- Did you mean:
A.J . Foyt surprises Stewart at After The Lap
WATCH: Full "After the Lap" program Tony Stewart has long admired A.J . Foyt and that admiration was on display during NASCAR's After The Lap program Thursday night in Las Vegas. Stewart was was holding court on stage with the 15 other Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers and hosts Rutledge Wood and Guy Fieri, reminiscing and telling tales from his NASCAR racing days. Wood stopped the chatting to bring out Foyt , a seven-time victor in NASCAR's premier series and four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500. "This is the baddest man on the planet right here," Stewart said of Foyt . Foyt sat next to Stewart and the two told a handful of stories -- in a playful back-and-forth banter -- while the rest of the drivers listened on. Stewart described when he knew he was a fan of Foyt . "I knew this was my guy the year he was at the Indy 500 and got out of his car and started beating on the right front suspension with a hammer," Stewart said. "And then had the (expletive) to get back in it and drive it. I was like, 'That's my horse right there.' " Foyt also shared with the group what he told Stewart when he was first starting out. "The only thing I told Tony when he first started, was, 'Don't act like I do because I acted like a fool many times,' " Foyt said. "How do you think that worked out?" Stewart quipped back. Stewart, a three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion, ended his NASCAR career after the 2016 season. &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Racing legend A.J . Foyt returns to Daytona for Rolex 24
Related: History of NASCAR drivers in Rolex 24 DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The great A.J . Foyt arrived at Daytona International Speedway Friday afternoon to join NASCAR driver Jamie McMurray in donating some memorabilia to the highly refurbished track. Fans who gathered for the weekend's Rolex 24 at Daytona did double takes as two of the speedway's most decorated drivers walked through the concourse and prepared to donate keepsakes to be a part of the $400 million Daytona renovation debuting for the event. The 2010 Daytona 500 winner McMurray talked, laughed and walked with the legend Foyt to a stage located inside the grandstands and adjacent to the checkered start/finish line. "Versus any other race track in the world, it's unbelieveable," McMurray said of the track before revealing a large glass trophy case displaying McMurray's race-winning Daytona 500 checkered flag and racing shoes from last year's Rolex 24 victory -- all to be on display in the facility's new concourse. But while Friday's event was clearly intended to publicize the speedway's makeover, the 81-year old Foyt commanded a presence all his own. Still walking with a limp after recovering from an extensive hospitalization and knee surgery last year, the Texan was very complimentary of the track's new look. He will wave the green flag to start Saturday's twice-around-the-clock race. "Just glad to be back; the Frances have always been so good to me and I don't know of another speedway in the world that's this nice and this beautiful," the 1972 Daytona 500 winner said. Foyt was clearly feeling good and glad to be back at a racetrack after missing the end of the 2015 IndyCar season dealing with health issues. Most evident, was his fondness for this particular track. "I made up my mind I wasn't going to walk with no cane. … you don't realize at 81 years old you'd have to learn to walk again," he said, smiling. "I'm getting there. Every day is a better day for me." Foyt enjoyed answering a few questions from the gathered reporters Friday afternoon, laughing, making jokes and sharing heartfelt responses. He still fondly recalled his first start in the Rolex 24 in 1964 -- he led the event's first lap in what was then called the Daytona Continental -- and how his father, who Foyt said "lay dying in a hospital" at the time, insisted he race in it instead of worriedly waiting in a hospital room. "Daddy kind of got mad at me and said, 'why don't you go down there and have some fun,' " Foyt recalled with a smile. The Texan didn't win that year, but returned to win the Rolex twice in 1983 and 1985. Foyt's health was a recurring topic and there was clearly a lot of interest in the living legend. Smilingly obliging, the Texan relived his recent hospital stay and release. "When I came to (the hospital), I kept playing with them," Foyt said smiling. "I'm about 99.9 percent healed up now. They kept telling me, 'two months, two months' and I looked at my doctor and said that 'two months has just about been a year.' "It's been good though. I can't holler about my life. I've had a wonderful life and raced about everywhere I could and won my share, and lost my share." And as the pauses grew and the questions dwindled, Foyt was asked if there was anything he would have done differently throughout his celebrated life. "I wouldn’t change nothing," he said and flashed a brilliant grin.
Foyt surprises Stewart at NASCAR After the Lap
A.J . Foyt makes a surprise guest appearance at NASCAR After the Lap to share stories about Tony Stewart and help send Stewart off in style.
Daytona rises even higher from beach sand
Editor's Note: This story was published on February 12, 2016 as Daytona completed work on the Daytona Rising project ahead of the 2016 season. NASCAR.com's Holly Cain has the story of the track's evolution to the first motorsports stadium of its kind. RELATED: Daytona through the years " Full Speedweeks schedule DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Lesa France Kennedy and her uncle Jim France clutched a giant pair of scissors and officially cut the ribbon inside the new-look, re-imagined Daytona International Speedway last month, flashing wide smiles and knowing eyes. When these same International Speedway Corporation executives first broke ground on the $400 million Daytona Rising project more than two years ago, Kennedy promised, "We are truly creating history with this unprecedented endeavor." So even as she and France took their positions and prepared for the ceremonial dedication, the pair couldn't contain their excitement -- it was palpable as they continually stole glimpses across the vast new open-air concourse, out to the track below and even toward the famous beach in the distance where Jim's father and Lesa's grandfather Bill France Sr.'s stock car racing idea first flourished 60 years ago. It was ironic that the actual ribbon cutting on the facility occurred on a rare breezy, rainy, chilly day in Daytona Beach, because the people who attended were joyful and oblivious to the weather. Huge crowds line the dunes to watch Daytona racing in 1949 There was history to make. The Daytona Rising project has been touted as a "re-imagining," and its finished look is nothing short of transformative. Even the new nomenclature of the speedway sounds impressive -- from its "injectors" outside to its "neighborhoods" inside. Previous modifications to the track have been for the thrill of competition and the safety of the racers. This massive investment is foremost for the comfort and pleasure of the loyal fans, and it will be evident this week as people begin arriving for NASCAR's season-opening events at Daytona Speedweeks, which culminate with the Feb. 21 Daytona 500 . Evolution from race track to racing's first sporting stadium is not unlike moving the course from its origins at the beach to a sprawling remarkable speedway. It is the third version of high-end Daytona stock car racing. "I don't know of another speedway in the world that's this nice and this beautiful," racing legend A.J . Foyt declared at the track's Rolex 24 debut the last week of January. And that's high praise for a structure that is simultaneously imposing and inspiring from a racer known and appreciated for his grit and honesty. The Chevrolet Injector at Daytona International Speedway NASCAR team owner Chip Ganassi was in complete agreement with Foyt . "When you first hear they spent $400 million, and you go see the work that's been done, stand on pit lane and look at the grandstand, it looks like $800 million," Ganassi said. "It's really, really something really first class and I think it's going to take our sport to a new level for what fans expect. "This is going to be the Ritz-Carlton of race tracks, there are so many amenities. I couldn't be happier for our fans and what it's going to do for our sport." WATCH: Daytona rises in time lapse video The smiles, the wide-eyes, the enthusiasm that has been brimming under the surface has been notable since this project began more than two years ago. Everyone from the car manufacturers to longtime racing sponsors have gladly joined in the effort. Chevrolet, one of the original and primary corporate sponsors of the new-look speedway, has been eager to support modernization of the facility, recognizing the benefits of balancing modern updates with historic importance. "Chevrolet's commitment to racing originated more than a century ago with Louis Chevrolet and remains strong today as we solidify our presence at the 'World Center of Racing,' " President of General Motors North America Alan Batey said when announcing the company's partnership with Daytona. And for all the attention paid to historic detail, fans will also undoubtedly notice the refined façade outside and appreciate the refinements inside, from larger, more comfortable seating to high-tech huge screens and WiFi availability to the most escalators (40) and newly refurbished restrooms (1,891) of any sports stadium in the country. Artwork in the Sunoco Injector at Daytona International Speedway WATCH: Joie Chitwood III excited to unveil speedway additions Toyota joins Chevrolet as an "injector" sponsor and was actually the first to formally announce its partnership with the new Daytona project more than two years ago. The two manufacturers' efforts at creating welcoming, interesting and exciting interactive elements at the track offer a glimpse of how a far-reaching a corporate plan can be. Creativity is the theme throughout the facility with each of the corporate-sponsored injector entrances from Toyota to Chervolet and from Sunoco to Florida Hospital providing an extensive and interactive "experience" for fans. "Philosophically, I think it demonstrates our commitment to motorsports in general and NASCAR in particular, and like anyone else, we're always looking for a way to engage the fans in a meaningful way," said Toyota's Keith Dahl, general manager for motorsports and asset management for Toyota Motor Sales USA. The Toyota Injector at Daytona International Speedway The bigger-than-life Toyota logo that greets Daytona fans at its injector entrance is the largest commercial logo in the United States, according to Dahl. And the company's historic relationship with NASCAR is immediately evident feet away with five full-size Toyota race car replicas representing the Sprint Cup Series' Camrys fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing , and this year's new addition, Furniture Row Racing . Take the escalator up 35 feet to the main concourse and fans are greeted by the reigning Sprint Cup Series championship No. 18 Toyota similar to the one driven by champion Kyle Busch -- a replica so precise it's adorned with both celebratory confetti and bumper-rubbing scrapes. A Sprint Cup trophy sits encased alongside. The massive concourse called a "neighborhood" is 100,000 square feet and there is a common and connecting theme along the Toyota area -- photos and stories of the company's workers -- from car sales associates to manufacturing plant workers to race shop mechanics. A massive "touchscreen wall" made of eight big screens features humble stories and real-life profiles from the company's employees. The headline "From American Factories to American Roads" greets fans and reminds them of the company's commitment to the ultimate of American sports, stock car racing. And vice versa. "Obviously, as time went by more and more effort got put into this," Dahl said. "We literally would have meetings and throw some ideas out there. I know it's cliché to say it's a 'blank canvas,' but it really is. There are a lot of ideas we wanted to try. "This was a chance to try some things. And what you see today, I would hope is not what you would see in perpetuity. We want to keep things vibrant and relative. We'll have different things going on." For example, the refreshment area in each injector is similar but uniquely decorated. In Toyota's version, there are seats refurbished and retained from the speedway's former grandstands. Toyota Tundra truck tailgates were made into benches for many of the tables. As you walk along the massive concourse, Toyota has an area featuring its latest passenger cars and trucks. Take an elevator up to the next level and you are immediately greeted with a replica of the nose cone of the Space Shuttle Endeavor -- the real spacecraft that a Toyota Tundra famously gave a lift to a museum in downtown Los Angeles in 2012. And winning Toyota race cars and race trucks hang from the ceiling. The Florida Hospital Injector at Daytona International Speedway Stand on a level high atop the grandstands, alongside the luxury corporate suites looking outward from the speedway and you can feel the breeze and see what's coming next. Across the street, tractors and bulldozers are working to build a massive mall and eatery, "One Daytona" for the next phase of the facility's modernization. It will include popular restaurants, a Bass Pro Shops store and famous hotels, plus – importantly -- ease of passage from sidetrack to race track. "As you walk through the stadium, you see the potential for anything," Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood III said proudly, glancing across the street. "For us the goal is to continue to push the envelope. Yes, we're the world center of racing, but also the world center of entertainment is very doable." But what is most important to both the executives and definitely the fans is a one-of-a-kind, top-shelf experience at Daytona from thrilling racing on track to thrilling ways to watch the racing on track. The speedway is not only keeping up with the times, it's setting fast time. "Probably what makes me most proud is that the France family entrusted me with their most valuable property," Chitwood said. "Being around Lesa and Jim France and seeing the legacy that Bill France created in the 1950s, we have to live up to that. "This is the Daytona International Speedway and Big Bill built this place and we are not going to misstep. It has to be right. And I'm proud to say, I think we nailed it." WATCH: 'Untold Stories: Daytona'
Cain: Emotional, hard fought win for Gordon, No. 10 team
RELATED: Gordon, No. 10 team win Rolex 24 DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Before the Rolex 24 trophy hoisting, the hugs, handshakes and high-fives Sunday afternoon, Jeff Gordon and his Wayne Taylor Racing teammates paused to -- at last -- take a big breath. A HUGE breath of the freshest of air. Victory. It was an unbelievably tense and emotional final hour of a 24-hour race with 27-year-old Ricky Taylor prevailing in a gritty bump-and-run for the lead with less than 10 minutes remaining. It was a winning move every bit reminiscent of his co-driver Gordon's NASCAR world. "At the end of the day you have to go for it, so I went for it," Taylor said. The friends and crew members crowded into the Taylor team's pit stall alongside the famed Daytona International Speedway were mostly silent for the final hour of the race -- all but for the controlled variation of fist pumps and quiet cheers as they watched Taylor triumph in that must-take, dramatic final pass for the lead following more than 23-3/4 hours of perhaps the most all-around competitive and best-attended Rolex ever. It was indicative of this event. An Alegra Motorsports Porsche won the GTD class by less than a second (0.293 seconds). And NASCAR team owner Chip Ganassi Racing 's Ford GT won a super competitive GT LeMans class by 2.9 seconds -- remarkably eight class cars finishing nose-to-tail on the same lap. As the white flag waved to signal the final lap of the race, people in the Taylor team pit box looked around smiling and quite obviously trying to contain the emotion. And then finally, as Ricky Taylor drove across the start/finish line, you could distinguish Gordon's cheers among the emotional celebration. He is the first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion to take overall victory in this iconic event and only the fourth driver (joining A.J . Foyt , Mario Andretti and Jamie McMurray ) to win both the Daytona 500 and the Rolex 24. RELATED: NASCAR drivers' history in Rolex 2 4 Team owner Wayne Taylor -- who last won here as a driver in 2005 -- ran out to his son, who slowed the car on pit road. He opened the door and leaned in for an embrace, then Wayne climbed onto the side of the race car. Youngest son Jordan Taylor, 25, who also drove the car, took position on the other side of the No. 10 Konica Minolta Cadillac DPi as Ricky triumphantly drove the family to Daytona's Victory Lane. Gordon, along with the team's veteran driver Max Angelelli -- who was making his final race start -- walked down pit road to meet them, receiving all the accolades deserved after such an impressive victory. "This is unbelievable, I haven't been this emotional for a win and an experience like this for a very long time," a smiling and effusive Gordon said, amid the cheering and congratulations. "The reason is because I know what this means to this team, Wayne (Taylor), these kids (Ricky and Jordan), Max. Oh my gosh. This is amazing. Daytona has always been special, but this one sent me over the top. I'm just blown away right now. "It's unbelievable that it came down to that. What a battle, what a race. Cadillac, I'm so impressed with this race car. It's not just beautiful, it's strong." WATCH: Junior talks about his Rolex 24 experience, Gordon, more Twice in the previous three years, Taylor's team has finished runner-up in this grueling Daytona Speedweeks opener. It has been heartbreaking and yet, also so extremely motivating to the Taylor family. As the five men joined together late Sunday to speak about the race, they alternately sported wide smiles and conceded earlier tears. This was the hugest of triumphs among years of determined efforts. And they were so grateful to share the special day with Gordon, who joked about racing in the rain Saturday night, but repeatedly spoke about the great respect he has gained for the young Taylors' racing talent. "I've built enough of a bond with this group, I'd love to see them get other opportunities out there," Gordon said. "They have the personality and the talent. "All I've been thinking about is how can I get them to some ovals in a bigger, heavier car." RELATED: NASCAR family cheers Gordon and Ganassi Gordon even suggested that the winning experience may motivate him to do the race again next year. "I felt more prepared and it was an even better experience than 2007 so who knows, maybe there's a chance of another one," Gordon said. "I want to contribute and add and help this team win. These are the real winners. But I did my part and I'm proud of that." Every time the Taylor brothers and their father spoke of the winning moments, they talked about how much more special it was because Gordon was with them. As the team gathered on the starting grid in the minutes before the race, Gordon and the Taylors revealed temporary tattoos of a Rolex watch -- extra motivation that had worn off by the checkered flag. Only to be replaced by the real thing, capping off a race weekend that Gordon, his teammates and sports car fandom will remember for a very, very long time. &amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;lt;/p&amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;amp;gt;
Cain: Bigger and more memorable at Texas
RELATED: Gallery of memorable moments at Texas " Full weekend schedule FORT WORTH -- From track "weepers" and multicar inaugural-lap pileups to a winner's circle confrontation between two Indianapolis 500 champs, Texas Motor Speedway has been the site of some of the most remarkable, memorable and bizarre story lines of any circuit on the NASCAR circuit. The 1.5-mile oval outside Fort Worth celebrates its 20th year hosting a NASCAR race this week with Saturday night's Duck Commander 500 (7:30 p.m. ET, FOX, PRN, Sirius XM NASCAR Radio.) And for those of us around at the very beginning, it seems a fitting time to reminisce a bit about the facility's famously storied early history. As they like to remind you in Texas, everything is "bigger" there. And it has been. The track's early trials and tribulations have only contributed to its great character and esteem. In my 25 years of sports journalism, the opening races at Texas Motor Speedway still remain among the most unforgettable times of my career. Never before and never since have I covered a specific beat that provided as much sensation, controversy and must-see-TV as TMS in the early years. Two decades later, the track located at the intersection of an interstate and two major Texas highways has evolved into one of the sport's most prestigious venues. It boasts the largest HD screen, named "Big Hoss," fantastic spectator seating and the most condominiums of any track on the circuit. Plus really great racing. Nearly 195,000 people showed up for the inaugural Texas race in 1997 and most of those who were ticket holders then still are, two decades later proving they are as faithful and optimistic as they were devoted. It turns out those have been good traits for this endeavor. MORE: Paint scheme preview for Texas I had just started work at The Dallas Morning News newspaper in the spring of 1997 a few weeks after Jeff Burton took the checkered flag for NASCAR's first Cup series race at Texas in April. The new facility was considered the "home track" to cover. After reporting on the Indianapolis 500 in May, I was immediately back home in Dallas, ready for the Indy Racing League's night-time debut at TMS the next week. There, a 26-year old future three-time NASCAR Cup champion Tony Stewart put on an open-wheel show for the ages, racing wheel-to-wheel lap-after-lap with Buddy Lazier. Stewart -- who went on to win two Cup races at Texas (2006 and 2011) -- led a race-high 100 of the 208 laps only to suffer an engine failure that night. But toward the end of the race there were questions regarding the scoring shown on the monitor in the press box. And soon after making my way down to the infield to prepare for a super-tight Saturday night newspaper deadline, the real craziness began. While trying to get post-race quotes from the apparent first-time winner Billy Boat ( XFINITY Series driver Chad's dad) and Boat's team owner, Texan A.J . Foyt , I was standing a few feet away when driver Arie Luyendyk confronted Foyt in Victory Lane. After questioning the results, challenging Foyt and suggesting he was actually the legitimate race winner, Luyendyk tumbled into the victory flowers. Boat and Foyt hoisted the trophy. It was surreal. I was on a crazy tight deadline. But the next day in a hastily called press conference, Luyendyk was declared the winner after USAC conceded a scoring error. After USAC officials suggested problems with the track's scoring system, TMS President Eddie Gossage took the press conference podium and strongly reminded that the speedway wasn't responsible for the scoring. "I got home at 3 in the morning knowing we gave the trophy to the wrong winner and had a press conference for 8 in the morning," said Gossage. "I go in to the press conference with two hours of sleep and I'm sitting in the back row and the head scorer for USAC says that the speedway's timing and scoring equipment didn't work. "He says it again and then a third time so I just walked up on stage and stepped up to the podium and eased him to the side and said, " Texas Motor Speedway doesn't own a stop watch. ... People have a right to know when they leave the race track who the winner is and we all didn't get what we paid for." Then after a dramatic exit and door slam, Gossage recalls, "My dad called from Tennessee and said, 'You were raised better, acting like an idiot on television for all the world to see, embarrassing me and your mom.' I said, 'What?' He said, 'You didn't know it was live on ESPN?' "I didn't. And then I was like, 'You're right, sir. I'm sorry. I know better.' " Gossage has a good laugh recalling the whole ordeal now. Foyt , who still disputes the result, kept the trophy and Luyendyk was given another one. A year later, Boat recalled of the evening, "We went into Victory Circle knowing nothing about a scoring error, only that someone was talking derogatory about our race team. You don't do that in a big Texan's Victory Circle." Luyendyk, of Holland, said the incident -- replayed repeatedly all over the world at the time -- actually made him and the Texas Motor Speedway more famous overseas. MORE: Gossage and drivers try to draw state of Texas And then in 1998 came NASCAR's second Cup try. After two multi-car accidents in the inaugural race, conventional wisdom promised this one just had to go down more smoothly. NASCAR's biggest stars such as Rusty Wallace, Ernie Irvan, Dale Earnhardt and Mark Martin were among those who crashed in the opening race. Darrell Waltrip finished last after being involved in a 13-car wreck on the very first turn of the very first lap of Cup competition there. And Burton ended up winning by 4 seconds. Surely, everyone figured, the second race would be smoother. It wasn't. "Weepers" became a familiar word. The water seeping through the track caused qualifying to be completed a day late. And of all things, there was a huge 10-car accident on the second lap of the race. Jeff Gordon and yes, Waltrip, were collected in that melee. Mark Martin won the race by a half-second over Chad Little and Robert Pressley. Shortly after, TMS went through a re-paving and re-fitting, track owner Bruton Smith and Gossage committed to correction. "The first year it was just terrible and everything seemed to go wrong," Gossage conceded this week. "And the second year, obviously you try to improve so all of a sudden here's these weepers that came through. "I remember driving into the infield and in the rearview mirror saw Lake Speed knock the wall down in Turn 1 in qualifying. I thought, 'Oh no.' "I'm always the worst critic," Gossage said, logging the long hours readying for the weekend's big events. "There are things other people might not have noticed but I did. For some reason things worked really well in 1999 when Terry Labonte won and it's been better since then. That's the way a race weekend was supposed to go." Not only has it been better, it's typically a discussion point in every season review. In 2005, Texas finally got the second date it had longed for since I worked at the Dallas paper nearly a decade earlier. And the facility -- big enough to fit every Texas sporting stadium in its infield -- is also a big-time player in the Chase for the Sprint Cup . It's still providing those jaw-dropping, television highlight moments seemingly born with the track. Dale Earnhardt Jr . scored his first Cup win at TMS in April 2000. And Chase Elliott got his first XFINITY Series win here in 2014 driving for Junior at JR Motorsports. Gordon, who won this race in 2009, has starred in a couple TMS highlight reels, too. He was involved in a pair of high profile skirmishes from taking on Burton on-track after a wreck in 2010 to a crazy pit road scuffle with Brad Keselowski in 2014. "You have to be honest," Gossage said. "And looking back, it's just how things occurred. I wouldn't trade any of it, if it is what got us where we are. I'll take where we stand in our success as the most successful major market speedway in the history of this sport. I'll take that. "I won't trade my job with the guy running any other race track because I'm just so proud of what's been accomplished here."
NMPA names 2016 Hall of Fame inductees
DARLINGTON, S.C. (Dec. 14, 2015) -- Three of the most legendary names in motorsports have been selected for induction into the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame. NASCAR multi-championship team owners Rick Hendrick and Joe Gibbs, along with four-time Indianapolis 500 winner and three-time IndyCar champion driver Al Unser, make up the 2016 NMPA Hall of Fame induction class. The three motorsports giants will be officially inducted on January 16, 2016, at the Embassy Suites in Concord, North Carolina. • Born in 1949, Joseph Riddick "Rick" Hendrick III was raised on the family farm near Palmer Springs, Virginia. At 27, he was the youngest Chevrolet dealer in the U.S., and built an empire that has grown into the sixth-largest automotive group in the country. But it is in NASCAR where Hendrick and his Hendrick Motorsports organization have made the biggest impact. Since its first race in the 1984 Daytona 500 (finished eighth) and its first win seven races later by Geoff Bodine at Martinsville Speedway , Hendrick Motorsports has amassed countless NASCAR records in its 32-year existence. Among the most notable: 14 NASCAR driver championships, including 11 in the premier Sprint Cup Series and 14 owner championships across three national series. "I have such great respect for the people who cover our sport and the role they play in keeping our fans informed," Hendrick said upon learning of his selection by NMPA members. "The NMPA has done so much to give back to the NASCAR community and highlight people’s contributions through programs like The Myers Brothers Award and Driver of the Year. It takes a lot of commitment and sacrifice to do what our media members do every week. To be recognized by that group of people is very humbling." • Known simply as "Coach" -- even his wife and children call him that -- Joe Jackson Gibbs' eye for talent and the ability to mold individuals into champions has made him a legendary team builder in both the National Football League and NASCAR. In 16 seasons as an NFL head coach, the Mocksville, North Carolina, native compiled an overall record of 171-101 and three Super Bowl championships. In 23 seasons as a NASCAR team owner, Gibbs’ teams have won four Sprint Cup championships, including the 2015 title with Kyle Busch , and 128 Sprint Cup race wins. JGR has also compiled four XFINITY Series owner (and one driver) championships and 112 race wins. Gibbs also owned a team that won two NHRA Pro Stock drag racing championships, as well as two runner-up season finishes in Top Fuel in the 1990s. • The Unser family has long been synonymous with open-wheel racing, from Jerry to Bobby, Robby, Johnny and Al Jr. But no one ranks higher on the family tree of racing success than Al Unser. The Albuquerque, New Mexico, native enjoyed a career that most racers only dream about, including being one of only three drivers (others are A.J . Foyt and Rick Mears) to win the legendary Indianapolis 500 four separate times. Unser drove for some of the most notable teams in the open-wheel world including Penske, Foyt and Granatelli, and is the only driver to have both a brother (Bobby) and son (Al Jr.) as fellow Indy 500 champions. In 337 career Indy Car starts, he earned 40 wins, 127 podiums, 29 poles and three championships. He even dipped his toe into NASCAR, with three top-10 finishes in just five starts. No matter what he was called, be it "Big Al" or "Al Sr.", one phrase will always offer the best description: "A racer's racer." Hendrick received 88 percent of votes cast by NMPA members, Gibbs received 76 percent and Unser received 66 percent. Others receiving votes were four-time Indianapolis 500 winner and three-time IndyCar champ Rick Mears, as well as NASCAR Winston Cup championship-winning crew chief Kirk Shelmerdine. The NMPA Hall of Fame is located on the grounds of Darlington Raceway and has been in operation since 1965. Hendrick, Gibbs and Unser become the 96th through 98th members of the Hall.
Analysis: Major implications in SHR move to Ford
RELATED: SHR to switch to Ford in 2017 " Key moments in SHR history After the initial, "Wait … what?" reaction to Stewart-Haas Racing 's monumental announcement that brought a ruckus to an otherwise tranquil Wednesday in the NASCAR news cycle, the questions of how, why and what now persist. Around this time next year, SHR will be completing Daytona's Speedweeks with a four-car flotilla of Fords crossing the start/finish line in the Great American Race. It's a staggering visual for a team that has been in the General Motors fold for its lifetime, and a driver/co-owner with even deeper Chevrolet ties. RELATED: Stewart talks SHR switch, plans for 2017 The answer to how became clearer Wednesday, with Stewart himself describing the timetable that went from simple conversation to a much more accelerated negotiation process in a six-month span. It's clear from Stewart's fond words for Chevrolet that the bowtie that had adorned his cars for most of his NASCAR career wasn't easily loosened, but the passion from each side stoked more passion from the other until the talks took a page from Ford's slogan book to "go further." The other how -- as in how a development with such high-stakes ramifications for the sport stayed under wraps for so long -- may never be fully answered. For all of the "worst-kept secrets" that play out as expected in such a loose-lipped industry, this was a true undercover operation. Answering the why is like peeling apart a genetically altered onion engineered to have more layers than normal. The telling quote from Wednesday's 30-minute teleconference was Stewart speaking about the opportunity to "get out of the shadows and, to some degree, get off the coattails" of Hendrick Motorsports and be more of its own entity under the Ford umbrella. The move will bring Stewart-Haas into a relationship with Roush-Yates as an engine supplier, but the organization will now have the freedom to develop its own chassis. Doing things his own way -- much like his hero A.J . Foyt before him -- has always been an endearing Stewart attribute. For a driver/owner who has always operated like a devil-may-care horse that shuns fences, the Ford deal offers incentive that reaches beyond whatever undisclosed financial motivation was part of the agreement. RELATED: Patrick reacts to SHR move to Ford The "what now" part may not be fully answered until Stewart-Haas Racing puts four new-nosed Fusions on the track at Daytona next February. The approaching transition has ripples that affect all three manufacturers, chassis and engine partners, plus several affiliated teams -- all of whom have their own answers to the "why." Whither Hendrick Motorsports , which will be without one of its best customers for engines and chassis next season and which will continue to offer support through this year? And what of Roush-Yates, which will now need to ramp up production for a new four-car outfit with newly formed bonds to the blue oval? And what happens to the manufacturer balance of power once Ford evens the playing field in car count alone with Chevrolet if not also performance with Chevy and Toyota alike? With both Stewart and Haas relaying reluctance to speak about the move for the rest of the season, the proof may be in that performance 11-plus months from now, rivaling Wednesday's news as the best-kept secret in the NASCAR garage.
Stewart to retire from Sprint Cup Series after 2016
RELATED: Photos of Stewart through the years " Bowyer tabbed as replacement Three-time premier series champion Tony Stewart smiled and conceded it was a "formality at this point" in announcing Wednesday afternoon that he would step away from full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition following the 2016 season. "It was a choice that is 100 percent mine, no pressure from anybody," Stewart said of his decision not to compete full-time anymore. "If anything, it's been the opposite, more people trying to talk me out of it. "Everyone in their career makes a decision when it's time for a change. I think deep down you know when it's time to do something different and make a change like this." Appearing jovial and without a hint of second-thought about his career decision, Stewart joked he was bringing Harry Gant out of retirement to drive the the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 14 Chevy in 2017, then confirmed that actually Clint Bowyer would be taking over his seat. The news confirmed months of speculation and rumor about Stewart's future and solidified Bowyer's career path as well with Bowyer's Michael Waltrip Racing team closing operations at the end of 2015. "It's all about people, all about culture for me, and I don't think the fit factor could be any better," said Bowyer, acknowledging the SHR ride was "one of the biggest powerhouses in the sport" and said an announcement is coming later this week about his 2016 plans. Wednesday was clearly more about "the people's champion" as Stewart is often referred. One of the most popular and accomplished champions to ever compete in NASCAR's marquee series, Stewart, 44, has won three premier series titles as a driver (2002, 2005, 2011) and two as an owner (2011, 2014), accumulated 48 victories and won over countless hearts as a kind of extreme throw-back talent garnering comparisons to racing's all-time greats such as A.J . Foyt and Dale Earnhardt. Quite simply, Stewart won in every car he drove. And NASCAR fans always appreciated that about the driver known by his nickname, "Smoke." RELATED: Drivers react to Stewart's announcement Stewart won a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in 15 straight seasons from his 1999 rookie year through 2013, and he has 11 NASCAR XFINITY Series wins in 94 starts -- roughly winning once every 10 times he tried. He won twice in six NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts and had five top-10 finishes. "When I think of Tony Stewart , unmatched passion and a pure love of the sport come to mind," NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France said in a release. "He has won championships and millions of fans. But he has given back so much more, and that's what I admire most. Today's news was bittersweet for all, but we know Tony will continue to be a big part of our sport in his roles as a team and track owner. On behalf of the entire NASCAR family, I thank Tony for his many years of excellence and competitiveness, and wish him nothing but the best in his final season as a driver in the Sprint Cup Series." The 1997 IndyCar champion -- and 1996 Indy 500 Rookie of the Race -- proved his mettle against motorsports' best drivers, winning four times in IROC competition, earning the 2006 IROC championship and finishing runner-up in 2001. In 1999 he completed racing's Memorial Day "Double," finishing ninth in the Indianapolis 500 and fourth in NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 later that same day in North Carolina. Stewart was the first driver in history to win all three major United States Auto Club national championships -- Midget, Sprint and Silver Crown -- in a single season. So after essentially four decades behind the wheel fulltime, Stewart said he contemplated this decision for a while and said this week, he is completely at peace. "I've learned a lot about myself," Stewart said. You run through the range of emotions. There's days you're like, I can't wait, and then there's days that are like, man, do I ‑‑ you battle back and forth. "I'm not leaving the sport I love. I'm not walking away from something I'm passionate about, I'm just changing roles, which it's like just moving to a different position in a company. "I'm not really retiring, I'm just changing positions." RELATED: Best quotes from Stewart's press conference It's been an admittedly uphill climb for the champ after the last three seasons of horrible injury and extreme heartbreak. He missed the last 15 races in the 2013 season after suffering a compound leg fracture while competing in a sprint car race. Then last year, while still mending from that injury, Stewart was involved in another sprint car accident. This time, another competitor, Kevin Ward Jr., was killed when, after approaching Stewart's car on track during a caution period, the car struck Ward. Stewart sat out three Sprint Cup races immediately after. No criminal charges were found to be justified against Stewart; the Ward family filed a civil lawsuit against him a year later. On Wednesday Stewart stressed that his decision to stop driving in the Cup series full-time had "zero percent to with (the Ward situation)" and that physically, "my leg feels fine, there's nothing wrong with my leg." He said he may even compete in Sprint cars again. He listed the Rolex 24 at Daytona as a possibility and mentioned racing modifieds and making sporadic starts in the XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series -- all things he plans to do without the stress and full schedule of racing full-time in the Sprint Cup ranks. RELATED: Tony talks toll on leg, life In the past two seasons, Stewart has struggled to post the kind of top-shelf results both he and his fans had grown accustomed to seeing. But he has consistently insisted that was more to do with the current rules package than his off-track distractions. He said earlier this year that NASCAR's new high downforce, low horsepower car does not suit his style and is actually "the opposite of everything I've ever driven. "It's like I'm in the middle of a calculus equation and I didn't take pre-calculus,'' Stewart told NASCAR.com this May. He is currently 25th in the Sprint Cup Series driver standings with a sub-standard two top-10 finishes in his No. 14 Bass Pro Shops/Mobil 1 Chevrolet this year. But he was adamant that he would not be coasting in his final season and that this decision was not "performance based." Stepping away from his NASCAR driving duties, Stewart's focus shifts to running his beloved Eldora Speedway in Ohio and to being a team owner. His resume out of the car is already as impressive as his work behind the steering wheel. "It's just time to do what we're doing," Stewart said. "I still fully anticipate we're going to get things turned around. If I didn't feel that way, I wouldn't waste my time next year for anybody. I'm not a guy that's going to get in a car and ride. We're full steam ahead. "We're going to keep working and try to win as many races as we can next year, and that goal is going to be ‑‑ when you guys get to February, go ahead and write this down, what our goals are for the year, we're going to try to win races, try to win the Daytona 500 , then the Brickyard 400, the Southern 500, and try to win a championship." Ultimately, stepping away from his NASCAR driving duties, Stewart's focus shifts to running his beloved Eldora Speedway in Ohio and to being a team owner. His effort out of the car is already as impressive as his work behind the steering wheel. His namesake Stewart-Haas Racing No. 4 team is the reigning Sprint Cup owner champion thanks to Kevin Harvick 's 2014 championship run, and two of his team's four drivers -- Harvick and Kurt Busch -- are in this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup . This summer Stewart collected his 10th Knoxville Nationals trophy in the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series fielding a car for driver Donny Schatz, who has also delivered five World of Outlaw championships for Stewart. He has 23 national titles as a team owner. "I've won more car championships as an owner than a driver," Stewart said "I'm definitely as competitive as an owner as I am a driver. …That fire's still there and that's what makes this transition easier." While his success driving and fielding cars is partly responsible for Stewart's incredible popularity over the years, he is also one of the sport's most robust personalities. RELATED: 'Smoke' still the people's champion He's not afraid to express his displeasure at his competitors' blunders, and the other drivers have come to expect either face time or bumper time with him after on track run-ins. And Stewart's "no-fools" tolerance policy extends to the media covering his career. There are highlight reels devoted to showcasing him sparring with reporters in press conferences and on pit road -- his wit and sarcasm legendary with the media corps. He grinned broadly and warned the room of reporters on Wednesday that he will not follow the guide of four-time champ Jeff Gordon who has met with the press nearly every week during this -- his last -- year of NASCAR competition. "Let's establish this right now: I will not be coming to the media center every week to talk about it,'" Stewart said smiling and shaking his head. "You can save your gifts. I've got enough rocking chairs at home as it is. I bought those when I wanted to go sit on my own rocking chair. You don't have to give me one. "I'm content to go race and be around the racing community and the racing family and be around our fans," he continued. "They can just send me a note from the track president and say, hey, thank you, and that'll be sufficient for me. "I think it's been very fitting for Jeff [Gordon]. I don't think I'm worthy of that kind of admiration because I think Jeff has really done so much for the sport that nobody will ever be able to do again. I think that kind of celebration is reserved for somebody like Jeff." One thing Stewart has across the board is respect -- from his competitors, to the fans and to the media who will be watching closely to see how this next chapter in his career and life plays out. He gave a couple hints on Wednesday afternoon. When it's time to drop the green flag for the 2017 Daytona 500 – the first one run without Tony Stewart on the grid since 1999 – the champ says he hasn't figured out quite yet where he'll be, but spoke about one possibility. "I'll probably be on some fan's motor home on the back stretch promoting our sponsors," Stewart said laughing. "I have no idea where I'm supposed to be yet. I've got a whole year to figure that out."
The 'Smoke' we used to know makes a reappearance
RELATED: Stewart through the years Watching Tony Stewart as he announced his plans to step out of full-time NASCAR competition in 2017 reminded me a whole lot of the Tony Stewart I first met in 1996 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway , a driver who always made the racing beat a little more interesting and lot more entertaining for the last two decades. On the track and off it. Stewart, 44, was cutting up, smiling and relaxed Wednesday afternoon sharing his news and holding court in front of a room of reporters -- easing at times, but sincere and authentic. His larger-than-life persona has always been in proportion with his talent. Like a lot of people, I have mixed emotions about not watching him race every week, but they are trumped by the idea that Stewart could now exhale and be at peace. He seems very much so. And he deserves it. I'd spoken with him in previous months about the possibility of his "don't call it retirement." He bounced the idea off plenty of people and admitted that most tried to talk him out of it. I noticed that Stewart was especially chipper last weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway , and after the race was feisty like I had long known him to be. He was smiling a lot more. There was a definite good vibe. Clearly, he was ready to make this career-impacting announcement -- to move on, not aside. RELATED: Stewart: 'Deep down you know when it's time' It's the rare exception that a racing driver possesses the talent of his heroes, and in Stewart's case, he also shares a good bit of their personality. He loved racing against Dale Earnhardt, who loved racing against Tony Stewart . And he took A.J . Foyt's famed No. 14 for his own Chevy when he moved to Stewart-Haas Racing . Stewart is deservedly and fittingly compared to those two legends in his racing accomplishments, and in what has become a time of polish, politeness and political correctness, there will probably not be another so similar out of the driver's seat, either. Sometimes, Stewart's temperament -- the sarcastic interviews or the pit road confrontations -- diverted our appreciation for what a remarkable racer he is. RELATED: Statement from Brian France on Stewart Stewart is still the only driver to win an IndyCar championship (1997) and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series titles (2002, 2005, 2011). He was the first to win three USAC national titles (Midget, Sprint Car and Silver Crown) in one season (1996) and his results in racing's Memorial Day "Double" (ninth in Indy 500 and fourth in Coca-Cola 600 ) are unmatched. Everything you need to know about Stewart's drive was evident in his 2011 Sprint Cup championship run when after going winless during the regular season he won five of the last 10 races -- including the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway -- to claim his third title trophy in a tiebreaker over Carl Edwards . He promises a similarly motivated final season in 2016 with a Daytona 500 and Southern 500 trophy still on his to-do list. "I've been very fortunate to do what I've loved to do for 37 years up to this point, and next year it will be 38 and there's no period on it at the end of next year," Stewart said this week. "It's just a little change. I still plan on adding stats for years to come after 2016." Asked about his legacy, which surely includes a NASCAR Hall of Fame induction, Stewart was more reflective, even philosophic. RELATED: Quotes from Stewart's retirement announcement "I really haven't thought about it, to be honest because to me at the end of the day I'm happy with who I am,'' he said. "I look at myself in the mirror and I'm comfortable with who I am and what I've done and the path that I've been down." And who could ask for more than that? "I think everything that's happened in my life has happened for a reason,'' Stewart said. "I think there's things that I would have skipped in my life and things that have not happened, but I think everything in the big picture has happened for a reason and is part of something that's a lot bigger than what we are this room."