Jeff Gordon poised to head 2019 NASCAR Hall of Fame class

NASCAR


CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Jeff Gordon helped with the induction Friday of good friend and crew chief Ray Evernham into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The four-time NASCAR Cup champion learned something about how he would want his induction to go.

“I’m going to ask Dale Jarrett to read my speech if that happens,” Gordon quipped.

Gordon was referring to the Dale Jarrett reading of the induction speech written by Robert Yates, who died in October and was inducted along with Evernham, Ron Hornaday, Red Byron and Ken Squier.

It is always an emotional night for the honorees, and Gordon — a notorious crier during these types of things — needs to start preparing.

“I don’t know if I can get through this without crying,” Evernham said during his speech. “I know that’s normally Jeff’s gig, but tonight it’s likely to be me, and I get it, man.

“It is just impossible to find the words to express what it feels like to stand up here.”

Gordon should get his turn in 2019 unless half the selection committee has a brain lapse and doesn’t vote in the driver who is third on the all-time Cup wins list with 93.

The 2019 class also could include another tie to the 2018 class. Davey Allison won 19 races, including 15 for Yates — the highlight being the 1992 Daytona 500 — before being killed in 1993 in a helicopter crash at Talladega.

“Davey Allison is the closest thing to a son besides me that my dad had. … He was an amazing race car driver, so much talent, but equally amazing with people,” Doug Yates said.

“People were drawn to him. I mean, he was a true superstar, and he just had a unique way about him that he worked hard and did things different, and everything he touched was special.”

Allison was third among those not selected in the voting this year. Each of the panelists (typically there are around 55 panelists) selects five names on the ballot when voting, and the nominees on the most ballots earn a spot in the Hall.

“Davey Allison was going to be Dale [Earnhardt] Jr. before Dale Jr. was,” Jarrett said. “And talking about him being on the ballot, you can’t look strictly at numbers.

“Now, if you want to look at over the span of time that he was there his numbers will be equal with most everybody and the things that he was able to accomplish, and he moved the needle on the sport. … There’s no doubt in my mind that he should be there.”

Hornaday actually was tied with Alan Kulwicki on 38 percent of the ballots in the voting last May. So then the panelists voted between Hornaday and Kulwicki, with Hornaday getting the nod.

While Hornaday had a cup of coffee in Cup, the NASCAR contingent likely wanted to have the career record holder in wins (51) and championships (four) in its truck series to get in as a nod to the competition in that series.

But Kulwicki certainly deserves to be in as the 1992 Cup champion, the last of the independent owner-drivers to really make a difference. He was killed in a plane crash in 1993.

Buddy Baker was second among those who didn’t make the 2018 class, and with what he did in broadcasting as well as 19 Cup victories (including the Daytona 500 and Southern 500) should put him in.

The other member of the 2019 class? It should be Ricky Rudd, who won 23 times at the Cup level.

There will be people who will want to champion Red Farmer, Hershel McGriff or Larry Phillips — all legends in their short-track careers — but Rudd’s then-record of 787 consecutive starts (it was broken by Gordon) is a jaw-dropping accomplishment of grit and desires.

Leaving Bobby Labonte, the 2000 Cup champion and winner of 21 races, off the list is tough, but who knows how many Kulwicki and Allison would have won if their careers weren’t cut short.

A trio of owners — Roger Penske, Jack Roush and Joe Gibbs — also should be on the nominee list again and all are worthy. It is especially difficult to leave off Penske, whose influence on motorsports in general, from being a track promoter to his race teams, is off the charts. And Roush’s championships and victories in various forms of racing also make him someone who shouldn’t be left out for long.

But the influence and the accomplishments of Gordon, Allison, Kulwicki, Baker and Rudd — often times they were front-and-center of the NASCAR conversation — make them the early best five for the 2019 class.

Gordon better start preparing now. Maybe they can have 2019 NASCAR Hall of Fame tissues ready for his tears.

“I’ve learned over the years it’s a combination of nerves and the way that my emotions I get very passionate and emotional because it means so much to me,” Gordon said. “I was sitting behind Ken Squier. He’s over there like, ‘Oh, my God, I’ve never been so nervous,’ and he got up there, and I was just like, ‘Oh, my God, that’s not nerves.’ I’ll show you nerves.

“When I see somebody that means a lot to me that I’m close to, like Ray, start to show a little emotion, that’s when it gets me. Then when I hear him say some of the things about me — I don’t know how he did what he did. He did amazing. I’m just terrible at those types of things. … Yeah, I don’t even want to think about that.”



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