NASCAR Hall of Fame’s class of 2015 to be chosen tomorrow

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Who will be the next five NASCAR legends to join the sport’s Hall of Fame? We’re one day away from finding out.

The Class of 2015 will be chosen tomorrow in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the Hall of Fame’s voting panel is charged with picking from a field of 20 inductees. One of the 55 ballots cast is a collective fan vote that officially closed earlier this afternoon.

As part of several changes to the Hall of Fame’s eligibility and voting process, the defending Sprint Cup Series champion now has a vote at his/her disposal.

Hendrick Motorsports driver Jimmie Johnson, who claimed his sixth Cup championship last fall, has used the opportunity as a learning experience.

“I definitely have an opinion and look forward to understanding the process,” Johnson told Yahoo Sports recently. “Some (nominees) I knew, I knew their background but I learned a little bit more.

“Others, I’m getting a nice little glimpse into their part of NASCAR and their history in NASCAR.”

The announcement will take place tomorrow at 4 p.m. ET, with NASCAR AMERICA broadcasting live at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN from the Hall of Fame.

Here’s the list of 20 potential inductees that could be chosen for induction tomorrow. Many of them are former drivers, with others having excelled in roles such as team ownership, track ownership, and engine building:

  • Buddy Baker
  • Red Byron
  • Richard Childress
  • Jerry Cook
  • Bill Elliott
  • Ray Fox
  • Rick Hendrick
  • Bobby Isaac
  • Terry Labonte
  • Fred Lorenzen
  • Raymond Parks
  • Benny Parsons
  • Larry Phillips
  • Wendell Scott
  • Bruton Smith
  • Mike Stefanik
  • Curtis Turner
  • Joe Weatherly
  • Rex White
  • Robert Yates

Also up for grabs tomorrow is the inaugural Landmark Award for outstanding contributions to the sport.

The nominees for this special honor are: TV/radio broadcaster Ken Squier; Parks, the sport’s first championship-winning team owner; H. Clay Earles, the late creator of Martinsville Speedway; Anne B. France, the wife of NASCAR founder Bill France Sr.; and Ralph Seagraves, who brought R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and its Winston brand to the sport as a sponsor in the 1970s.

The Landmark nominees are also eligible for the Hall of Fame itself.

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

Follow@KyleMLavigne