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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Attention NASCAR teams: IMSA drivers available for Daytona!

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NASCAR will be making its debut on the Daytona International Speedway road course next month, and there’s a big fan who’d like to join the historic weekend.

This fan actually has impressive credentials, too — a few thousand laps around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile layout that annually plays host to the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January.

In 2014, the winning GTLM team in the sports car endurance classic included IMSA Porsche driver Nick Tandy, who rabidly has followed NASCAR for more than 30 years since growing up in England.

So why not try racing NASCAR? Especially because Tandy has the weekend of Aug. 14-16 free.

He’s not picky, either — offering up his services on Twitter (as well as those of Porsche teammate Earl Bamber) for an ARCA, Xfinity, trucks or Cup ride.

Tandy’s affinity for American stock-car racing runs deep.

His first trip to the World Center of Racing was as a fan attending the 50th running of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 17, 2008. During Rolex testing in January, Tandy, 35, said he hadn’t missed a Cup race on TV in 15 years.

Among his favorite NASCAR drivers: the Earnhardts, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch. When IMSA ran the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in 2014, Tandy stayed a few extra days at the Brickyard and bought Kyle Busch gear for himself and his children.

He briefly took the stage during a NASCAR weekend last October. After IMSA’s season finale at Road Atlanta, Tandy made a few demonstration laps and a burnout in his No. 911 Porsche before the Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway.

He also has some experience in stock cars, having raced Modified-type grass-roots series on England’s quarter-mile short tracks.

Couple that with a Daytona road course record that includes two consecutive podium class finishes (including last Saturday) and a sports car resume with 13 IMSA victories and an overall win in the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans … and maybe a NASCAR team should take a look.

And Tandy isn’t the only IMSA driver who likely would be available.

Corvette driver Jordan Taylor, who won the 2017 Rolex 24 overall title with Jeff Gordon as a teammate (and the inspiration for his Rodney Sandstrom persona), also tweeted his availability for the weekend on the high banks.

Sports car veteran Andy Lally, a GTD driver with multiple class wins in the Rolex 24 as well as 38 Cup starts (he was the 2011 rookie of the season in NASCAR’s premier series), also hung out his shingle.

There also is AIM Vasser Sullivan’s Jack Hawksworth (who just won at Daytona last Saturday), the Englishman who teamed with Kyle Busch at the Rolex 24 in January and made an Xfinity start at Mid-Ohio last year with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Many sports car drivers (such as Taylor) already live in Florida, and many are hunkering down in the Sunshine State with IMSA returning to action at Daytona last week and Sebring International Raceway next week. Because of COVID-19-related travel concerns and restrictions, several IMSA stars who live outside the country are riding out the pandemic within a few hours of Daytona with nothing to do.

Why not a weekend at the World Center of Racing?

Over the years, scads of “road-course ringers” (including some Formula One veterans) have tried their hands in stock cars at Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International.

How about considering the many sports car drivers who already have reached victory lane at Daytona by making a few right-hand turns, too?