Hall of Fame preview: Mark Martin among contenders
RELATED: Meet 2017's nominees " Live stream of reveal, 5 p.m. ET Mark Martin will be one of 20 people considered for induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame when the Voting Panel convenes in Charlotte on Wednesday to determine the 2017 class. (TV coverage: NBCSN, 5 p.m. ET) Three of those on the ballot are former premier series champions -- Red Byron, NASCAR's first Strictly Stock champion in 1949; Benny Parsons, the 1973 winner who went on to enjoy a successful second career in the broadcast booth; and Alan Kulwicki, killed in a plane crash just four-and-a-half months after capturing the 1992 crown . There was no championship trophy for Martin, who retired from competition at the end of the 2013 season. But that doesn't diminish the accomplishments the Batesville, Arkansas, native garnered during a career that spanned more than three decades. Martin, 57, won 40 times in the premier series, with victories coming at 21 different tracks. He finished 10th or better 453 times, in more than half of his 882 career starts. He also won 56 poles. RELATED: Live stream, 5 p.m. ET, Wednesday In the battle for the championship, Martin placed second five times, a mark he shares with current Hall of Fame member Bobby Allison, and he scored 17 top-10 points finishes during his career. "It makes me proud I was able to be as successful as I was and grateful for the opportunities I had," Martin told Little Rock, Arkansas, radio station KABZ-FM recently. "To be real honest I didn't enjoy a … significant part of my career because I was trying so hard to get that championship because I wanted it, and even more than that, the people who supported me wanted it for me so badly. I saw time running out. "I spent too much of my time focused on that and not enjoying the opportunities I had. Today, when I look back on it I wish I hadn't done that." Martin lost the 1990 title by 26 points to Dale Earnhardt and finished second to the Richard Childress Racing driver again four years later. Other runner-up finishes through the years came against Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson . "My life would not be different one bit had I won one of those or not," Martin said. "I had a great career. … I don't think it would have changed a thing in my life had I won one of those trophies. I was very close. I got beat by only four of the greatest of all time in NASCAR in my opinion. … "I'm not embarrassed." Earnhardt was one of five members inducted into the Hall’s inaugural class in 2010. Gordon, a four-time series champion with 93 career victories, retired from driving at the end of 2015 and won't be eligible for Hall of Fame consideration until 2018 and possible induction until '19. Stewart, winner of three premier series titles and co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing , will cease to compete full time in the series following the 2016 season. Johnson is a six-time champion and boasts 77 career wins, including two thus far this season. In addition to his premier series exploits, Martin held the XFINITY Series record for career wins for 14 years and is also a seven-time winner in the Camping World Truck Series. It is his second consecutive appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot. First-year nominees for the 2017 ballot are former Camping World Truck Series champion Ron Hornaday Jr ., team co-owner Jack Roush, driver Ricky Rudd, noted crew chief and engine builder Waddell Wilson and broadcaster Ken Squier. Rounding out the list of nominees are Buddy Baker, Richard Childress, Ray Evernham, Ray Fox, Rick Hendrick, Harry Hyde, Hershel McGriff, Raymond Parks, Larry Phillips, Mike Stefanik and Robert Yates. Also to be determined by the Voting Panel is the 2017 recipient of the Landmark Award, which recognizes outstanding contributions to NASCAR. The five nominees are Martinsville Speedway track founder H. Clay Earles, driver Janet Guthrie, team owner Raymond Parks, former RJ Reynolds executive Ralph Seagraves and Squier. The Voting Panel is scheduled to begin the selection process Wednesday at 12:30 p.m. ET at the Charlotte Convention Center. The announcement of those chosen will take place in the NASCAR Hall of Fame's Great Hall (5 p.m. ET, NBCSN). NASCAR.com will also live stream the event: You can watch it live here.
Meet this year's five Crown Royal finalists
Giving back. It's something the five finalists for Crown Royal's annual "Your Hero's Name Here" program have all done without question or hesitancy, whether it's protecting classmates from gunfire, serving in the armed forces or founding a service-dog centered charity to help wounded veterans. They gave back and served as heroes do. And because they gave back, Crown Royal will put a name in lights. One grand prize winner from among the deserving, heroic five finalists will be etched in history with naming rights to the 23rd annual Brickyard 400, which takes place July 24 at famed at Indianapolis Motor Speedway . This race will mark the 10th time Crown Royal has awarded race-naming rights to an adult fan. The program focuses on all of the unsung heroes who make a difference in their communities, from firefighters and police officers to first responders and local volunteers. Every year five heroic finalists are nominated and through fan voting, and one winner is chosen to have their name cemented in sports history. Beginning this week, adult consumers can go to CrownRoyalHeroes.com to vote for the hero they think is most deserving of naming rights to the race. Voting runs through June 9 and the grand prize winner will be announced that month. See below for their names and bios. All five finalists will be flown to Indianapolis to attend the race, and the grand prize winner will be provided with a once-in-a-lifetime experience, which will include delivering the trophy bearing his or her moniker to the race winner in Victory Lane. The Brickyard 400 is one of the landmark NASCAR races every season. Since 1994, the group of big-name race winners includes the likes of Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson . Previous Crown Royal grand prize winners who had the race named after them are: Curtiss Shaver (2012), Samuel Deeds (2013), John Wayne Walding (2014) and Jeff Kyle (2015)
Crown Royal Heroes: Jason Redman
Check out Crown Royal Heroes nominee Jason Redman. One of these five finalists will receive naming rights to the 2016 Crown Royal Presents the “Your Hero’s Name Here” 400 at the Brickyard.
Crown Royal Heroes: Piper Hill
Check out Crown Royal Heroes nominee Piper Hill. One of these five finalists will receive naming rights to the 2016 Crown Royal Presents the “Your Hero’s Name Here” 400 at the Brickyard.
Pursuing NASCAR's triple crown intrigues Bobby Labonte
TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Bobby Labonte quietly bowed out of full-time Sprint Cup Series competition at the tail end of the 2013 season. No retirement tour, no gifts. Certainly no ponies. The 2000 premier series champion has selectively dabbled in the sport since, however, with a handful of unremarkable starts at Indianapolis and the restrictor-plate tracks, knowing the pack racing may be his last remaining shot at picking up his first -- and likely final -- Cup victory in more than a decade. Labonte will run in Sunday's GEICO 500 (1 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at Talladega Superspeedway , his second of a scheduled four-race slate in 2016. While not sure if this same type of deal will continue to be available to him in future years, the brother of NASCAR Hall of Famer Terry Labonte hinted at an interestingly hush-hush opportunity that could be coming down the pipeline later on this season. "I do have a couple other possibilities I am excited about that might come to fruition later on in the year that I didn't see coming around the corner but they are opportunities that might lead to something that I have been more excited about than anything I have done in my career," Labonte said Friday at Talladega. "Racing is still a big passion of mine and I know I am not going to go do a lot of things I used to do but there are still some opportunities out there that are still up on my radar that I would like to do." But what does he have left to prove? What racing goals remain? "That is a great question, too. Winning any race. It might be a bicycle race. Racing at the Sprint Cup level has gotten so intense that if you can't do it every weekend … (Talladega) is different as we all know. Last weekend and next weekend is different than here," Labonte said. "It is one of those things that I guess I kind of want to race more in a way but I don't want to race more in some ways. I don't want to do it every weekend but I know there are different series you can do that aren’t quite as strenuous as this. "My brother told me one time after about two years of retirement, 'You know, you will have a lot more friends later that you didn't know you had.' And that is true. I am enjoying that. As far as racing goes I am enjoying it and my opportunity is only four times right now through a little bit of what I want to do and a little bit from other people." One remaining goal is obvious: becoming NASCAR's first Triple Crown winner by notching a championship at each of its three national series levels. Labonte has the two arguably tougher feats down, winning the XFINITY Series (then Busch Grand National) title by 74 points over Kenny Wallace in 1991, then taking his first and only Sprint Cup Series (then Winston Cup) title by a wide, 265-point margin over Dale Earnhardt in 2000. It's a long shot, and Labonte admits that "everything has to line up right," but he's at least considered the prospect of running for a Camping World Truck Series title. He has 10 career starts in the series, with one win (2005 at Martinsville). "It is absolutely something that we have talked about and met with some people about," Labonte said. "I couldn't just make it happen by snapping my fingers and we couldn’t quite get it all lined up. I definitely had it in my mind that it was something I really wanted to do. I would still entertain that but there is also a point where if you can chase the championship that is one thing, and you can do it in a lot of ways. "When I started racing when I was little, the passion was to race and win and that is what you want to do. You want the chance to do that. We did it back then and I think the Truck Series is very appealing to me. I loved it when I did a few of them for a couple of guys and won a race and finished in the top five quite a bit. It is definitely a different level and the garage area is a lot calmer there than it is in the Sprint Cup Series and it kind of, at this point in time, is very appealing."
Crown Royal Heroes: Michael Gallardo
Check out Crown Royal Heroes nominee Michael Gallardo. One of these five finalists will receive naming rights to the 2016 Crown Royal Presents the “Your Hero’s Name Here” 400 at the Brickyard.
Crown Royal Heroes: Chris Mintz
Check out Crown Royal Heroes nominee Chris Mintz. One of these five finalists will receive naming rights to the 2016 Crown Royal Presents the “Your Hero’s Name Here” 400 at the Brickyard.
Crown Royal Heroes: Leigh Ann Hester
Check out Crown Royal Heroes nominee Leigh Ann Hester. One of these five finalists will receive naming rights to the 2016 Crown Royal Presents the “Your Hero’s Name Here” 400 at the Brickyard.
Rolex 24 crown remains high prize for NASCAR stars
RELATED: History of NASCAR drivers in the Rolex 24 DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- The list of NASCAR greats to hoist a trophy at Daytona's famed Rolex 24 ranges from Hall of Famers such as Bill Elliott and Terry Labonte to stock car greats such as Mark Martin and includes Jamie McMurray , who after seven tries, won a champion's Rolex last year to showcase along with his 2010 Daytona 500 trophy. The late Dale Earnhardt competed just once finishing on the GT podium in his only try driving with his son Dale Earnhardt Jr . in 2001, along with sports car veterans Andy Pilgrim and Kelly Collins. AJ Allmendinger claimed a much-celebrated Rolex overall win in 2012, the 50th anniversary of the legendary race. The very first full-time NASCAR driver to win overall? Casey Mears in 2006. Through the history of this event full-time NASCAR drivers have been eager to give the Rolex 24 a try. And typically, found it as challenging and confounding as any week in a Sprint Cup Series' competition. McMurray, Allmendinger and third-year Cup driver Kyle Larson -- who co-drove with McMurray to the 2015 Rolex overall win -- will give the great endurance race another shot this weekend at the newly-unveiled, highly-celebrated, ultra-modernized Daytona International Speedway , which is fresh off a $400 million "re-imagining" renovation. RELATED: Learn more about Daytona Rising project The Russia-based prototype team and driver Mikhail Aleshin won the pole in the No. 37 BR01 Nissan and it will lead the 56-car field to green at 2:40 pm ET in the 54th Rolex 24 at Daytona -- the first round of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. "Looking forward to defending our win," Larson said, smiling. "I think we're a great team and great combo with (Scott) Dixon leading it and me on the tail. I'm hoping we can put together another full 24 hours here and get another watch." Larson is part of Chip Ganassi's defending championship team this weekend co-driving again with McMurray, reigning IndyCar champion and another former Indianapolis 500 champion, Tony Kanaan. The high-wattage, high-achieving lineup is matched by the anticipation of the series' new cars and revised classes fighting it out among the best sports car racers in the world for an entire day. And for much of the great history of this event, the sports car veterans ruled the road. NASCAR champions such as Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart gave it their best but are collectively 0-for-12 in claiming a shiny new watch. Johnson came closest to adding a Rolex to his resume and his wrist after finishing second overall in both 2005 and 2008 -- co-driving, in '08, with sports car royalty Alex Gurney, Jon Fogarty and IndyCar champion Jimmy Vasser. Stewart's best finish was third in 2005 co-driving with sports car veterans Andy Wallace and Jan Lammers. Danica Patrick and NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace have given this race a try too. Patrick finished eighth overall in 2009 with Mears on her team. Wallace's only entry ended before the half-way mark. He was teamed with Patrick in 2006 and their car turned only 273 laps of 734 ultimately run. The race remains a crown sought by NASCAR's best, who compete alongside those sports car talents in one of the most diverse, highly anticipated events on the calendar. "I enjoy it, last year was fun and I think having all the drivers together, it's really the only time of the year we're all together," Larson said, smiling. "Everyone's telling stories. We all have dinner together. And to see everyone's driving talent and share the vehicle is pretty cool."
Roger Penske eyes triple crown
Winningnest owner at IMS yet to have driver win Brickyard 400 SPEEDWAY, Ind. -- There are very few racing achievements still left on Roger Penske's to-do list. But Sunday's Jeff Kyle 400 at the Brickyard represents a rare opportunity for Penske to accomplish one of the greatest feats in auto racing. A victory by one of his drivers Brad Keselowski or Joey Logano would give the legendary team owner the motorsports "triple crown " -- also counting wins in the Daytona 500 (Logano) and Indianapolis 500 ( Juan Pablo Montoya ) earlier this year. Of course a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway would be special, triple crown or not. Penske is the winningest Indianapolis Motor Speedway team owner (16 Indy 500 victories) in history but has amazingly been 0-fer at the track when it comes to NASCAR's Brickyard 400. Three times Penske was a runner-up with Hall of Fame driver Rusty Wallace (1995, 2000 and 2002), but the closest he's been lately is Logano's fifth place last season. "Anytime we hear Indy coming up we start getting the calls from Roger," Logano said Friday between practice sessions at Indy. "We really want to win this race. This is the one on his bucket list that he hasn’t gotten yet and we talk about it a lot. It would be very special to give him a Brickyard 400, along with the Indy 500 he won earlier this year up here and the Daytona 500 we won earlier, too. So this could be quite the trifecta if we could make it happen." Keselowski actually delivered Penske his first NASCAR win on the famed Indy 2.5-miler -- a 1-2 finish with then teammate Sam Hornish Jr . -- in the inaugural XFINITY Series race in 2012. Ironically, Penske was travelling and unable to attend the event -- something Keselowski vowed to tease him about at the time. The significance of Keselowski's day was not lost on him. "The Brickyard means so much to all of us as race car drivers and to the sport in general, and it transcends three different forms of auto racing, whether it's IndyCar in the United States, F1 and their history here, and then obviously with stock cars and their initial time here to the current date, from '94 on, it transcends into a special victory or a special place to race I should probably say," Keselowski said during his winner's press conference. Racing's "triple crown " has only been achieved one time -- in 2010 by Chip Ganassi, Penske's longtime and well-respected rival in both NASCAR and IndyCar series. And it's obviously very seldom even a possibility with the difficulty of winning both the Daytona and Indy 500-mile races. Keselowski's No. 2 Miller Lite Ford was second fastest in Friday's second practice -- the most promising of the two cars. Logano's No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford finished 14th in the final practice, preparing for Saturday's pole qualifying. Both drivers were optimistic about their chances on Sunday. Motivation won't be a problem. "I don't think you need any more incentive besides giving Roger Penske another win at Indy," Logano said. "You want to add your name to the list of guys that have won here for him. Every time I walk into the shop the first thing you see is all these Indy 500 trophies and the helmets that they wore when they won that race and the picture. "We all want to come up here and give our best effort and try to execute the race the best we know how to and build the fastest cars we know how to before we get there, but we do that every week. We do that for every single race track, but there's just a little bit added for this one. It's like going down to Daytona. You really wan to win the Daytona 500 because it's one of the biggest races of the year. This is the same story, but it's even a little bit more special I think for Team Penske than it is for everyone else." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule