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Pedley: A 500 Win Makes Stewart A First-Ballot Pick

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, February 17 2012

Tony Stewart does not need a victory in the Daytona 500 to get into the Hall of Fame, but it would speed his entry. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

Tony Stewart is, right now, just one race victory away from being worthy of election to the NASCAR Hall of Fame the first time he becomes eligible.

And he could get that one victory next Sunday in the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway.

Stewart’s NASCAR resume is eerily quiet for a guy who can be so irritatingly noisy.

He has 44 Sprint Cup victories. That ties him with Bill Elliott for 15th on the all-time list. It puts him ahead of drivers who are already deemed by many to be Hall worthy – drivers like Tim Flock, Fireball Roberts, Fred Lorenzen and Benny Parsons.

It puts him within easy reach of current Hall members Lee Petty and Ned Jarrett, who had 54 and 50 victories respectively.

Stewart has won at least one race in every one of his 13 full-time seasons in the sport. He has won three or more races in nine of those seasons.

Stewart has three Cup championships. That’s as many as current Hall of Famers David Pearson, Darrell Waltrip, Cale Yarborough and Lee Petty. It is more than current Hall of Famers Jarrett (2) and Bobby Allison (1).

He’s won champions pre-Chase and post-Chase formats. He’s won under the old point-awarding system

Tony Stewart won his third Cup championship last year. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

and, under the new one. He’s won as a driver and as an owner/driver.

Stewart has won the All-Star Race, he’s won the Bud Shootout, he’s won Gatorade duels.

He has done it all while driving in the most competitive era of NASCAR history.

On the intangible side, Stewart has been a controversial maverick (like Dale Earnhardt Sr.) and he has been outspoken (like Waltrip). He’s never (as far as we know) been arrested (in this country) and he has given (literally and quietly) millions of dollars to charitable causes.

Adding to the body of his racing lore (but not counting toward his NASCAR Hall of Fame resume) are success in IndyCars and USAC. He has a well documented love for racing at the grass roots level and has done more than his share to water that lawn.

Finally, there is his 2011 season and championship. The one in which he staged a late-season charge like no other in history. He won the big, ugly silver trophy by collecting every possible point he could in the season-ending race, tied Carl Edwards for most season points and won on the tie-breaker. That race and that championship will go down in history as all-timers.

There now remains just one hole in Stewart’s resume. One that will not ultimately keep him out of the Hall of Fame, but one, which if filled, will make him first-ballot worthy if not (by the time he retires) a first-ballot shoo-in.

Stewart has not won the Daytona 500.

He said during Speedweeks Media Day Thursday that he sure wants to. “Very high on it,” Stewart said when asked where NASCAR’s biggest race ranks on his to-do list.

He was pressed a bit – though, absurdly not nearly hard as he was pressed with moronic-freakin’ questions about Danica Patrick – about the 500 and what it would mean to him.

“I wouldn’t trade three championships to win Daytona,” Stewart said. “It’s not a good feeling to not have that tally in the win column. Realistically, two tracks we haven’t won at and the Daytona 500 we haven’t won at everything else we have pretty much accomplished in this sport that we want to accomplish. It’s the biggest race of the year; everyone wants to win that race. I won’t say that it is not a complete career if you don’t win it but there is a lot of priority on this. Darrell Waltrip and Dale Sr. both had to go a long time before they got it.”

Perfect answer, I thought. Exceedingly honest and absolutely correct.

If you love racing, you’ve got to love Tony Stewart. So…

Bottom line: If I were a Hall of Fame voter (which I am), I would eventually put Stewart’s name on my ballot. If he wins at Daytona later this month, I would (barring unforeseen circumstances) put Stewart’s name on my ballot the first time he becomes eligible.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Friday, February 17 2012
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