See who our staff members pick to take the checkered flag Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live Members of the NASCAR.com editorial team make their picks for the Great American Race below. Who do you have? Let us know in the comments section. Zack Albert Denny Hamlin . Joe Gibbs Racing cars have shown plenty of oomph so far in Speedweeks, making Matt Kenseth another Daytona favorite. Sunday, it should be Hamlin's turn in Victory Lane. Kenny Bruce Dale Earnhardt Jr. Strong all week, and probably as pumped as he's ever been about his team and his car. Holly Cain Jimmie Johnson. Pat DeCola Jimmie Johnson. The Hendrick Motorsports driver has been unstoppable thus far at Speedweeks, but he's coming off one of his worst seasons to date -- making Johnson the rare "dark horse favorite." The No. 48 Chevrolet swept both Daytona races in his 2013 championship season but hadn't finished higher than 20th in the six Daytona races prior to that. Still, I've got a feeling. Stu Hothem Dale Earnhardt Jr. After last Saturday's first practice, the defending Daytona 500 champion said he had the fastest car in the field. On the 20th anniversary of the last back-to-back winner (Sterling Marlin) going to Victory Lane, Earnhardt will join Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon and NASCAR Hall of Famers Bobby Allison, Dale Jarrett, Richard Petty and Cale Yarborough with three or more wins in the Great American Race. RJ Kraft Carl Edwards. The Joe Gibbs Racing stable has been as strong as the Hendrick Motorsports fleet during Speedweeks, with the veteran showing plenty of speed. It will be the organization's newest driver that brings Joe Gibbs his first trip to Victory Lane in the Daytona 500 since 1993. Brad Norman Tony Stewart. His car is fast, and Stewart seems more like the 'Smoke' of old than at any other point over the past two years. Plus, he's just due for a good break at Daytona. Jessica Ruffin Jeff Gordon. The three-time Daytona 500 champion is starting from the pole position, has a dynamic duo of Hendrick Motorsports teammates helping him in the front and his No. 24 Chevrolet SS has showcased its speed the entire week. But above all, with this event marking his final Daytona 500, Gordon has plenty of motivation to take the checkered one last time in the Great American Race. Taylor Starer Jeff Gordon. The four-time Cup champion is starting his final Great American Race as a full-time driver from the pole — what more motivation does he need to do well? Three previous Daytona 500 wins under his belt doesn't hurt, either. George Winkler Dale Earnhardt Jr. He becomes the first back-to-back winner of the Daytona 500 since Sterling Marlin in 1995. Junior's car has looked fast all week -- he won in the Daytona Duels -- and he has a strong history in this race (series-best 99.6 driver rating, two previous Daytona 500 wins). MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today
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Evernham, Kulwicki, Martin added to ballot; Landmark Award nominees named Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.— Legendary engine builders, crew chiefs, owners and drivers. Their roles and responsibilities may have differed, but they all have one trait in common – each made an everlasting mark on NASCAR history. NASCAR today announced the 20 nominees for the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s Class of 2016, as well as the five nominees for the Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR. Included among the list are five first-time nominees – legends all – who exceled in various disciplines, at various levels. RELATED: Photo gallery of the Class of 2016 nominees Among them are three-time NASCAR premier series championship crew chief Ray Evernham; 1970 NASCAR premier series championship crew chief Harry Hyde; 1992 NASCAR premier series champion Alan Kulwicki; winner of a combined 96 NASCAR national series races, Mark Martin; and 1986 NASCAR west series champion Hershel McGriff. For a full list of nominees, please see below. The nominees were selected by a nominating committee consisting of representatives from NASCAR and the NASCAR Hall of Fame, track owners from both major facilities and historic short tracks and the media. The committee's votes were tabulated by accounting firm Ernst & Young. From the list of 20 NASCAR Hall of Fame nominees, five inductees will be elected by the NASCAR Hall of Fame Voting Panel, which includes a nationwide fan vote on NASCAR.com. Voting Day for the 2016 class will be Wednesday, May 20. The five nominees for the Landmark Award are Harold Brasington, H. Clay Earles, Raymond Parks, Ralph Seagraves and Ken Squier (more on each below). Potential Landmark Award recipients include competitors or those working in the sport as a member of a racing organization, track facility, race team, sponsor, media partner or being a general ambassador for the sport through a professional or non-professional role. Award winners remain eligible for NHOF enshrinement. Following are the 20 nominees for induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, listed alphabetically: 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 Ray Evernham , three-time NASCAR premier series championship crew chief 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 Harry Hyde , 1970 NASCAR premier series championship crew chief Bobby Isaac , 1970 NASCAR premier series champion Alan Kulwicki , 1992 NASCAR premier series champion Terry Labonte , two-time NASCAR premier series champion Mark Martin , 96-time race winner in NASCAR national series competition Hershel McGriff, 1986 NASCAR west series champion Raymond Parks , NASCAR's first champion car owner Benny Parsons , 1973 NASCAR premier series champion Larry Phillips , only five-time NASCAR weekly series national champion 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" Robert Yates , won NASCAR premier series championship as both an engine builder and owner The five nominees for the Landmark Award are as follows… Harold Brasington , founder of Darlington Speedway H. Clay Earles , founder of Martinsville Speedway 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 The 22-person Nominating Committee are as follows... NOMINATION COMMITTEE NASCAR Hall of Fame: Executive Director Winston Kelley; Historian Buz McKim. NASCAR Officials: Chairman / CEO Brian France; Vice Chairman Jim France; Vice Chairman of NASCAR Mike Helton; Chief Operating Officer Brent Dewar; Executive Vice President / Chief Racing Development Officer Steve O’Donnell; Executive Vice President / Chief Marketing Officer Steve Phelps; Senior Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton; Competition Administrator Jerry Cook (Note: Due to Jerry Cook's inclusion on the ballot for the NHOF Class of 2015, he was recused from voting for the Class of 2016 nominees.) Track Owners/Operators: International Speedway Corporation CEO Lesa Kennedy; Martinsville Speedway President Clay Campbell; Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage; Atlanta Motor Speedway President Ed Clark; former Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Tony George ; Dover Motorsports CEO Denis McGlynn; Pocono Raceway board of directors member Looie McNally; Bowman Gray Stadium operator Dale Pinilis; Holland Motorsports Complex operator Ron Bennett; Rockford Speedway operator Jody Deery; West Coast representative Ken Clapp. Media: Mike Joy, FOX. MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today
Humble beginnings couldn't slow eventual rise from 'Awesome Bill' Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live Editor's note: The NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2015 will be inducted Friday night at 8 p.m. ET. on NBC Sports Network. CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Bill Elliott arrived on the scene after the careers of his fellow 2015 NASCAR Hall of Fame classmates had already come to an end. But the man who would become known as "Awesome Bill from Dawsonville" for his exploits on the track has much in common with Fred Lorenzen, Wendell Scott, Joe Weatherly and Rex White. The five will be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame tonight. A familiar thread connects those who reside in the Hall, one that often includes humble beginnings, hardships and eventually success. RELATED: Every class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame Elliott, 59, and his family are an integral part of that thread. George , the patriarch, ran a small building supply business in Dawsonville, Georgia. "A hole-in-the-wall deal," Bill says today. The elder Elliott also built race cars, helped other local racers and fielded entries in NASCAR as early as the 1960s. "Daddy carried cars to Daytona in the early '60s, he would carry two cars down there and run a Sportsman or a Modified or some kind of race," Elliott said. Box vans used in the family business served as transporters for the race cars. "He'd back the trailer down there to the loading dock and he'd load them up in the van trailers and carry them down there, then try to find a place to unload them,” Elliott said. "It was like the Clampetts went to Daytona." It wasn't much but as Elliott noted, it was a common sight among those who chose the stock car racing path at that time. "Back then, such a different way of doing things. Anybody could come show up at Daytona with some kind of race car," he said. "I think those are the things that I look back on and were so much fun early on. You go to our little garage down there, you could just throw something together. I remember going to one of the shops of one of the guys Daddy was helping. They were putting a '63 Ford together. They had taken a car out of the junkyard, were taking the interior out and welding the roll bar in it, getting it ready to go. But I mean it was just a stock '63 Ford. Whatever it came with, that's what it had. And those days are gone." Elliott made his first start in what is now NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series in 1976, driving for his family-run team that included brothers Ernie and Dan Elliott. But it wasn't until ’82, when the team was purchased by businessman Harry Melling, that Elliott became an "overnight success." By the time his career had ended (he made his last official start in 2012), Elliott had won 44 races, one series championship and was voted the series' most popular driver 16 times. His wins came on stages big and small -- few bigger than the Daytona 500 , which he won twice, the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Southern 500 at rugged, old Darlington Raceway . RELATED: Read Bill Elliott's Hall of Fame capsule It was at Darlington that Elliott officially picked up another moniker, "Million Dollar Bill" when a Southern 500 win in 1985 earned him the Winston Million bonus. Elliott's move into stardom coincided with a rise in speed on the race track. Before the advent of restrictor plates at Daytona and Talladega, speed grabbed headlines. And no one went faster than Elliott, who ended his career with 55 pole positions. His qualifying mark of 212.809 mph at Talladega remains the fastest qualifying lap ever for a NASCAR event. But that feat wasn't the record that stands out in his mind, he said. "If I was outside looking in at my career, the biggest thing that impresses me was running 210 (mph) at Daytona in 1987," Elliott said. "I sat there and I watched Cale (Yarborough) try to run just 200 (in 1983) and turn over off Turn 4. We came back, ran 205 in '85 and we came back in '87 and stepped it up five more mph average. That was with no technology. That was just the luck of the draw and the things we did at that point in time; that's what really impressed me. "When I first went there I think I ran 171 or something and I thought, 'Man I'm out of control. How can you run any faster?' " Elliott's induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame comes just as his son, 19-year-old Chase, prepares to begin his own Sprint Cup career. It was announced earlier this week that Chase would run five Sprint Cup races for Hendrick Motorsports this season, then take over the organization's No. 24 Chevrolet when four-time champion Jeff Gordon steps down at year's end. RELATED: Gordon: Chase is the 'total package' The younger Elliott didn't witness a lot of his father’s exploits as they took place. But he's relived them through video replays. "There were a lot of races where he took it to 'em, man," Chase Elliott said. "He wore them out. That's cool to look back on and see. "I have a lot of respect for what he has done and for what they did. To do it with what they had (at the time) was very, very impressive. I think a lot of people let that slip by. "They were kind of on their own there in Georgia and a lot of people don’t realize that. They didn’t have a lot of help; they didn’t have a big team. It was just them. It’s very, very impressive to see what they were able to do."
Driver's final appeal denied; earlier appeal denied as well Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Kurt Busch's final appeal of NASCAR's indefinite suspension was denied Saturday night. This came hours after his first appeal was rejected and one day after the sanctioning body handed down punishment based on the findings of a Delaware family court. NASCAR announced the final decision from National Motorsports Final Appeals Officer Bryan Moss at its headquarters at the International Motorsports Center, where both appeals were heard Saturday. Busch was not allowed counsel from Rusty Hardin, his lead attorney, or any member of his legal team during either hearing. The ruling scuttles any notion of an 11th-hour reinstatement to the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 Chevrolet ahead of Sunday's season-opening Daytona 500. Team representatives said Saturday morning that SHR planned to enter Regan Smith as an interim driver of the No. 41 car, regardless of the appeal's outcome. Smith was fitted for the driver's seat and drove the car in Saturday's final NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice. Busch has now exhausted his appeal options under the NASCAR rulebook and the indefinite suspension remains in effect. Busch's next step toward potential reinstatement will be a prescribed path of treatment subject to professional review, similar to the NASCAR Road to Recovery substance abuse reinstatement process, according to a NASCAR spokesperson. Busch is already required "to be evaluated by a licensed mental health professional" and to complete any prescribed plan of treatment, according to the terms of the family court's conclusions. "We are unhappy with the latest decision to deny our re-appeal, but we will continue to exhaust every procedural and legal remedy we have available to us until Kurt Busch is vindicated," Hardin said in a statement. Busch was suspended Friday after the conclusions reached by Kent County (Delaware) Commissioner David Jones stated that a "preponderance of the evidence" indicated that Busch "committed an act of domestic violence" against former girlfriend Patricia Driscoll last September at Dover International Speedway. Jones' findings were released four days after the family court granted Driscoll's request for an Order of Protection from Abuse, stemming from their alleged altercation in Busch's motorcoach. Busch's punishment fell under two headings in the NASCAR Rule Book: Section 12.1.a: Actions detrimental to stock car racing; and 12.8: Behavioral penalty. On Friday, Steve O'Donnell -- NASCAR Executive Vice President and Chief Racing Development Officer -- said that Busch had the option of appealing the decision and that the process would be expedited. Hardin indicated shortly thereafter that his client would contest the ruling. Busch's first appeal, which was scheduled at noon ET Saturday, was heard by the three-member National Motorsports Appeals Panel. Hardin indicated minutes after the decision was announced that the driver would submit a final appeal. "We are very disappointed that our appeal was rejected by NASCAR's appeal panel," Hardin said in a statement after the first decision was made public. "We are re-appealing immediately, per the proscribed process. We have significant and strong evidence that contradicts the Commissioner's conclusions. In the end we are confident that Kurt will be vindicated and he will be back racing. Until then we will continue to fight on his behalf by ensuring that the entire truth is known." Busch's last recourse in attempting to gain reinstatement during Daytona's Speedweeks marked the first final appeal heard by Moss, the former president of Gulfstream Aerospace who was named National Motorsports Final Appeals Officer last season. Moss' decision is final. The main difference between the two hearings -- according to the NASCAR Rule Book -- is that the burden of proof fell to Busch in the final appeal; in the initial appeal, the burden of proof was NASCAR's responsibility. In both appeals, Jim Cassidy, NASCAR Senior Vice President of Racing Operations, represented the sanctioning body, and NASCAR Vice President George Silbermann served as the appellate administrator. According to a NASCAR release, the three-member panel for Saturday's first appeal consisted of: Paul Brooks, a former NASCAR Senior Vice President; Lyn St. James, a former IndyCar and sports car racer; and Kevin Whitaker, operator of Greenville-Pickens Speedway, a NASCAR-sanctioned weekly track in South Carolina. Busch left the building, across the street from Daytona International Speedway, after the first appeal Saturday afternoon without comment, whisked away in the back seat of a Ford SUV that squealed its tires as it departed at 2:56 p.m. ET. The decision was announced approximately 20 minutes later. The Monday ruling for a no-contact order is a separate legal matter from the Dover (Delaware) Police Department's investigation of the alleged assault. The department concluded its probe on Jan. 6, turning the case over to the county's attorney general's office, which has not decided whether Busch will face criminal charges. MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news PLAY: Sign up for Fantasy Live WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView today FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
2014 Sprint Cup Series champion spends time at Nellis Air Force Base LAS VEGAS—In a massive hangar that houses the fighter jets flown by the Thunderbirds, against the backdrop of a gigantic American flag reminiscent of George C. Scott’s monologue in the movie "Patton," Kevin Harvick fielded questions from a group of enthusiastic NASCAR fans. But this was no ordinary fan engagement. Those asking Harvick about everything from the final laps at Homestead-Miami Speedway to the now-notorious shove of Brad Keselowski at Texas Motor Speedway were clad not in the livery of their favorite drivers, but in camouflage. The recently crowned NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion came to Nellis Air Force Base to express his appreciation for those who serve, with his words often interrupted by the near-deafening roar of jets taking off from a nearby runway. "It's really hard to be able to show the appreciation that you have for it as much as you need to, because you really can't ever get to the point of appreciating it enough," Harvick said after he and crew chief Rodney Childers interacted with the crowd. "As you go to different places and you've seen other countries and how things operate, you really appreciate being from the United States and living the life that we live. "We're very fortunate, but it takes a lot of sacrifice from a lot of individuals to make that happen. So any time you can do an event like this and say thanks and just be part of the activities, it's definitely worth the time to do that." Ever since he won the championship by a half-second over Ryan Newman in the season finale at Homestead, Harvick has been the focus of a whirlwind media blitz that has included appearances on such TV staples as "Late Show with David Letterman" and "Jimmy Kimmel Live." What resonated most, however, was an appearance at his hometown high school in Bakersfield, California, on Monday, where Harvick addressed an appreciative crowd of 960 students. "That's still by far the coolest thing I’ve gotten to do so far," Harvick said. "All the TV shows and all that stuff is just—I shouldn't say part of the job, because that's really neat, too, to be a part of that—but to go back and go to your hometown and go to your high school and be able to speak to the kids and hopefully be an influence to them in their life… We've done a lot of work at the high school over the past several years, really trying to have a positive impact on the kids and their situations, whether it be with the sports teams or just talking to them in general. "We've put a lot of effort into the school. So to be able to take that trophy back and show them, 'You can be rich, you can be poor, but if you put your mind to what you're doing and have a goal and follow your dream, you can accomplish it, because I have proof of it.' "I grew up right where they all grew up and accomplished what we've accomplished. It's good to be able to have the ability to have an influence on people's lives." For Harvick, the most difficult thing about the non-stop schedule and constant attention is that he hasn't been able to share the experience with his team members, whom he hasn't seen since Nov. 16 at Homestead. "I got out of the car and did an interview and went up on stage and took all the pictures, and that's the only time I've seen my whole team," Harvick said. "The rest of it has just been part of the process of getting to championship week and the banquet and everything. "But I'm most excited about seeing my guys and talking to 'em and having dinner with 'em and being able to really start to take it all in and just talk about everything that was done." MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
ThorSport Racing veteran looks to take aim of ending teammate's title reign RELATED: Full schedule of season previews Team: ThorSport Racing No. 98 Toyota Rank in final 2014 standings: 4th Wins: 1 ( Michigan International Speedway ) Strides: Sauter's consistent start to the season -- with top-10 finishes in 12 of the first 14 races -- helped him carry the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series points lead into September. Notably, the steady start came during a stretch of turnover for the ThorSport No. 98, which used three different crew chiefs -- Eugene Wachtel, Dennis Connor and Jeff Hensley -- through the season. Besides the time spent atop the standings perch, Sauter also thwarted a personal nemesis by conquering Michigan International Speedway , a track that had yielded zero top-10s in his previous five tries before his breakthrough victory. It was a triumph made even sweeter upon the realization that his father, Jim -- who died in October -- cherished racing at the two-mile track in the next state over from his family's Wisconsin home. "Winning Michigan, it's been for whatever reason historically a difficult race track for me," Sauter said, "and now the way things are, that was probably one of my dad's favorite race tracks, so it even means more to me now than it ever did before. That's a huge feather in my cap because it's just one of those places that he loved and I didn't, and now we've got a win there and that's pretty cool." Setbacks: Sauter won the Keystone Light Pole Award at Chicagoland Speedway in September, but dipped out of the points lead after a 14th-place finish. After another midpack finish at Las Vegas, engine failure at Talladega Superspeedway sent him tumbling to fourth in the standings with four races left. While the rare mechanical breakage halted the No. 98 team's momentum, Sauter suggested that the team's ability to compete for checkered flags needs a boost in 2015. "Talladega was a tough one … but me, personally, I didn't think we ran well enough all year to be a championship deal," Sauter said. "We were consistent at times and we did a good job of finishing races, but we need to go out and lead laps and win races, in my opinion, and the points will take care of themselves. It was a good year and consistent year, it just wasn't a great year and there's a lot of little things I can point to to say that we need to do better to be better ultimately." Quoteworthy: "There's a lot of things we're looking at, and it's funny because a lot of people say well, you've got to do this or got to do that, and it's really just a lot of little things that you have to do different. It's not one big thing that sticks out like a sore thumb that says, 'Hey, you've got to fix this and you'll be the best.' It's probably eight or 10 little things, and it's all different aspects." What's next: ThorSport has indicated that the No. 98 team's flotilla of sponsors -- Nextant Aerospace, Smokey Mountain Herbal Snuff, Curb Records and Carolina Nut Co. -- will return for 2015. Sauter will work with veteran crew chief Doug George , whose most recent tenure was spent at Turner Scott Motorsports helping four-time Camping World Truck Series champion Ron Hornaday Jr . and Ben Kennedy , the 2014 Sunoco Rookie of the Year in the series. Sauter carries an impressive streak of notching at least one victory in each of the last six seasons, plus a solid run of top-five results in the series standings in four of the last five years. While ThorSport teammate Matt Crafton has hoisted the series crown the past two seasons, Sauter says he's ready for a taste of the championship laurels by visiting Victory Lane on a more regular basis. "It's weird because I still ultimately always go back to this, and maybe my strategy is flawed and that's why I haven't won a championship: I think if you win races, the championship will take care of itself," Sauter said. "In 2011, we came really close to winning a championship and just didn't get it done. We just had too many bumps in the road. It would be awesome. … To win a NASCAR championship in the truck series, I don't know that you would really know what that would feel like until you did it." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule