We are back to that time of year where the NASCAR Hall of Fame nominees are released. While I believe all of the 20 nominees deserve to be debated for induction, there is part of me that believes we are getting to the point where a mandatory five entries might be too much.
My side tangent, is you can’t put everyone into a Hall of Fame, and you don’t want to put so many people in that you’re almost obligated to put future drivers in who have similar careers. I understand getting a good base, but it might be time to just put a certain percentage of the votes sort of like baseball. I hate to use that as an example because of the politics with the baseball Hall of Fame, but it is a good voting example.
Anyways, back to the topic at hand, who would I vote into the Hall of Fame if I had a vote. Here is my list a few reasons why I would vote for them (in alphabetical order because that’s how the list is in front of me).
Bobby Labonte – A champion in both the Cup Series and Xfinity Series, Labonte deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. The biggest problem I have with him is the final 10 or so years of his career were not that good. Actually, pretty dreadful, and that was before he left Joe Gibbs Racing. That said, from 1993 to 2003 Labonte was able to win 21 times and capture the 2000 championship. That year he won by a large margin over second place Dale Earnhardt, but it was 1999 that was a better statistical season. Factor in his Xfinity Series career and he can get in, although I could see it being very close.
Buddy Baker – On the track the Gentle Giant won 19 times, including wins in two crown jewel events (Daytona 500 and Southern 500). Off the track he had a 20+ career as a broadcaster on TV and radio, and honestly I know him more for that than the wins. I under valuated him when I was younger and have grown to appreciate him when re-watching races on YouTube.
Joe Gibbs – I’m not a fan of voting in anyone who is current, but there is no denying the impact Joe Gibbs has had on NASCAR. Who would have known that the former Washington Redskins coach that nearly went bankrupt in his first month of racing would turn his organization into the gold standard of all of NASCAR. In Cup alone his team has accounted for 159 wins (through Phoenix) and four championships. It would be fitting for he, Tony Stewart, and Bobby Labonte to all go in at the same time.
Tony Stewart – A three time champion, winning in three different championship formats, and 49 career wins. Of which, two were a crown jewel in the Brickyard 400. While his career went out with a whimper, Stewart was a force from 1999-2012, which includes four seasons with 5 or more wins. He was entertaining on the track dusting it up with everyone, rookies to veterans alike, but he was also entertaining off the track. One of the purest race drivers I have ever seen. No doubt he’s a first ballot Hall of Famer.
Waddell Wilson – I honestly don’t know terrible too much on Wilson. My most poignant memory of him was his post-race interview after Ricky Rudd was disqualified from winning the 1991 race at Sonoma. He made his mark as an engine builder before going on as a crew chief, and three championships as a builder is no joke. I can’t wait to learn more about him when he’s voted in.
Here’s a few that I struggled with:
Neil Bonnett – Like Baker, on the track he was a decent driver, right down the middle. 18 time winner, notable wins in the World 600, but no championships. Off track the few years he was an announcer had more of impact on my NASCAR fandom than on the track. His knowledge and relatability was unparalleled and frankly just worked with the cast around him.
Ricky Rudd – Falls just shy this time for the Rooster. He has 23 Cup wins to his credit, but was only once a serious title contender in 1991, he did have a good run in 2001 until the end. This would be surprising to most around me I would leave him off, he was a favorite growing up, but he was very hit or miss. One win in 16 consecutive years and 788 consecutive starts was very impressive mark (since beaten by Jeff Gordon), I just wanted a bit more.
Ralph Moody/John Holman – Owners of some dominate teams I wish could go in together. But, if the Wood Brothers can’t go in at the same time, no way they’re making it. Both I hear people speak very highly of, but I don’t have the knowledgebase to make an accurate assessment of their careers.