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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April 5 in Motorsports History: Alex Zanardi’s amazing Long Beach rally

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Alex Zanardi entered the Long Beach Grand Prix on April 5, 1998 as the race’s defending champion and the series’ defending champion.

But the Italian didn’t seem a serious contender for much of the 105-lap event. Zanardi started 11th position and lost a lap early when he was involved in a multicar spin in the hairpin.

Alex Zanardi celebrates after winning the 1998 Grand Prix of Long Beach. Photo: Getty Images

But the race was still young, and despite emerging from the incident in 18th place, Zanardi slowly progressed through the field while battling radio problems that made communication difficult with his team.

With five laps remaining, Zanardi passed Dario Franchitti on the backstretch for second place and then focused in on leader Bryan Herta.

With two laps remaining, Zanardi made his move, making a daring pass on the inside of Herta in the Queen’s Hairpin (which no longer exists as the track layout was changed the following year).

The move was reminiscent of Zanardi’s famous last-lap move on the inside of Laguna Seca’s famed Corkscrew in 1996, which deprived Herta of his first CART victory.

Franchitti passed Herta as well, and Zanardi went on to clinch his first victory of the season.

“On a day when everything went wrong, we came back and won,” Zanardi said following the race. “I can’t explain it. It wasn’t until I saw Bryan ahead of me that I ever thought I had a shot at winning. It was amazing. I have no words to describe it.”

Following Long Beach, Zanadri won six more times in 1998 en route to his second and final CART championship.

Also on this date:

1992: Bobby Rahal led from start to finish to win the Valvoline 200 at Phoenix International Raceway. The win was the first of four victories for Rahal during his championship season.

2009: Ryan Briscoe won the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the first of three victories for the Aussie in 2009. The race was also the first IndyCar Series on Versus, which was rebranded as NBC Sports Network in 2012.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter @michaele1994