NASCAR Hall of Fame announces 20 nominees for sixth induction class

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The NASCAR Hall of Fame on Friday announced the 20 nominees for its sixth induction class, set to be voted upon on May 21.

New rules for this year’s field of nominees included reducing the size of eligible candidates from 25 to 20 eligible drivers, as well as making drivers 55 or older as of Dec. 31, 2013 and with a minimum of 10 years of racing immediately eligible for Hall induction.

Also, any competitor with 30 or more years of NASCAR competition, regardless of age, is also automatically eligible to be voted upon.

Among nominees for the sixth class include two-time Sprint Cup champion Terry Labonte, who will start his 33rd and final Daytona 500 on Sunday. Other luminaries include 1988 Cup champ and 16-time Most Popular Driver Bill Elliott, nine-time champion (across Whelen Modified Tour and K&N Pro Series East) Mike Stefanik, 19-race winner Buddy Baker and championship team owner and engine builder Robert Yates.

The five nominees receiving the most votes will make up the 2015 Hall of Fame induction class.

The Hall also announced the five nominees for the first Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR: H. Clay Earles, Anne B. France, Raymond Parks, Ralph Seagraves and Ken Squier. The nominee with the most votes will win the award.

Parks is the only individual to be included as both a NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee and a Landmark Award nominee.

The 20 nominees for induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame are:

* Buddy Baker, won 19 times in NASCAR’s premier (now Sprint Cup) series, including the Daytona 500 and Southern 500

* Red Byron, first NASCAR premier series champion, in 1949

* Richard Childress, 11-time car owner champion in NASCAR’s three national series

* Jerry Cook, six-time NASCAR Modified champion

* Bill Elliott, 1988 premier series champion, two-time Daytona 500 winner and 16-time Most Popular Driver

* Ray Fox, legendary engine builder and owner of cars driven by Buck Baker, Junior Johnson and others

* Rick Hendrick, 14-time car owner champion in NASCAR’s three national series

* Bobby Isaac, 1970 NASCAR premier series champion

* Terry Labonte, Two-time NASCAR premier series champion

* Fred Lorenzen, 26 wins and winner of the Daytona 500 and World 600

* Raymond Parks, NASCAR’s first champion car owner

* Benny Parsons, 1973 NASCAR premier series champion

* Larry Phillips, only five-time NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national champion

* Wendell Scott, NASCAR trailblazer was the first African-American NASCAR premier series race winner, and first to be nominated for induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame

* O. Bruton Smith, builder of Charlotte Motor Speedway and architect of Speedway Motorsports Inc.

* Mike Stefanik, winner of record-tying nine NASCAR championships

* Curtis Turner, early personality, called the “Babe Ruth of stock car racing”

* Joe Weatherly, two-time NASCAR premier series champion

* Rex White, 1960 NASCAR premier series champion

* Robert Yates, won NASCAR premier series championship as both an engine builder and owner

The five nominees for the inaugural Landmark Award are:

* H. Clay Earles, founder of Martinsville Speedway

* Anne Bledsoe France, helped build the sport with husband Bill France Sr. Affectionately known as “Annie B.,” she is the first woman to be nominated for induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame

* Raymond Parks, NASCAR’s first champion car owner

* Ralph Seagraves, formed groundbreaking Winston-NASCAR partnership as executive with R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company

* Ken Squier, legendary radio and television broadcaster; inaugural winner/namesake of Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence

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IndyCar’s 2018 full-field grid nearing completion

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Following Wednesday’s confirmation of the all-Canadian tandem at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, each of the eight full-time teams in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season have announced at least one driver for 2018, leaving very few remaining question marks.

What stands confirmed is below:

CONFIRMED

  • Team Penske (3, Chevrolet): Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power
  • Chip Ganassi Racing (1, Honda): Scott Dixon
  • Andretti Autosport (4, Honda): Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Marco Andretti, Zach Veach
  • Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (2, Honda): Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato
  • Schmidt Peterson Motorsports (2, Honda): James Hinchcliffe, Robert Wickens
  • Ed Carpenter Racing (2, Chevrolet): Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter (ovals)
  • A.J. Foyt Enterprises (1, Chevrolet): Tony Kanaan
  • Dale Coyne Racing (1, Honda): Sebastien Bourdais
  • Harding Racing (1, Chevrolet): Gabby Chaves

There are four additional drivers confirmed for selected races or an month of May program:

  • Team Penske (1, Chevrolet): Helio Castroneves
  • Andretti Autosport (1, Honda): Stefan Wilson
  • Calmels Sport with SPM (1, Honda): Tristan Gommendy
  • Team TBD (1, TBD): Kyle Kaiser

All told that’s 17 full-season driver and team combinations confirmed and four additional part-time programs, at least, that are set. Several of those driver/team combinations will have engineering and strategist changes, as well.

In a minor note since our last update at Sonoma, Marco Andretti confirmed he won’t run No. 27 next year. Of note, Bryan Herta served as Andretti’s race strategist this year, although the car he was an entrant on was Alexander Rossi’s No. 98 car. Herta will continue his relationship with Andretti Autosport again next season.

WHAT’S LEFT TO SORT? NOT MUCH

Elsewhere, there’s only a handful of remaining question marks as the series hits mid-October, a rarity from past years and an illustration of the urgency to fill seats to get as much preparation time in testing with the new 2018 Dallara universal aero kit as possible.

NBC Sports expects 2016 Indy Lights champion and 2017 IndyCar rookie-of-the-year Ed Jones to be confirmed soon as second driver in Dale Coyne Racing’s No. 19 Honda alongside Sebastien Bourdais, with team personnel and Bourdais both having indicated a preference in keeping the Dubai-based Brit for a second year.

NBC Sports also expects Jones’ successor as Indy Lights champion, Kyle Kaiser, to have his future announced shortly in terms of which team he’ll step up to IndyCar with. It would not be a surprise if Kaiser does graduate along with Juncos Racing, although Kaiser is known to have talked to multiple teams. The Mazda Motorsports scholarship nets him $1 million for a three-race program, including the 102nd Indianapolis 500, with the driver then needing to secure additional funding for further races, as Jones and Pigot both have each of the last two years.

The status of Brendon Hartley has now been thrown up as a slight question mark dependent on how his Formula 1 debut with Scuderia Toro Rosso goes at this weekend’s United States Grand Prix, and if Toro Rosso provides him a further race opportunity in one of the remaining three Grands Prix thereafter. Having been all-but-earmarked for Chip Ganassi Racing’s second seat in 2018, if an F1 offer comes, Hartley’s potential IndyCar bow could get delayed.

A McLaren-named entry competing either in the Indianapolis 500 or full-time seems further off than realistic for next year, McLaren’s Zak Brown told reporters on a teleconference this week. McLaren maintains an IndyCar technical presence though, via its McLaren Applied Technologies outfit.

What’s left then are the dominoes of whether Carlin’s IndyCar plans officially come to fruition as the team has gotten closer than it ever has to doing so, and who emerges in the second seats at A.J. Foyt Enterprises and Ed Carpenter Racing (road and street courses), respectively.

A number of young IndyCar veterans – Max Chilton, Charlie Kimball, Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly namely – are yet to land for 2018 and there’s no guarantee all four of them will be back in IndyCar next season.

There’s also a handful of young drivers, namely RC Enerson, Jack Harvey, Esteban Gutierrez, Santiago Urrutia, Zachary Claman DeMelo, Sage Karam and Matthew Brabham among others, who could well emerge in the frame for seats.

Gutierrez’s status seemed dependent on Mexico City being added to the 2018 calendar, and although the race still could be added, the fact neither is in place at this point doesn’t inspire as much confidence about his presence as a regular on the grid as it did earlier this summer.

All told, there’s not nearly that much to sort out as IndyCar’s grid for 2018 is looking very much close to set at this early stage of a long offseason.