NASCAR Hall Of Fame Needs To Tap The Brakes

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, March 10 2018

Jeff Gordon leads the field in this year’s Hall of Fame balloting. But should that field be comprised of Gordon and only Gordon? (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

By Jeff Hood | Senior Writer

It’s time for the sport built on speed to hit the pause button.

A fresh list of 20 nominees seeking induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame was revealed on Tuesday.

Five will become the newest members of the grandest non-race track stage in the sport. In reality, Jeff Gordon should be the lone inductee into NASCAR’s Hall when the induction ceremony rolls around in early 2019.

Over the past nine years, 45 men have been welcomed into NASCAR’s version of Cooperstown.

The NASCAR HOF has seemingly been hell-bent on populating its facility in Charlotte quicker than a pack of drivers battling for the lead during a green-white-checker finish in the Daytona 500.

The lofty standards once necessary to gain entry into the coveted Hall during the first five years have slowly been watered-down.

Requirements of multiple championships at the Cup level slowly eroded into lower echelon, double-digit victories with no titles on the resume.

At this rate, journeymen drivers who enjoyed a “nice” career by logging mediocre results in NASCAR will be whisked into the Hall in the not-so-distant future. Perhaps, as soon as 2019.

Among this year’s candidates is Chesapeake, Va. native Ricky Rudd, who is best-known for

Ricky Rudd; A Hall of Famer or just a nice driver? (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for NASCAR)

his longevity in the sport and his win in the 2007 Brickyard 400.

Rudd collected 23 Cup wins during his career. That sounds good on the surface. But when you consider that the baby-faced driver was Cup’s 1977 Rookie of the Year and waved to the crowd for the final time in 2007, his win total suddenly becomes less impressive.

But in this diluted era of the criteria used to measure potential NASCAR Hall of Fame candidates, the likable Rudd seems to fit the bill.

Hall of Fame candidate Kirk Shelmerdine’s career includes calling the shots from atop the pit box of the late Dale Earnhardt during four of his seven championship seasons.

However, it must also be duly-noted that Shelmerdine was surrounded by some of the top mechanics and over-the-wall specialists during this span at Richard Childress Racing. And at the time, RCR’s engine shop in Welcome, N.C. was considering the best in the sport.

Shelmerdine fell into the journeyman category later in his career when he retired his wrench in favor of becoming a driver. In 39 career starts in the Cup and Xfinity Series, Shelmerdine failed to post a top 10 finish. He fared slightly better in ARCA where he collected three victories in 50 starts.

This is certainly not an indictment on Rudd, Shelmerdine or the other candidates in this year’s nominee class whose names aren’t Jeff Gordon. Instead, it should serve as a wake-up call to the NASCAR Hall of Fame and its process for handing out rings and blazers reserved for legends of the sport.

Arguments can be made for Roger Penske and Jack Roush, HOF candidates who have enjoyed stellar careers as car owners. But I continue to question the rush to enshrine anyone still active in the sport, even in the car owner category.

Aside from future slam-dunkers Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth, the pool of credible candidates is looking somewhat bare.

Which is why the NASCAR Hall of Fame would be wise to adapt the same philosophy drivers have utilized for years to navigate the tight corners at the historic, paper clip-shaped short track known as Martinsville Speedway:

“In order to go fast, you have to go slower.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, March 10 2018
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