Hall of Fame: Which Current Sprint Cup Drivers Are Deserving?

Kevin Van PeltCorrespondent IJanuary 23, 2012

DOVER, DE - MAY 15: Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, races Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Dupont Chevrolet, during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series FedEx 400 Benefiting Autism Speaks at Dover International Speedway on May 15, 2011 in Dover, Delaware.  (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)
Geoff Burke/Getty Images

Last week NASCAR inducted five new members into the Hall of Fame, led by drivers Darrell Waltrip and Cale Yarborough. As NASCAR drivers prepare for the 2012 season, let’s take a look at which drivers are on their way to the Hall of Fame.

Potential Hall of Fame Inductees

1. Jimmie Johnson- A five-time champion in his first 10 full seasons, Jimmie Johnson has clearly become the best driver in his era. Johnson has 55 career wins and is already in the top 10 in total wins in Sprint Cup. With arguably over half of his career to go at a top level, there is no reason to say Johnson will not continue his dominance.

2. Jeff GordonA four-time champion, Gordon has 85 career wins and this past season moved into third all-time for career wins. Gordon is in the latter part of his career but still has plenty of fight left in him. Gordon was a contender throughout most of the 2011 season and should be considered a favorite to win the championship in 2012. Gordon’s ticket to the Hall of Fame is all but stamped, but don't be surprised to see his numbers climb more before all is said and done.

3. Tony Stewart- Stewart is a three-time champion, and as of January 2012, he has 44 career wins. Contributing to his win total was his remarkable run in the chase last season, allowing Tony to finish the season with five wins. Stewart is a pure racer and can run well behind the wheel of anything. However, it is his NASCAR career that has brought the stardom and success he has now. In his third year as an owner/driver, Stewart has already won a championship. Even though his team was not hand picked, it is still quite the accomplishment for Stewart. He took a team that was rock bottom, and revived them to where they are now. Stewart can be part of a select few to exceed in the sport outside of driving and make his mark in the history books.

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As of now, those are the three drivers who will be in the Hall of Fame without question. Potential is out there for many drivers, and it will be interesting to see who will make the cut. Also, since the Hall of Fame only has 15 members in it so far, the process of who makes the Hall will be interesting after all the sure things are put in. Will there be certain numbers like Major League Baseball's 500 home runs that will make you a Hall of Fame driver?

Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch, and Bobby Labonte are the only other full-time drivers who are Cup champions. Will that be enough to get them in? Only time will tell. Voters have to make sure they only vote in the elite drivers and not just their favorites with average careers. While it may seem harsh to do, it is necessary to make sure the elite are recognized for being the best at what they did and not just vote in anyone who had a good career.

Drivers such as Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards ran full-time Nationwide Series schedules well after they were established Cup stars. Should that be in consideration for their nomination? Nationwide series drivers from the past, such as Jack Ingram, will no doubt be in the NASCAR Hall of Fame for what he did as a driver in the second level series. However, Busch and Edwards have accumulated much of their staggering Nationwide Series numbers after being full-time Cup drivers. For arguments sake, let’s say Busch retires today. He would retire with 23 Cup wins, 51 Nationwide wins, and 30 Camping World Truck Series wins, a total of 104 NASCAR wins. Based on those numbers alone he should be in, but while these stats are impressive they are also inflated. It is like saying Albert Pujols is a Hall of Fame baseball player because he hit 800 home runs in the minor leagues in the prime of his MLB career. For drivers like Busch and Edwards, they need to be voted on their Cup success, not for what they did in lower levels of NASCAR during the prime of their careers.


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