Critics show little class in second-guessing those chosen for NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2015

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It wasn’t more than a few minutes after the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2015 was announced Wednesday before critics started questioning the six individuals chosen for induction.

On a day that should be joyous for the inductees and the sport as a whole, honoring five men and one woman who did or meant so much for the sport, several callous and narrow-minded individuals had to go and spoil it.

Frankly, some of the tweets I read or emails I received were downright ugly – and so undeserving to those who were honored Wednesday.

Several pointed towards Wendell Scott being inducted solely based upon his race.

Others complained about Fred Lorenzen, who has put on a valiant battle with dementia for the last several years but is still with us, but supposedly didn’t have the statistics to warrant HoF induction.

Others questioned why two of the sport’s pioneers – namely 84-year-old Rex White and Joe Weatherly – were chosen.

I even saw a few tweets that Bill Elliott, who was a near-unanimous (87 percent) selection by the HoF voting panel, should have been passed by.

Come on, people, your cynicism and downright prejudice are an embarrassment to NASCAR fans everywhere. You should be ashamed of yourself. How can you call yourself a real and true NASCAR fan? At a time when the sport and its fans should be rejoicing the induction of five more-than-worthy inductees, an extremely small minority of so-called “fans” take it upon themselves to tell the 50-plus-member voting panel that they got it wrong.

That’s right, fans – and I use that word very loosely – think they know the sport and the accomplishments of those chosen Wednesday better than members of the voting panel who probably have a collective tenure of well over 1,000 years in the sport between themselves.

Every one of the five drivers, plus the late wife of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., was more than deserving of selection because each marked a key point in time or accomplishment in the sport’s lengthy and colorful history.

If Wendell Scott was chosen because of his race, so what? Scott was a trailblazer, a pioneer and someone that was a hero to many people, particularly African-American fans and other minorities. No one should have had to endure some of the terrible things he had to during his career simply because of the color of his skin.

And yet the critics and those opposed to Scott’s honor have the audacity to say with a straight face that he doesn’t deserve induction simply because he was different than you or me?

And the 77-year-old Lorenzen, who I interviewed late last year (he has days of great clarity and lucidity still), was arguably one of the most brilliant minds of his era when it came to promoting and building the NASCAR brand. Not to mention that he was a winning driver.

Yet you critics can capriciously say he doesn’t deserve induction, even though he’s still alive and with us and will be able to share in one of the greatest moments of his life despite the condition he’s battled in recent years?

Again, shame on you. Obviously you don’t understand what a Hall of Fame is for and about, nor do you understand why certain individuals are chosen.

Being picked for induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame is not about who won the most races or who won the most championships. It’s not about who had the best overall stats, whatsoever.

Rather, it’s about unique individuals who despite oftentimes long odds managed to persevere and succeed. It’s about individuals whose contributions helped shape the sport and made it what it is today.

Rex White and Joe Weatherly easily fall into the pioneer category for the sport. If they never raced in NASCAR, the sport may never have gained some of the popularity it did while they were behind the wheel.

Ditto for Lorenzen. His nickname of “Hollywood” told the tale of a flashy driver, one of NASCAR’s first real and true stars, a guy with the good looks of a Hollywood leading man. But Fast Freddy was also someone who had a huge fan base at his zenith, only to walk away from the sport at the all-too-young age of 33 so he could devote his life to his family.

Who knows how many championships and additional wins Lorenzen would have earned in his career if he would have raced another 10 years?

But because he had his priorities – family first, faith second and racing third – he didn’t want to make his late wife an early widow or have his kids grow up without a father. That is the ultimate sacrifice any father and husband can make.

And how can someone criticize the selection of Bill Elliott? NASCAR’s most popular driver for 15 straight seasons, a former champion and one of the nicest guys you’d ever want to meet. His spirit, competitiveness, positive outlook and being one of the best that’s ever been behind the wheel more than qualify him for induction.

Hopefully, the new inductees, their families and/or survivors will take the criticism of the honor that was bestowed upon them Wednesday with a grain of salt. No one will ever make everyone happy all of the time.

So to Bill, Rex and Fred, who are still with us, as well as the survivors of Joe, Wendell and Annie B, congratulations on the well-deserved honors. NASCAR today would not be as rich in spirit, color and popularity if it wasn’t for all of your individual and collective efforts.

Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, for all that you did to make the sport a better place for drivers, crew chiefs, team owners, crew members, the media and fans.

And as for the critics who think they know the sport better and feel they can speak better as to who does or doesn’t deserve induction into the Hall of Fame:

With your narrow-mindedness and the short-sighted way you look at things, you may say you are a fan, but in reality, you don’t deserve to call yourself that because criticizing six individuals on perhaps the greatest day of their lives – to be recognized for all the good things they did for the sport – is not what real and true fans do.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Sauber’s Wehrlein rules himself out, Giovinazzi to sub at Australian GP

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After Friday’s practice sessions and after having been originally cleared to race for the Australian Grand Prix, it has been determined that Sauber F1 Team’s Pascal Wehrlein will not be able to continue in the rest of the weekend. He opted to rule himself out due to his fitness level.

“My fitness level is not as it should be for a full race distance because of my training deficit. I explained the situation to the team yesterday evening. Therefore, the Sauber F1 Team has decided not to take any risks. It is a pity, but the best decision for the team,” Wehrlein said in a release.

Wehrlein missed the opening test at Barcelona before resuming for the second test. He’d had a back injury sustained in an accident at the Race of Champions event in Miami in January.

As for that opening test, Antonio Giovinazzi, the Italian Ferrari reserve driver, will fill in for the German. This was meant to be Wehrlein’s first race with Sauber; instead, it will be Giovinazzi’s Grand Prix debut.

“We have great respect of Pascal’s openness and professionalism. This decision was definitely not an easy one for him, it underlines his qualities as a team player. The focus is now on his fitness level, and in such a situation we do not take any unnecessary risks. Pascal will be in China as planned,” team principal Monisha Kaltenborn added.

This isn’t the first injury fill-in to race in F1 in recent years; twice, Fernando Alonso has missed a race each of the last two years.

After a testing crash at Barcelona in 2015, Kevin Magnussen filled in in Alonso’s McLaren Honda, although was unable to start the race with a mechanical before the lights even went out. Meanwhile Alonso missed last year’s Bahrain Grand Prix after his accident at Melbourne, which opened the door for Stoffel Vandoorne to make his debut, and the Belgian promptly scored a point.

Giovinazzi has no prior experience at the Albert Park circuit and so will have to learn the track during FP3, which runs at 11 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports App. Qualifying takes place at 2 a.m. ET on NBCSN.

Here’s pics and notes from NBCSN pit reporter and insider Will Buxton, who is on the ground in Melbourne:

More races, more friction in the future for F1

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) The new owners of Formula One are planning to have more races and a greater presence in North America, and wouldn’t mind revving up the ratings with some extra friction among drivers.

Sean Bratches, the managing director of commercial operations for the Formula One Group – formerly Liberty Media – which took over the running of the sport in January, is already fielding offers from promotors wanting to buy in.

Lewis Hamilton has suggested Miami and Daniel Ricciardo picked Las Vegas as places they’d like to see new races, and Bratches told a news conference Friday that “there’s no dearth of interest in bringing Formula One to circuits, both track and street, around the world.”

Bratches said he’d had a “number of inquiries from cities, states, municipalities and countries around the world that are interested.”

There are 20 races on the 2017 calendar, starting with the Australian Grand Prix on Sunday, and concluding with Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November. The debate over the number and location of races has been frequent over the last decade.

F1 racing returned in 2012 to the United States, where it is held at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, in October. While the bulk of the races remain in Europe and Asia, there are also GPs in Canada, Mexico and Brazil.

“Our interest is in expanding the number of circuits in that marketplace, leveraging Austin – our incumbent and the benchmark in terms of what we’re doing in the States,” said Bratches, adding there was clear demand for it in North America. “We’re excited about all markets around the world, but the United States is going to be a focus.”

Three-time world champion Lewis Hamilton and Ricciardo, an Australian who finished third on the season standings last year, are among the drivers who’d like to see more than 20 races in the F1 series. Veteran Fernando Alonso also doesn’t mind the idea of expansion, although maybe not for a few years.

Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel, who has won four world drivers’ titles, thinks 16 to 20 would be enough. All agreed that expansion was pointless unless it increases the level of competition. Hamilton and Mercedes dominated the last three seasons, and Red Bull was dominant for the four seasons before that.

There’s always been driver tension in F1, usually between teams but also involving teammates vying for championships. Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, who edged Hamilton for the title last year and then retired, had an openly strained rivalry at Mercedes since 2013.

That’s something former ESPN executive Bratches doesn’t mind.

Responding to a question about the drivers being overly-managed by public relations people, Bratches said: “There’s a number of sports where there’s big personalities that allow sports to punch above their respective pay grades.”

He said the drivers were a big part of the fan engagement.

“Candidly, I would love it if more of the drivers had big personalities, there was more controversy among the drivers – and you kind of unleash them a little bit,” he said. “I think that’s good for all of us.”

Jolyon Palmer on the back foot in Australia after F1 practice crash

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Renault’s Jolyon Palmer has admitted that he is “on the back foot” heading into the remainder of this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix after completing just 10 laps in Friday’s Formula 1 practice sessions.

F1 sophomore Palmer arrived in Australia looking to impress after enjoying a bold drive on debut at Albert Park 12 months ago, narrowly missing out on a points finish.

The Briton was the first driver to fall victim of F1’s more challenging cars in an official 2017 race weekend session, losing control through the final corner and slamming into the wall to bring his FP2 running to an early end.

This followed a problem earlier in the day that had limited his FP1 mileage, leaving Palmer with just 10 laps to his name from three hours of Friday running.

“Sadly it was a pretty short day for me in terms of time in the car. We had a minor technical issue in the first session then I had an off in FP2, which unlike FP1 required more than one part replacing,” Palmer explained.

“I’m not sure exactly what happened and we’ll be having a close look at the data. I feel for my crew as they have a decent amount of work to do.

“I’m hopeful of more track time tomorrow, but we’ll be on the back foot heading into qualifying after only 10 laps today.”

Qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from 2am ET on Saturday morning.

Indy 500 champ Rossi takes his shot with the Blackhawks (PHOTOS)

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There are many cool things you get to do after winning the Indianapolis 500. Visiting the grounds of one of the NHL’s most successful, Stanley Cup-winning teams is one of them.

Andretti-Herta Autosport’s Alexander Rossi visited Chicago this week to meet up with the Chicago Blackhawks, trading in his usual No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts Honda for a No. 98 jersey.

Usually it’s the ‘Hawks that are one of the top teams in the NHL and a usual Stanley Cup trophy winner – they’ve won in 2013 and 2015, recently – but it’s the Cubs that right now host a championship trophy having won the World Series for the first time in 108 years.

Anyway, here’s a few photos and videos from Rossi’s trip to Chitown, which also included his own chance to shoot a puck.

Rossi took a photo with iconic Blackhawks singer Jim Cornelison:

Here’s Rossi with Marian Hossa:

Here’s a quick photo before practicing, then video of Rossi practicing:

Rossi paid a visit to WGN Radio:

And all told, Rossi was a fan: