Hall of Fame credentials: First, and only driver until recently, to capture three straight NASCAR Cup championships. But don’t disregard his other accomplishments in the sport – including his win total (83), poles (69) and Daytona 500 victories (four). Yarborough also holds a special place in NASCAR lore as he was part of the fight at the conclusion of the 1979 Daytona 500 – an event that was captured by live television cameras and helped propel the sport into the national spotlight. Prediction: Much like his contemporaries Allison and Waltrip, he’s just waiting for the call.
Who's next in the NASCAR Hall of Fame?
After years of anticipation, NASCAR’s legends have a home with the opening of the Hall of Fame. Five titans of the sport have already found their spot within the hallowed walls of the Hall, but who will join them next? Jorge Mondaca takes a look at the 10 likeliest candidates to get their spot next.
Hall of Fame credentials: A former Cup champion and three-time Daytona 500 winner, Allison is tied for third overall in race wins with 84 total. An original member of the famed “Alabama Gang,” his career was cut short after an accident at Pocono Raceway in 1988. Prediction: His fate seems linked to that of Darrell Waltrip, the man who is tied with him on the all-time win list. They likely will both get in this year or next.
Hall of Fame credentials: Winner of NASCAR’s first sanctioned race on the Daytona Beach road course as well as NASCAR’s first Modified Division and Strictly Stock (precedent to Sprint Cup) championships. A World War II vet, Byron raced with an injured left leg that required several surgeries to repair. Prediction: With Hall shoo-in David Pearson making a case for legends such as Raymond Parks (Byron’s team owner) before even himself, his appreciation may come sooner rather than later.
Hall of Fame credentials: Rick Hendrick began as a struggling outfit named All-Star Racing in 1984 that he turned into a racing empire that has captured a record 12 NASCAR championships (including nine Cup titles). Several of the sports’ top drivers, including future Hall of Famers Darrell Waltrip, Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, all raced for Hendrick’s organization. Prediction: He’s a Hall of Famer for sure, but since his teams are still dominating the sport, he will likely get passed over for now to get some of the retired stars from the heyday of the sport first.
Hall of Fame credentials: NASCAR’s most successful crew chief, Inman is best known for being cousin Richard Petty’s crew chief for seven championships and over 190 of the Hall of Famers 200 career wins. He was also crew chief for Dale Earnhardt and was on top of the box when Terry Labonte won his first of two Cup championships in 1984. Prediction: The first batch of Hall of Famers included the founders of the sport, two drivers and a jack-of-all-trades owner. Expect crewmen of yesterday and today to make a plea to voters for this very worthy candidate to be included in 2011.
Hall of Fame credentials: Jarrett’s bio includes two Cup championships, 50 career victories, and he holds the record for largest margin of victory (14 laps ahead of second-place finisher). He is the only driver to retire from the sport as a defending champion (1966). “Gentlemen Ned” also is well known for his post-racing career as a NASCAR broadcaster. Prediction: May have to wait until next year, but his spot is waiting for him.
Hall of Fame credentials: One of NASCAR’s first team owners, Parks’ team won the first Cup championship in 1949. He fielded a team in four seasons (1949, ‘50, “54 and ’55) and they produced two wins, two poles, 11 top-fives and 12 top-10s in 18 races. Prediction: Before Parks died in June 2010, David Pearson -- the most likely lock for induction in 2011 -- made a simple plea following the first induction ceremony: "I feel like if I was going in next year and I knew Raymond Parks (center) wasn't, I'd withdraw my name to get him in."
Hall of Fame credentials: Pearson’s records speak for themselves (105 wins, 113 poles – second most in each ranking). But consider that The Silver Fox achieved all those figures and won three NASCAR Cup championships while never actually competing in every race of a season and you start to realize just how special of a driver he was. Prediction: Controversy arose when he missed out on being part of the initial induction class. That won’t happen again in 2011 as he is as close to a lock as anybody can be.
Hall of Fame credentials: The first driver to win three Cup championships, Petty will forever be linked with the first running of the Daytona 500 – in which he was declared the winner of after three days of deliberation (it literally was a “photo finish” in that a photo was needed to decide who won). He would finish his career with 54 wins. Prediction: The only reason he wasn’t a first-ballot Hall of Famer was that another person with his name bumped him down the order of the record books (His son, Richard). Look for Lee to join him soon.
Hall of Fame credentials: DW’s career resume has all the ingredients that NASCAR drivers yearn for – a championship (three in total), a Daytona 500 victory (1989), and a slew of victories (84, tied for third all-time). He also joins legends like “Gentlemen Ned” Jarrett in becoming an ambassador of the sport by becoming a broadcaster after his racing days were over. Prediction: It’s a waiting game for “Jaws,” whether it is just a few months or a year and a few months is the question.