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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."
Insurance company will be the primary sponsor for 21 races in 2015 Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live MORE: See Dale Jr.'s new helmet for 2015 " Full 2015 Cup schedule Dale Earnhardt Jr .'s No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet featured Nationwide Insurance as the primary sponsor for one race in 2014, the regular-season finale at Richmond International Raceway in September. That same weekend, the Nationwide announced plans to sponsor Earnhardt's car for 21 races in the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. The company is on board as a primary sponsor through 2017. Through the Twitter handle @nationwide88 , we have learned of a redesigned helmet for Earnhardt and gotten to go behind-the-scenes with the 12-time Sprint NMPA Most Popular Driver winner as he prepares for the 2015 season. On Friday, fans got another treat, as the company revealed through the @nationwide88 handle, the 21 races that Earnhardt will carry its primary sponsorship on his car, beginning with the season-opening Daytona 500 (Feb. 22, 1 p.m. ET, FOX). Here's the full list of races: --Feb. 22: Daytona International Speedway --March 8: Las Vegas Motor Speedway --March 15: Phoenix International Raceway --March 22: Auto Club Speedway --April 11: Texas Motor Speedway --April 25: Richmond International Raceway --May 3: Talladega Superspeedway --May 9: Kansas Speedway --May 24: Charlotte Motor Speedway --May 31: Dover International Speedway --June 7: Pocono Raceway --July 5: Daytona International Speedway --July 11: Kentucky Speedway --July 19: New Hampshire Motor Speedway --July 26: Indianapolis Motor Speedway --Aug. 9: Watkins Glen International --Aug. 22: Bristol Motor Speedway --Oct. 4: Dover International Speedway --Nov. 1: Martinsville Speedway --Nov. 15: Phoenix International Raceway --Nov. 22: Homestead-Miami Speedway FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
NASCAR XFINITY Series champ will run five Sprint Cup races in 2015 Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live RELATED: Elliott's 2015 preview " Gordon says final full-time season to be in 2015 CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Before Thursday afternoon's presentation from Hendrick Motorsports , five director's chairs stood empty on the stage, one earmarked for team owner Rick Hendrick and the rest for his four drivers. One chair rested to the side, awaiting its moment to join the group. In the same way, Chase Elliott has waited for his seat in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. And now his time is just around the corner. Hendrick Motorsports announced Thursday that Elliott, the defending NASCAR XFINITY Series champion, will join the sport's premier circuit full-time in 2016 after running a partial schedule of five races this season in the No. 25 Chevrolet. In making the step forward, Elliott, 19, will take over the Hendrick-owned No. 24 Chevrolet made famous by four-time champion Jeff Gordon , who announced last week that this will be his last full-time season in NASCAR's top division. Elliott said he was informed of his impending promotion to Sprint Cup by a phone call from Hendrick, shortly after Gordon made his intentions known to his team. As big a shock as news of Gordon's decision was, Elliott said the piece of the story involving him was an even bigger stunner. "That's a phone call I was not expecting that day. That is for sure," Elliott said during the final leg of the annual Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour presented by Technocom. "I didn't know anything about Jeff's announcement until that morning and to have Mr. Hendrick tell me that he wanted me to be that person to go in and drive that car whenever Jeff got done was just an unbelievable phone call -- one that I was not expecting and something that I couldn't have dreamt happening." News of Elliott's plans comes one day before the induction of his father, Bill Elliott, into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The elder Elliott, the 1988 champion and a 44-time winner in NASCAR's premier series, and his wife, Cindy, have offered support for his son's racing efforts through the Late Model ranks, the NASCAR K&N Pro Series and eventually the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series -- a crucial, thoughtful upbringing that weighed heavily into Hendrick's decision to sign the youngster to his team's developmental driver program in 2011. All the while, the younger Elliott's quick ascent to stock-car fame rejuvenated their small hometown community of Dawsonville, Georgia, which signaled each accomplishment with a shrill blare from siren mounted atop the Dawsonville Pool Room, an area institution and haven of Elliott racing memorabilia. Now the community -- including the father best known as "Awesome Bill" -- has two reasons to be proud on consecutive days. RELATED: Gordon says No. 24 team in good hands " See how the No. 24 torch was passed "No way," Bill Elliott told NASCAR.com when asked if he thought this moment would come this soon in his son's career. "I mean, you hoped it, you wished it, but for it to actually happen, it's like, 'Wake me up. Am I dreaming or what?' Chase has done a great job, and Mr. Hendrick has just … the man's done everything he said he would do, and I have never met anybody with the integrity that man has." While the younger Elliott has an appreciation for this father's accomplishments, he's been able to create a new chapter to the family's racing tradition. Now Elliott inherits another legacy, following a legend who has helped forge stock-car racing's identity and direction over the course of a decorated 22-year career in the sport's top series. Despite both of those rich connections to the racing history, Elliott insists he'll be his own man as he makes his way to the sport's top levels. It's a heady, fresh approach that has commanded Gordon's respect as he prepares to hand over the wheel of the No. 24. "He's light-years ahead of where I was at 19," Gordon said. "I think Bill, being as experienced as he has been in winning races and the championship, and then Cindy and Bill together, I just think they did an amazing job with this young man, the way he handles himself, the things that he thinks about and the things that he says as well as what he does on the track. He's the total package, and I didn't have that at 19, I didn't. I definitely had a lot of growing up to do, and the Cup Series will help you grow up in a hurry. That's why I'm so excited to watch what he does." RELATED: Gordon calls Elliott the 'total package' " Elliott's championship timeline To help Elliott get acclimated to his first taste of NASCAR's big leagues, the team announced a five-race schedule for 2014. The second-generation driver is slated to make his Sprint Cup debut March 29 at Martinsville Speedway , then compete April 25 at Richmond International Raceway , May 24 at Charlotte Motor Speedway , July 26 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway , and Sept. 6 at Darlington Raceway . Kenny Francis, who moved to the role of vehicle technical director for Hendrick in the offseason, will serve as crew chief for Elliott's five-race slate this season. In 2016, Elliott will work with longtime Hendrick crew chief Alan Gustafson, a 19-time winner in NASCAR's premier series who has been atop the pit box for Gordon for the last four seasons. While Gustafson has prepared himself for Gordon's last full-fledged shot at NASCAR's top prize, he's also embracing what the future holds with Elliott in 2016. "With his age and the maturity, you just see a tremendous amount of potential," Gustafson said. "That's the thing that I just think about is the opportunity to really do some amazing things." MORE: See the paint scheme for Elliott's 2015 Cup car For Ray Evernham, now a consultant for Hendrick Motorsports ' competition department, Elliott's move carries extra meaning on several levels. Gordon's growth into a championship-winning driver came with Evernham calling the shots as his first crew chief on the No. 24 team in NASCAR's top series. Evernham later left Hendrick to form his own team, leading the effort to bring Dodge back to NASCAR with Elliott -- driving his familiar No. 9 -- as his lead driver. To see all those bonds overlap, ultimately leading to Thursday's announcement, brought his involvement full circle. "For me, it's really a special thing because the two cars that have been special in my life are the 24 and the 9," Evernham told NASCAR.com, "and now rolling those together -- the Elliott family, the Gordon family and the Hendrick family -- it's just amazing when you think of the racing heritage there. … He's surrounded by a lot of people who believe in him that have years of racing experience." For 2015, Elliott's Sprint Cup entries will carry No. 25, with NAPA -- his XFINITY Series sponsor -- as the primary backer. The team said sponsorship for 2016 would be announced at a later date. When Gordon announced last Thursday that his days as a full-time driver were coming to an end, speculation on a replacement immediately centered on Elliott, who became the youngest champion in the NASCAR XFINITY Series during his rookie year in 2014. Elliott is entering his second season with JR Motorsports, a team co-owned by Dale Earnhardt Jr . with Hendrick affiliations. RELATED: Junior on Elliott's 2014 success Both Hendrick and Earnhardt said last season that the timing seemed right for Elliott to advance to the top rung in the NASCAR development ladder with a limited Sprint Cup campaign in 2015 before making the full-time jump. The arrangement announced Thursday allows Elliott to make that move while benefiting from another year of seasoning in the XFINITY Series for JRM. Despite Elliott's age, Hendrick said watching his poise and ability to lead his team gave him no hesitation about making that fateful phone call, just one week ago. "I am amazed at the maturity he has," Hendrick said. "I just can't believe some of the things that come out of his mouth. When you think he's going to answer it one way, and he just comes up with something totally personal that's from inside. He is so comfortable in his skin. He doesn't feel the pressure of being an Elliott, and he doesn't feel the pressure of being behind Gordon. He wants to be Chase Elliott , not Bill Elliott, not Jeff Gordon . You don't have to talk to him very long to figure that out." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Can JGR driver build off last season's run to the Championship 4? RELATED: Full schedule of driver previews Team: Joe Gibbs Racing No. 11 Toyota Rank in final 2014 standings: Third Wins: One ( Talladega Superspeedway in May) Year in photos: Recap Hamlin's 2014 season Strides: Denny Hamlin carried momentum from his victory in the 2013 season finale into Speedweeks, winning the Sprint Unlimited exhibition and one of the two Budweiser Duel qualifying races ahead of the Daytona 500 . He finished just short of winning the Great American Race with a runner-up finish, but applied the No. 11 team's knack for restrictor-plate tracks to post his first career victory at Talladega Superspeedway , clinching a berth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs. Once in the postseason, Hamlin was able to advance through all three rounds of the Chase's new format, landing one of four title-eligible spots in the Sprint Cup Championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway . He led 50 laps but wound up seventh in the finale -- third among the championship quartet -- when a gamble on pit strategy unraveled in the late stages. "We gave it our best run," Hamlin said. "I mean, we put together really our best race all year, that final race, and gave those guys a run when we really hadn't had the speed to race with them all year. We gave it an effort and just came up short. Really proud of what we were able to accomplish this year, even though it was somewhat of a down year for our team." Setbacks: A freak eye injury in March forced Hamlin to seek medical care at Auto Club Speedway for the second straight year on race day. In 2013, a tangle with Joey Logano left Hamlin with a broken back that sidelined him for four races and part of a fifth; in 2014, a sliver of metal in his left eye forced him out, just an hour before the green flag. A medical exemption by NASCAR officials allowed him to remain Chase-eligible as long as he met all other criteria. The new Chase qualification rules also benefited Hamlin later in the season, but the No. 11 team still felt heavy repercussions in the process. After a post-race technical infraction was found at Indianapolis Motor Speedway , NASCAR issued stiff penalties by stripping the team of 75 points, suspending crew chief Darian Grubb for six races and fining him $125,000. Injuries and penalties notwithstanding, Hamlin said after the season that he drove most of the year facing a performance deficit compared to his front-running rivals. With Joe Gibbs Racing expanding to a four-team operation with the addition of Carl Edwards to the 2015 driver roster, Hamlin said he hopes the benefits of additional information sharing can help get the organization over the hump. "You've just got to get better in all aspects, and I think we've always just been kind of that next-tier team, realistically," Hamlin said. "We can compete for race wins, week in and week out, but the championships have escaped us through mechanical stuff, which we've worked out, or this year it was just our cars weren't fast enough to compete with those guys. However, we gave ourselves a great chance that last race to really sneak a championship away from 'em, but overall we've just got to get better in more areas, and I think going to the fourth team will allow us to do that." Quoteworthy: "A lot of ups and downs -- it's been a tough year to start the year missing a race. We didn't have the tools to win a lot of races throughout the year, but we got better and we got better when it really counted. It wasn't for a lack of effort. Everyone gave 100 percent to give me the best car they could this weekend. It just wasn't enough to beat those guys." -- Hamlin, moments after finishing seventh in the championship race at Homestead-Miami. What's next: Hamlin's three-year run with Grubb drew to a close after a dramatic shake-up to JGR's crew chief lineup in the offseason. The new assignments for 2015 mean that Hamlin will pair with Dave Rogers, who served as crew chief for Kyle Busch on the No. 18 Toyota team in Sprint Cup since 2010. What won't change is the team's ultra-fast pit crew, often credited as one of the sport's best. Rogers and Hamlin have worked together with success in what is now called the NASCAR XFINITY Series (seven wins together), and Rogers' tenure with Busch produced 13 Sprint Cup wins over a five-year stretch. Hamlin's 2014 finish was the third near-miss in his quest for a career-defining breakthrough championship at NASCAR's highest level. Though times are changing at JGR with its expansion and juggling of crew chiefs, Hamlin brings high hopes that the new combination with Rogers will bear fruit in 2015. "He's well-regarded within our sport amongst other crew chiefs and I know what he can do," Hamlin said. "He's been with the No. 11 FedEx team before. This is his second time around, but me and him have never worked together in the Cup Series. I have driven his cars during tests and been really fast and comfortable with them, so I'm very excited about what we can do." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Take a virtual lap around Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Ryan Newman claims his 50th career NSCS pole award and first NSCS win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway , making him this week's Mobil 1 Driver of the Race.
NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2016 Voting Day set for May 20 RELATED: Steve Byrnes to vote on NASCAR Hall of Fame heroes DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- NASCAR today announced several revisions to the NASCAR Hall of Fame (NHOF) Voting Panel. The 58-member panel will vote for the NHOF Class of 2016 on Wednesday, May 20 in Charlotte, North Carolina, to be announced that afternoon in the NASCAR Hall of Fame's Great Hall. For the first time, new NASCAR broadcast partner NBC will be represented on the Voting Panel. Below are the eight new members of the NHOF Voting Panel. • Ron Bennett, Holland (New York) Motorsports Complex • Jeff Burton , NBC Sports Network • Steve Byrnes, FOX Sports 1 • Brent Dewar, NASCAR • Eli Gold, Motor Racing Network • Kevin Harvick , reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup champion • Marty Smith, ESPN • Jim Utter, Charlotte Observer A full list of the panel members can be found below. "These eight new voters collectively hold a vast array of NASCAR knowledge from all disciplines of the industry," said Brett Jewkes, NASCAR senior vice president and chief communications officer. "Each new member brings a unique background and passion for the history of NASCAR and will contribute greatly to the Hall of Fame voting process." The 22-member Nominating Committee -- which includes the additions of Bennett and Dewar -- will meet on Friday, Feb. 20 in Daytona Beach, Florida, to discuss, debate, and vote for the 20 NHOF Class of 2016 nominees and five nominees for the second Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR. The results will be announced that afternoon at Daytona International Speedway . Additionally, Dr. Jerry Punch will move to the voting panel for the Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence. The fifth recipient of the award will be announced during the July race weekend at Daytona. The NHOF Class of 2015, which includes Bill Elliott, Fred Lorenzen, Wendell Scott, Joe Weatherly and Rex White, will be officially inducted on Friday, Jan. 30 at 8 p.m. ET live on NBC Sports Network. NOMINATING COMMITTEE NASCAR Hall of Fame: Executive Director Winston Kelley; Historian Buz McKim. NASCAR Officials: Chairman / CEO Brian France; Vice Chairman Jim France; President 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. 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 owner Tony George; Dover Motorsports CEO Denis McGlynn; Pocono Raceway board of director 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. VOTING PANEL The Voting Panel consists of the above 22-member Nominating Committee and the following 36 representatives. In addition a Fan Vote is the 59th -- and final -- vote. American Auto Racing Writers & Broadcasters Association: Dusty Brandel, AARWBA President. Eastern Motorsports Press Association: Ron Hedger, EMPA President. National Motorsports Press Association: Brian Nelson, NMPA President. Print & Online Media: Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com; Jenna Fryer, Associated Press; Al Pearce, Autoweek; Jim Pedley, RacinToday.com; Bob Pockrass, Sporting News; Nate Ryan, USA Today; Jim Utter, Charlotte Observer. Broadcasters: Rick Allen, NBC; Jeff Burton , NBCSN; Steve Byrnes, FS1; Eli Gold, MRN; Dave Moody, SiriusXM; Doug Rice, PRN; Marty Smith, ESPN. Manufacturers: Jim Campbell, Chevrolet; Edsel Ford, Ford; David Wilson, Toyota. Retired Drivers: Ned Jarrett; Richard Petty; Ricky Rudd. Retired Car Owners: Junior Johnson; Bud Moore; Robert Yates. Retired Crew Chiefs: Buddy Parrott; Waddell Wilson; Eddie Wood. Reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion : Kevin Harvick . Industry Leaders: Former NASCAR Senior Vice President Paul Brooks; MRN announcer Barney Hall; Retired Associated Press writer Mike Harris; former motor sports journalist Tom Higgins; former broadcaster Ken Squier; former Charlotte Motor Speedway President Humpy Wheeler. FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule