Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart were not among the 25 nominees for the inaugural NASCAR Hall of Fame class. Drivers must have competed for 10 years and have been retired for three to be eligible. When Gordon, Johnson and Stewart meet the retirement standard, I have no doubt they will be first-ballot entrants. Their credentials match the top drivers from every era.
Gordon is a four-time Sprint Cup champion who has 82 career victories. One more win and he will tie Cale Yarbrough for third on the all-time list. Gordon, along with Dale Earnhardt Sr., is one of the men responsible for NASCAR’s massive growth from regional to national powerhouse during the 1990s. Off the track, the clean-cut, soft-spoken champ has been an invaluable ambassador. Fans either love him or hate him, which is the mark of a true NASCAR legend. The more you look at Gordon’s record of accomplishments, the more you realize it is pretty ridiculous that he was not included among the first 25 nominees, retirement-rule-be-damned.
Johnson and Cale Yarborough are the only drivers to win three Sprint Cup titles in a row, a feat never accomplished by Gordon, Petty or Earnhardt. Johnson, who is currently third in the standings, could add a fourth title this season. He has 42 career wins, good for 15th all-time, and he entered the season with the sixth-highest winning percentage in NASCAR history. Johnson will have good company in Charlotte, where he will certainly be joined by owner Rick Hendricks, as well as crew chief Chad Knaus, who is putting together a Hall-of-Fame career himself. The only knock on Johnson is that he isn’t very colorful, but they can’t all be Dick Trickle now, can they?
Stewart is a two-time Sprint Cup champion. He leads in points this season, which means a third title is within reach. Stewart has 35 career wins, two of them at the Brickyard. Before moving to stock car racing, he won the 1997 IndyCar title, and has proved that he can win at every level. This year Stewart added to his already impressive résumé by taking ownership of the Stewart-Haas Racing team and propelling it to the top. Much like Gordon, he has as many haters as he does supporters. To Stewart’s credit, and even his critics begrudgingly admit this, he has grown up in the last few years and has emerged as one of the sport’s statesmen.
Yeah, they’re in too:
Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth and Bobby Labonte
Busch (19 wins), Kenseth (18 wins) and Labonte (21 wins) all own a Sprint Cup title. It will be hard to make the case that a Sprint Cup champ should not be in the Hall of Fame. None of the three was the dominant driver of his era. A second title would make me feel a lot better about their inclusion.
And, also this guy:
No Sprint Cup title, and his chances this year are fading, but Martin does own 38 career wins (tied-14th place all time) and is considered one of the sport’s gentlemen. It will take years to sort out what standards Hall of Fame drivers must meet, but I would be surprised if Martin did not make it eventually.
They have some work to do:
Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards
Busch and Edwards are two of the most talented young drivers in the Sprint Cup. Both seem destined to win at least one Sprint Cup, if not more. If both drivers live up to their potential, they’ll be in Charlotte, too.