Almirola will pilot patriotic car for two holiday race weekends Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live The U.S . Air Force is joining forces with Richard Petty Motorsports for the seventh consecutive season as a primary sponsor for two races on Aric Almirola 's No. 43 Ford in the 2015 Sprint Cup Series season. Almirola will carry the Air Force logo for the two most patriotic race weekends of the season: Memorial Day weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway for the Coca-Cola 600 (Sunday, May 24, 6 p.m. ET, FOX) and Fourth of July weekend at Daytona International Speedway for the Coke Zero 400 (Sunday, July 5, 7:45 p.m. ET, NBC). In addition, the U.S . Air Force will remain an associate partner on the No. 43 Ford for the entire 2015 season. This season marks the U.S . Air Force's 15th in NASCAR. Almirola will also continue to support at-track swear-ins for the Delayed Entry Program and entertain active duty military guests at the track. Almirola won the Coke Zero 400 last summer at Daytona with the U.S . Air Force as his primary sponsor. The victory was his first in the Sprint Cup Series and came on the 30th anniversary of Richard Petty's 200th win. The military branch has a close tie to Almirola as his father served in the U.S . Air Force and Almirola was born on Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. "Working with the Air Force for the past three years has been really rewarding," Almirola said in a team release. "With my dad serving in the Air Force, I understand the sacrifice the men and women make to keep our country safe. It was great to be able to celebrate my first Sprint Cup win with the Air Force, and I'm so glad they will be back as we defend our win in the Coke Zero 400 ." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
2014 Sprint Cup champion will be second reigning champ to cast a ballot Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live RELATED: See the NASCAR Hall of Fame inductees class by class Kevin Harvick received several perks after securing his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship last season -- the trophy, the oversized check and the ability to etch his name in the stock-car racing history books. This spring, he'll cash in on another bonus: Having his say in which drivers take their rightful place in the sport's annals. Harvick will take part in NASCAR Hall of Fame Voting Day this May, becoming the second reigning Sprint Cup champion to cast a ballot to help determine a class to be enshrined. Harvick is scheduled to participate in Friday night's induction (7 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network) of the 2015 class at the Charlotte Convention Center. Harvick, entering his 15th season in NASCAR's top series, demurred when asked about his own chances of one day being selected for enshrinement, but said he imagined his Voting Day duties would be educational. "Well, I'm not going to rate my own credentials, but I can tell you that I'm excited to be a part of the process, having a vote and being able to experience that and learn more about our sport," Harvick said Tuesday during Stewart-Haas Racing 's portion on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour presented by Technocom. "I think there's obviously that you can constantly learn about, and to be able to take that in and experience that is going to be a lot of fun." Alterations were made to the NASCAR Hall of Fame voting panel in December 2013 to add the reigning Sprint Cup champion to the list of vote-casters. That change meant that Jimmie Johnson , just weeks removed from winning his sixth title in NASCAR's top division, was involved in the discussions and balloting process that determined the Class of 2015. The responsibility wasn't lost on Johnson, who reflected on his Voting Day experience to the NASCAR Wire Service last year. "That was a huge honor and an amazing day to be a part of," Johnson said. "To sit in a room with so many people that care for our sport and know about our sport and then discuss what took place in eras of time when I certainly wasn’t around … it was a very awesome and unique experience and something I think that is a huge honor and in years to come. "It's only going to help drivers in the garage area understand the history of our sport and grow closer and more attached to the people that built this sport. And in a big way, I wish that the garage area could sit in on that discussion and see the respect that the peers and the people on the voting panel have for our industry and for the people involved." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Hendrick Motorsports drivers discuss newest teammate Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live RELATED: Full coverage of Gordon's final full-time season " Elliott to drive No. 24 car in 2016 CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Jeff Gordon had been watching Chase Elliott for years. Some say the young driver from Dawsonville, Georgia, reminded them of a young Gordon. Equipped with raw talent at a young age and a drive to succeed – not to mention an incredible pedigree – Elliott seemed like the next big star. And for Gordon, he checked all the boxes. "When I'm looking for talented drivers – the ones that I'm thinking are championship-caliber," Gordon said at Charlotte Media Tour presented by Technocom on Thursday. "You're looking for ones that improve throughout the race, handle a certain situation calmly or improve throughout the season. And he has all those qualities and then he gets out and says all the right things." Team owner Rick Hendrick’s announcement of young Elliott's move to the No. 24 car in 2016 was met with awe from the racing world and excited reactions from his newest teammates: Dale Earnhardt Jr ., Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne . Like Gordon, Earnhardt -- Elliott's XFINITY car owner at JR Motorsports -- had been watching the budding star for years and anticipated the No. 9 driver's move to Hendrick Motorsports for awhile. "I think Chase is going to have a long career and to have a little part in that is something I can hang my hat on years down the road," said Earnhardt, who watched Elliott seize the XFINITY championship during his rookie season in the series. "I know Rick picked him out of a crowd and said 'That guy is the guy' at a very young age." RELATED: Can Elliott defend XFINITY title? " Elliott's championship timeline The announcement also came as no surprise to Johnson. "It just felt right," Johnson said. "It seemed right. I had a feeling it was coming, knew it was coming and it makes perfect sense. "You can't put anyone in the 24 for a lot of reasons and to have somebody with a father that accomplished so much, somebody that really understands and respects the sport.” The six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion reflected on watching Gordon in his younger days and admiring him as a driver. Later on, he would come to respect him as a close friend and teammate. But while he recognizes that his longtime colleague is irreplaceable, Johnson looks to a new era with Elliott. “Chase is a great fit to go in the car and the best thing is he knows he's not trying to fill Jeff’s shoes," Johnson said. "He's going to go out there and be Chase Elliott and just continue on in the history of the 24." WATCH: Gordon says No. 24 car in good hands " Elliott not looking to 'fill somebody's shoes' For Elliott's soon-to-be shop-mate Kahne, Elliott is exactly what Hendrick has been searching for with his next driver. "He's everything that Mr. H likes," Kahne said. "So I feel like he's a perfect fit to get in that 24 and do what Chase Elliott does. It's going to be pretty neat to see him in the car." Elliott's task in 2016 is both daunting and thrilling for the young star. And Gordon can’t wait to watch his familiar vehicle piloting around NASCAR’s tracks from the unfamiliar sidelines. "He's the total package," Gordon said. "And it's very exciting to see him be the driver that’s going to be driving the 24 car in the future." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
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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."
Annual ceremony pays tribute to five racing legends RELATED: More NASCAR Hall of Fame coverage HALL OF FAME PRESENTATIONS: Elliott " Lorenzen " Scott " White " Weatherly CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- On Friday night, in a particularly moving ceremony, the NASCAR Hall of Fame welcomed one of the most significant classes since the induction of its inaugural class in 2010. Perennial most popular driver Bill Elliott headlined a five-member class that also included NASCAR trailblazer Wendell Scott, the first African-American driver ever to win at NASCAR's highest level and the first ever to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame; Fred Lorenzen, a supremely talented driver who won 26 of his 158 career starts; two-time champion Joe Weatherly, who won 25 races in NASCAR's premier series and 101 races in the NASCAR modified ranks; and 1960 champion Rex White, who started 233 races and finished in the top five in 110 of them. Introduced by three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Tony Stewart , Lorenzen, from Elmhurst, Illinois, was one of the first "northern" drivers to gain acceptance in what was, at the time, a predominantly Southeastern sport. Though Lorenzen never competed in more than 29 races in a single season, he won 26 times in 158 starts, a remarkable winning percentage of 16.46. "One of the most pivotal moments of dad's career came on Christmas Eve 1960, when Ralph Moody called dad and asked him to drive for Holman Moody," said Lorenzen's son, Chris, in accepting induction on behalf of his father. "Soon after, there he was at Darlington driving his Holman Moody Ford signature pearlescent white No. 28 to Victory Lane ... Dad always said, 'The sky is the limit, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.' That has been dad's most important saying in life, and he certainly lived by it." Four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon introduced the late Wendell Scott, whose Dec. 1, 1963 victory at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Florida, stands as the first win by an African-American driver in NASCAR's top series. In a career that included 495 starts, Scott recorded 147 top-10 finishes. "We have been led to this great celebration and enshrinement tonight because of the character, tenacity and determination of Wendell O. Scott Sr.," Scott's son, Franklin, said in accepting induction on behalf of his father. "I believe dad envisioned a night such as this comprised of his family, friends and fellow competitors. Unfortunately, the love of his life, Mary Scott, is not here physically because of health reasons, but her spirit is definitely here in a very profound way. "The legacy of Wendell Scott depicts him as one of the great vanguards of the sport of NASCAR racing. Daddy was a man of great honor. He didn't let his circumstances define who he was. The Bible teaches that before a person can have honor, they must first have integrity and humility. In addition another one of his great attributes was perseverance. There were two words that were forbidden for us to use growing up in the Scott household. Those words were 'can't' and 'never.' "In spite of the many obstacles, struggles and hardships he faced, he persevered. What seemed to be insurmountable odds to others, daddy considered it an opportunity. His intestinal fortitude to follow his dreams has placed him among the greatest to ever compete in the sport he loved -- racing." Reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Kevin Harvick took the dais to introduce the third new member of the Hall of Fame, 1960 champion Rex White, who collected 28 victories and 36 poles in his 233 starts in NASCAR's premier series. "Words can't express how honored I am to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame along with the other Hall of Fame members, especially my 2015 fellow inductees," White said. "No driver wins a championship by himself, and nobody enters the Hall of Fame alone. I am the symbol of a team effort. From my first race in 1953 until now, this effort spans 62 years." Brad Keselowski , 2012 NSCS champion introduced Joy Barbee, niece of the late Joe Weatherly, who won championships in 1962 and 1963 before a crash in the fifth race of the 1964 season, at Riverside (Calif.) Raceway took his life. Known as the "Clown Prince of Stock Car Racing" for his gregarious nature and proclivity for practical jokes (rubber snakes were a favorite), Weatherly won 25 races and 18 poles in 229 starts. "Being the youngest of seven, I was only two-and-a-half when Joe was killed, so I really don't remember him at all, but what I can share with you is a memory that I will hold forever in my heart and that is a memory about the love of a brother and a sister, Joe and my mother Betty. "I feel like I knew Joe through her, through the stories she would tell us as kids, and the passion you could hear in her voice when she spoke of him ... I must say that standing here tonight is such a great honor, and I can't tell you how thrilled I am to be here accepting this award on behalf of my Uncle Joe." Kasey Kahne , who took over the No. 9 car from Elliott, introduced his racing hero, "Awesome Bill from Dawsonville," the most prolific winner of the 2015 Hall of Fame class with 44 victories in NASCAR's top series, 16th on the all-time list. Elliott won the Cup championship in 1988 after becoming the first driver in series history to claim the Winston Million in 1985 with victories in the Daytona 500 , Southern 500 at Darlington Speedway and Winston 500 at Talladega Superspeedway . Champion crew chief Ray Evernham performed the official induction of Elliott, who advanced to NASCAR's highest level from a small family operation in Dawsonville, Georgia. "It's just an honor to be here, guys," Elliott said. "If you look on the walls here at the people who are already inducted into this great Hall of Fame, it's just incredible ... One thing that I look at out here today, guys, is one common bond with all these racers is the hard work and the dedication all these guys had. "And for me to stand up here among the guys that have already been here is totally incredible." Anne Bledsoe France, wife of founder and NASCAR Hall of Fame member Bill France Sr., was honored with the first Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR. Familiarly known as "Annie B," Anne B. France handled the business end of NASCAR racing while "Big Bill" grew the sport into a national phenomenon. Lesa France Kennedy, CEO of International Speedway Corporation, accepted the award on behalf of her grandmother. Renowned Charlotte Observer racing writer Tom Higgins received the Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence, joining Ken Squier, Barney Hall and the late Chris Economaki. NASCAR Senior Vice President and Chief Communications Officer Brett Jewkes aptly referred to the quartet as the "Mount Rushmore" of motorsports journalism.
2012 champion believes 'a new era' has come with current Chase format Play: NASCAR Fantasy Live CHARLOTTE, N.C. – It's hard to determine if Brad Keselowski relishes his "anti-establishment" image in the world of NASCAR, but one thing is clear – the former Sprint Cup Series champion remains unapologetic for the way he races and the fallout that’s been known to follow. "You know you're doing something … right in this sport when you're racing the establishment and you make them upset," Keselowski, 30, said Wednesday during the annual Charlotte Motor Speedway Media Tour presented by Technocom. "When you make them upset under the terms that I did – I made guys mad racing for the win, it wasn't racing for 20th. "If you get in a wreck and a fight racing for 20th, that doesn't make SportsCenter. You get in a wreck and a fight with a previous champion racing for a championship, going for a win then you're probably doing the right things." The Team Penske driver won a career-best six races last season and he and teammate Joey Logano were consistently fast throughout the course of the 36-race season. But it was incidents during the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup with Joe Gibbs Racing drivers Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth at Charlotte, as well as a post-race brawl at Texas with four-time champion Jeff Gordon , that thrust Keselowski, and the sport, into the glare of the national spotlight. Kenseth and Gordon both questioned not only Keselowski's actions on the track, but his unrepentant attitude after such incidents. Hamlin simply described he 2012 champ as "out of control ." Keselowski said such episodes either during the race or afterward didn't affect him personally. Taking a big picture view, such altercations showed that "there's a new era coming in this sport with this Chase," he said. "Honestly, it's already arrived. You're going to have to be very aggressive to win championships under this format. That was probably the lesson I learned – more so about the sport than anything else." That others were angry, he said, wasn't surprising, noting "you should be upset when you don't win." The Chase format – which consists of four rounds with wins in any round by a qualified driver guaranteeing advancement into the next round – increased the on-track intensity and aggressive nature of the competition 10-fold. Evidence was impossible to miss. "We certainly saw that with some moves I made, and I wasn't the only driver," he said. "We saw that out of Kevin (Harvick) at the end; and Ryan Newman at the end. And I'm sure there was more than that. I don't view that as a bad thing. I think that's great for the sport. I think our fans will respond to that in the long term; that's what we should be aiming for is what makes our fans happy." Racing defensively and protecting one's position went out the window with the new format, he said, noting that, "when that … mentality disappears from how the races play out, you see more aggressiveness. "I think you see more heated moments. You see a lot of different things that I think are, in general, good for the sport." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule