second-place finish to Keselowski last fall at ‘Dega was his fifth top 15 in the last seven races on this track. Slow and steady helps win the fantasy race.

Bonus Picks

Pole Winner: Winning a pole at Talladega has been as unpredictable as winning the race – and it’s impossible to predict before the teams hit the track. Keep an eye on Team Penske, but wait until first practice is complete to make this selection.

Segment Winners: While his three-year average is not among the top 10, Logano has a ton of speed during the middle stages of the restrictor-plate superspeedway races. Pick him as the winner for both segments and hope that he doesn’t crash early.

For more Fantasy NASCAR coverage, check out Rotoworld.com and follow Dan Beaver (@FantasyRace) on Twitter.

Kyle Busch’s streak reaching historic level

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Kyle Busch’s victory Saturday at Richmond Raceway continued his historic run, making him the third Cup driver in the last 35 seasons to score seven consecutive top-three finishes.

Busch will seek to tie the runs of Kevin Harvick and Jeff Gordon this weekend at Talladega Superspeedway.

Harvick had eight consecutive top-three finishes from late in the 2014 season to early in the 2015 campaign. Gordon had eight top-three finishes in a row in 1998.

Busch’s run marks the ninth time in the modern era (since 1972) that a driver has finished in the top three in seven consecutive races, according to Racing Insights.

The record in the modern era is 13 consecutive top-three finishes. Darrell Waltrip did it in 1981 and David Pearson did it in 1973 — Pearson’s total was not consecutive races but consecutive starts since he did not compete in every race that season. The all-time record is 16 consecutive top-three finishes by Richard Petty in 1971.

Busch also seeks to win his fourth Cup race in a row this weekend at Talladega.

“Pretty cool to win three in a row,’’ Busch said after his victory at Richmond. “That’s really special. Certainly we did that in ’15. Almost won four in a row. We ran out of gas, half a lap to go (at Pocono in 2015). Next … we go to Talladega. I think it’s easier to win the Power Ball than win at Talladega. We’ll give it a go anyway, see what we get.’’

Busch finished 27th at Talladega in October and third last April there, losing the lead on the last lap of overtime to Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

The last driver to win four races in a row is Jimmie Johnson, who did it in October and November 2007 on the way to the second of his five championships in a row. Johnson won at Martinsville, Atlanta, Texas and Phoenix during what was then called the Chase.

Busch’s win at Richmond also was the 46th of his career and tied him with Hall of Famer Buck Baker for 15th on the all-time list.

Busch is two behind Hall of Famer Herb Thomas for 14th on the all-time list and three behind Tony Stewart, who is 13th on the list.

“To tie another Hall of Famer is a lot,’’ Busch said. “It’s a huge deal to climb the ladder of wins.’’

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