National Motorsports Press Association announces five nominees for 2014 Hall of Fame class

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The National Motorsports Press Association announced Tuesday five nominees as potential inductees into the organization’s Hall of Fame.

NMPA membership will vote on the five candidates later this year, and those receiving the most ballots will become the 2014 inductees to be honored during ceremonies next January in Charlotte, N.C.

(Disclosure: I am a member of the NMPA board of directors).

The five nominees are:

Mario Andretti: Four-time Indy car champion, 1967 Daytona 500 winner, 1969 Indianapolis 500 winner, 1978 Formula One season champion. Is the only driver to win the Indy 500, Daytona 500 and the F1 championship. Is one of only two drivers to win in F1, Indy car racing, NASCAR and the World Sports Car Championship.

Joe Gibbs: Three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup championship team owner, two-time Nationwide Series championship team owner, former NHRA team owner, three-time Super Bowl champion head coach. Drivers for Joe Gibbs Racing have won a combined 188 races (106 Sprint Cup, 82 Nationwide).

Ray Evernham: Three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup championship crew chief for Jeff Gordon. Brought Dodge back to NASCAR Cup and Nationwide competition as a team owner in 2001.

L.D. Ottinger: Two-time Sportsman class champion (1974, 1975). Seven consecutive top-10 season finishes in the Busch Series (predecessor to today’s Nationwide Series).

Steve Waid: Veteran motorsports writer and publisher. Began his career as a sports writer, joined the staff of Grand National Scene (which eventually became Winston Cup Scene and then NASCAR Scene) as a writer and rose to eventually became publisher. Is a former winner of the NMPA’s George Cunningham Award and a recipient of the Henry T. McLemore Award for outstanding lifetime achievement in motorsports journalism.

Fernando Alonso likes NASCAR country, but he’s not leaving F1 any time soon

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Jimmie Johnson strolled into the Charlotte Convention Center and did a double-take when he saw Fernando Alonso hanging out in a hallway.

“What’s he doing here?” NASCAR’s seven-time champion wondered.

Alonso made the trip to North Carolina to make an appearance at NASCAR’s annual preseason media tour. No, a ride in NASCAR is not imminent, but the two-time Formula One champion is about to embark on his first major sports car race .

Alonso will race this weekend in the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona for United Autosports, the sports car team owned by his McLaren F1 boss, Zak Brown. It was Brown who paved the way for Alonso to compete in last year’s Indianapolis 500, and he is helping the Spaniard knock prestigious races off his wish list.

Alonso spent about 10 minutes chatting with Johnson, and the duo was eventually joined by sports car aces Scott Pruett and Joey Hand, who were brought to the NASCAR event by IMSA to help promote the Rolex, and then Cup champion Kevin Harvick.

The meet-and-greet with Alonso was a thrill for Johnson. Alonso was equally impressed.

“The first time I heard his name it was probably 2003 on the NASCAR video game,” Alonso said Tuesday. “I used to choose him, not knowing him, just because of the car. I remember playing with another friend of mine, he likes a chocolate company I will not name now, and he was choosing that car and I was choosing Jimmie’s car.

“But that was the first time I heard of him, and obviously the success that he has in the years in motor racing, he became a legend of our sport, and massive respect.”

Johnson said he’s always been a fan of Alonso’s and spent some time telling Alonso how well he ran in the Indianapolis 500 last May. Alonso led 27 laps and seemed to be in contention for the win until his engine expired 21 laps from the finish.

“He handled himself so well, really did a great job, and I think brought a lot to the table,” Johnson said. “He brought worldwide attention to motorsports and it was really good for us here stateside.”

While in NASCAR country, Alonso was asked about potentially trying a stock car someday. It’s not something that could happen soon, he said, but it is something he’d like to at least attempt.

“Right now, it looks quite far. The driving technique and the experience all those guys have, it’s difficult for me to achieve that level,” Alonso said. “I will never know until I try, so I would like one day to test a car and after that, driving the car, I will know how enjoyable it will be in racing.

“Outside (watching), the races are great because they are all in a group, it is not predictable at all and until the last lap, you don’t know what is going to happen. We love watching from the outside, but I don’t know from the inside.”

Alonso has so far only had three days of testing at Daytona in the sports car to adjust to a closed cockpit, as well as driving at night and in traffic. Trying different series has been a thrill for him, and he’s still eyeing a way to get Le Mans on his schedule.

“It’s one thing that I would like to do, I would like to compete in the best races in the world, and Le Mans and is one of the top races,” he said. “If that day will be this year or not is still to be discussed, but maybe yes.”

More AP Auto Racing: https://racing.ap.org/