In or Out? 12 Current NASCAR Stars and Their Qualifications for the Hall of Fame
Last week, the third class of inductees into the NASCAR Hall of Fame were announced.
Hall of Fame credentials are difficult to analyze sometimes. But when you look at the numbers, they rarely mislead.
Let's take a look at 12 current drivers to see how their careers stack up and determine whether they are in...or out.
IN: Ron Hornaday
Wins: Four NNS, 48 CWTS
Championships: CWTS (1996, 1998, 2007, 2009)
Career Highlights: Three-time most popular driver; One of only two drivers (Kyle Busch) to win five truck starts in a row
Hornaday is the greatest NASCAR truck driver that has ever competed. His numbers are staggering compared to others.
Don’t knock that he accomplished so much in a lower tier series either. Remember, the NASCAR Hall of Fame is not just for Cup drivers.
OUT: Mike Skinner
Wins: one NNS, 28 CWTS
Championships: one CWTS (1995)
The former Truck Series champion just does not have the numbers to make a solid argument.
If NASCAR continues its 25 annual nominees, he will likely be nominated. But without another championship and a few more wins, Skinner will never reach the status of Hall of Fame drivers.
There is just too little to show for racing against such a lower level of talent.
IN: Jeff Gordon
Wins: 84 Cup, five NNS
Championships: four Cup Series (1995, 1997, 1998, 2001)
Career Highlights: Fastest driver to reach 50 Cup wins (232 starts); Three Daytona 500 wins; Four Brickyard 400 wins; Three All-Star race wins
Possibly the most obvious selection of current Cup series drivers. His 84 career Cup wins are tied for third best all-time.
His 84 Cup wins and four championships weren’t his biggest contribution to the sport, though. Gordon took the torch from Dale Earnhardt and ushered in NASCAR’s current corporate era—something for which many fans still despise him.
Boy Wonder will still be a first ballot Hall of Fame selection.
OUT: Kurt Busch
Wins: 22 Cup, two NNS, four CWTS
Championships: One Cup Series (2004)
Busch will likely live in his brother’s shadow for the rest of his career. Kyle has nearly 70 more wins, the same number of titles and is recognized as a greater talent.
The major reason he may never make the Hall of Fame might not even be his on-track stats.
It might just be a decision he made in the summer of 2005.
Busch, the defending Cup champion at the time, signed a contract to drive for Penske Racing South while he still had a season and a half left with Roush Racing. Jack Roush released him from the contract at the end of 2005, and Busch joined Penske in 2006.
Since moving to Penske, he has won just eight races. He won 14 while at Roush in less time.
IN: Jimmie Johnson
Wins: 54 Cup, one NNS
Championships: Five Cup Series (2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010)
Career Highlights:Three Coca-Cola 600 wins; Daytona 500 champion; 2009 AP Male Athlete of the Year
Five. Consecutive. Championships.
Johnson’s feat had never been accomplished (Cale Yarborough is the only other driver to win three in a row), and it’s one that will likely never be matched.
We are witnessing history right now as he pursues his sixth title in six years.
The only question is “Will we appreciate it now or not?”
OUT: Matt Kenseth
Wins: 20 Cup, 26 NNS
Championships: One Cup Series (2003)
The 2009 Daytona 500 champion holds the distinction as the last Cup Series champion before the Chase era.
And that’s about it.
While he has racked up nearly 50 career wins, Kenseth’s quiet nature tends to get him forgotten in discussions in regards to elite drivers.
IN: Mark Martin
Wins: 40 Cup, 49 NNS, seven CWTS
Championships: Zero (Finished second five times)
Career Highlights: Named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998; All-time wins leader in NNS
Widely accepted as the greatest driver never to win a Cup title, Martin will likely never win one. His last chance may be this season, but based upon his current performance, it won’t happen in 2011.
With a rumored part-time ride next season, it’s doubtful Martin will ever compete for a championship again.
However, he has the credentials both on the track and off to be a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame.
OUT: Denny Hamlin
Wins: 17 Cup, 11 NNS
Hamlin may yet be a Hall of Fame caliber driver. But he’s not right now.
Since he burst onto the NASCAR scene in 2006, he has been a consistent threat to win each and every week.
His career high point came in 2010, as he threatened to end Jimmie Johnson’s stranglehold on the Cup championship. Hamlin entered the final race of the season as the point leader, but left Homestead empty-handed.
This past week’s win at Michigan also has Hamlin fans buzzing at the possibility of another Chase run.
As of now, though, he’ll still need to buy a ticket to make it in the Hall of Fame.
IN: Tony Stewart
Wins: 39 Cup, 10 NNS, two CWTS
Championships: Two Cup Series (2002, 2005)
Career Highlights:Three-time winner of the Daytona July race; Lowest career point finish in Sprint Cup standings is 11th (2006)
If any driver is on the bubble, it’s Smoke.
His two championships and 51 wins don’t necessarily give him “automatic qualifier” status. However, he is the only driver to win a Cup championship in both the cumulative format and the Chase format.
OUT: Carl Edwards
Wins: 19 Cup, 33 NNS, six CWTS
Championships: One NNS (2007)
A major hindrance to Edwards is the growing animosity toward Cup drivers winning in the lower tier series.
While he hasn’t won as often as Kyle Busch, his dominance over the past four seasons in the Nationwide series has done him no favors.
With the exception of 2009, when he had nine wins and finished second to Jimmie Johnson in the Chase, Edwards has yet to put together a solid Cup campaign.
However, he does lead the points this season. A Cup championship is well within reach this season, and that might be enough to push him over into Hall of Fame territory.
As of now, with his current stats, he’s just not there yet.
IN: Kyle Busch
Wins: 21 Cup, 48 NNS, 28 CWTS
Championships: one NNS (2009)
Career Highlights: One of only two drivers (Ron Hornaday) to win five truck starts in a row
With 97 career wins, it’s hard to argue that Shrub is not worthy of consideration for the Hall of Fame right now.
He’s just 26 years old, though. He likely has another 15-20 years left in his career.
The only thing that could derail Busch’s Hall of Fame hopes is a major scandal. It’s too hard to look past his on-track performance. He’s dominated both the NNS and CWTS series over the past few seasons.
However, his overly-aggressive driving style and lackadaisical attitude have quelled what could have become a massive fan base if one looked at results alone.
He may never win a fan vote, but he’s already won the respect of true race car drivers the world over.
And he will be a member of the Hall of Fame.
OUT: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Wins: 18 Cup, 23 NNS
Championships: Two NNS (1998, 1999)
If Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth are not qualifiers, then neither is Dale Jr.
Both have more wins, more championships and more potential for future championships.
Much has been made of Junior’s current 108-race winless streak.
There is another stat that is more telling, though.
Since the end of 2004—nearly seven full seasons—Earnhardt has just three wins.
It’s a bit ironic if you think about it.
Sorry, Junior Nation, but without a Cup championship, the only Earnhardt worthy of the Hall of Fame is Dale Sr.