Terry Labonte is humbled by nomination for NASCAR Hall of Fame induction

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In a way, Terry Labonte being named as one of 20 nominees for the 2015 NASCAR Hall of Fame induction class is like baking a cake.

Now all he needs is for the frosting to be applied, namely, being one of the five individuals who will be chosen for induction by the 50-member HoF voting panel on May 21.

Labonte, 57 and a two-time Winston Cup champion, competed in the 33rd and final Daytona 500 of his career on Sunday. While he wound up never winning the 500 in his illustrious career, he still showed he knows how to wheel a race car Sunday, starting 24th and finishing a respectable 20th.

Labonte was his usual humble self when discussing his nomination on Monday night’s edition of “Garage Pass” on the Performance Racing Network.

“It kind of surprised me,” Labonte said. “I didn’t really think about it, but that’s exciting to be named with those other guys that were named. That’s pretty cool.”

Due to changes in nominating rules this year, Labonte became immediately eligible for Hall induction consideration along with Bill Elliott, who was voted by fans as NASCAR’s most popular driver for 16 straight years.

By comparison, Sunday’s Daytona 500 winner, Dale Earnhardt Jr., has been voted most popular driver 11 years in a row heading into this year.

Even though they still climb behind the wheel on occasion, Labonte and Elliott became eligible for nomination for the Hall of Fame because of a new stipulation that drivers who have turned 55 years of age in the calendar year before nominating day, and who have competed for 30 or more years in NASCAR-sanctioned racing, are now immediately eligible for induction consideration.

Previously, drivers had to be retired from racing for at least three years. In another eligibility rule change, the Hall also reduced the number of nominees for consideration for next year’s five-person induction class from 25 to 20.

Labonte is honored to be up for induction consideration but in his typical humble, soft-tone manner, played down his chances.

“I don’t know,” Labonte said. “I can think of a lot of people I think that are more deserving than me to be in the Hall of Fame. There’s been so many people that have been in the sport for so many years that accomplished so many things back in the early days, whether it was drivers or crew members or team owners.

“It’s an honor to be mentioned in that category with those people, but there’s a lot of people I think that really made our sport great.”

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Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”