CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — When Jeff Gordon’s name is presented to panel of voters for the NASCAR Hall of Fame, the debate should be short and simple.
Yes, Gordon gets a slot.
Gordon is on Wednesday’s ballot for the first time and there should be zero discussion regarding his worthiness. The four-time NASCAR champion played a massive role in moving stock car racing beyond its Southern roots and into the national landscape. Business models changed because of Gordon, who appealed to Madison Avenue advertisers and stick-and-ball sports fans.
He was the star the sport needed and it certainly didn’t hurt that he won, almost all the time.
Gordon’s debut was the 1992 season finale, also Richard Petty’s final race. He was a winner in his second full season, a NASCAR champion in year three. Gordon’s 93 victories and 81 poles both rank third on NASCAR’s all-time lists, and he’s a three-time Daytona 500 winner and five-time winner at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Gordon also won at every active Cup Series track except for Kentucky, made 805 career starts and briefly came out of retirement to help Hendrick Motorsports when Dale Earnhardt Jr. was sidelined with a concussion. Gordon is only three years removed from full-time competition and just 46.
“On one hand I’m excited,” Gordon said of Wednesday’s vote. “On the other hand, I’m like too young to go into the Hall of Fame.”
Gordon said he will wait for the results of Wednesday’s voting like every other nominee. But he’s been part of past ceremonies, most recently when he helped induct his former crew chief Ray Evernham, and admitted he’s looking forward to the day his name is called.
“I’ve gone to the Hall of Fame for the inductions many times and seen some great speeches and legends in our sport, so whenever that day comes (for me) it’s a huge honor,” said Gordon. “I’m thankful that timing has definitely been on my side . and 10 or 15 years ago the Hall of Fame was not what it is today. That ceremony now, what it means to be in the Hall of Fame is on a whole other level than what it’s ever been.”
Just five of 20 nominees will be selected by the panel of 57 voters and one fan vote. The 2019 class is one of the toughest yet to predict:
• Two drivers, Davey Allison and Alan Kulwicki, could potentially split voters.
Kulwicki was NASCAR’s 1992 champion and is on the ballot for the fourth year. He was rookie of the year in 1985, won five races in seven full seasons but was killed in an aviation accident five races into his championship reign at the age of 38. In his championship season, Kulwicki overcame a 278-point deficit with six races remaining to win the title. Last year, Truck Series champion Ron Hornaday Jr. beat out Kulwicki in a tie-breaking vote.
Allison is on the ballot for the second year. He won 19 times in 191 races, was the 1992 Daytona 500 winner and the 1987 rookie of the year. The son of Hall of Famer Bobby Allison, Davey was part of the famed “Alabama Gang” and part of the only father-son combo to finish 1-2 at the Daytona 500 when he followed Bobby across the finish line in 1988. He was killed in a helicopter accident in 1993. He was 32.
• Another debate could center on three current team owners, Joe Gibbs, Jack Roush and Roger Penske.
Roush is on the ballot for a third time, while Gibbs and Penske are up for consideration for just the second year. Two of their peers, Richard Childress and Rick Hendrick, were inducted in 2017 and former Roush driver Mark Martin, also inducted in 2017, has made a case for his former boss.
“Jack Roush was never about going out and finding the biggest name on the market. Instead, he employed a mindset of seeking out individuals with the desire to succeed, developing that talent, and providing people with all the tools necessary to succeed at the highest of levels,” Martin said. “In my opinion, thousands of individuals owe their career to Jack Roush and there is little doubt that almost everyone in the NASCAR community has reaped the benefits in one way or another from Jack’s drive and determination.”
Roush drivers have won 137 Cup races and championships in all three NASCAR national series. Gibbs’ 148 Cup victories rank third all-time among owners, and he has won nine national championships, four at the Cup level. Penske has five NASCAR championships, only one in Cup, and 107 Cup victories. He also built Auto Club Speedway in California and once owned Michigan International Speedway.
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