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Which Current Drivers Are Hall-of-Fame Worthy?

Back in January, Matt Kenseth, Hershel McGriff, and Kirk Shelmerdine were officially enshrined in the NASCAR Hall of Fame, bringing the number of inductees to date to 61.

This list includes drivers, owners, crew chiefs and broadcasters spanning the gamut of 75 years of stock car racing history.

The NASCAR Hall of Fame opened on May 11, 2010, in NASCAR’s spiritual home of Charlotte, North Carolina, with an inaugural class of Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Bill France Sr., Bill France Jr. and Junior Johnson – a veritable Mount Rushmore of NASCAR legends.

The goal of the Hall, according to the official website, is “to honor NASCAR icons and create an enduring tribute to the drivers, crew members, team owners and others that have impacted the sport in the past, present and future.” And as each year has passed, and more greats are added to the ranks, this has certainly been the case.

NASCAR is, in fact, relatively late to the Hall of Fame party when compared to the other major sports. Baseball’s Hall of Fame opened in 1939 in Cooperstown, New York, with the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Ontario following just four years later in 1943. The NFL Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio was established in 1963 while the NBA inducted their first class in 1959, but didn’t open a physical venue in Springfield, Massachusetts, until 1968.

But as my dear old Dad would say, better late than never.

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Did You Notice?: Kyle Larson Reaching NASCAR Hall of Fame Territory

So, it got me thinking: Who amongst active drivers (not named Jimmie Johnson) will one day, in both the near and distant future, make the Hall of Fame? Let’s begin with the locks, the first ballot Hall of Famers whether they turn another lap in anger or not. I would say there are four.

I’ll start with a man who ultimately replaced a member of the inaugural class behind the wheel: Kevin Harvick.

To go along with his 2014 title, Harvick has 60 wins across 799 races in addition to another 47 wins and two championships at the NASCAR Xfinity Series level and another 14 wins in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. Harvick’s credentials are undoubted – the sort of driver for whom the Hall was built.

Another wheelman in this rarified air is Kyle Busch, who has one more top echelon win (61) and one more championship than Harvick. Then you have his quite frankly ridiculous 102 wins and championship at the Xfinity level and 63 wins in the Trucks. And while Harvick will finally hang up his driving gloves at the conclusion of the 2023 season, you sense that Kyle still has a good few years in him yet. Expect those win totals to get even more gaudy.

Also in that category is Joey Logano, who is, let’s not forget, still only 33. With two titles and 32 wins at the Cup level and 30 wins at the Xfinity level, it’s possible the man dubbed with the nickname “Sliced Bread” in his fledgling days will eclipse the Cup win totals of both Harvick and Busch and likely will add at least one more title, maybe more.

The fourth and final name will likely engender some abuse in the comments section, due to his lack of title (to date): Denny Hamlin.

His 48 wins at the Cup level puts him 16th (equal) on the all-time wins list, not to mention his three Daytona 500 wins. And you can add in the 23XI Racing ownership component, too. Only the haters will dispute this call and frankly they will be wrong.

So, with those four out of the way, there are another two who may very well make it the first time they are on the ballot: 2012 champion Brad Keselowski and 2017 champion Martin Truex Jr.

Keselowski, now a team owner, has 35 wins at the Cup level and another 39 at the Xfinity level (plus a title) and you sense what will be a long career in the ownership ranks. He’s in, no question, it’s just a matter of when.

Truex has 31 wins (one behind Logano) and 13 wins plus back-to-back titles (2004-2005) at the Xfinity level. He’s another sure-fire Hall of Famer, but perhaps not a first ballot honoree.

See also
Dropping the Hammer: Putting in the Work Pays Off for Kyle Larson

Two other drivers, both with plenty of time left in their respective careers, have all but etched their names in the Hall. These would be the Hendrick Motorsports pair of Kyle Larson (21 wins, including Martinsville Speedway) and Chase Elliott (18 wins). Each already has a title and it would not be a surprise to see either win another championship (and with HMS’s speed probably this season) and garner substantially more wins. And even if they don’t win another race, when all is said and done, they’ll both likely be in.

Now here’s where it gets interesting. Who amongst the rest of the field might end up with Hall of Fame credentials when their driving careers are done. Could someone like Ryan Blaney (seven wins and seven straight top-10 overall finishes) finally unlock his promise?

Or might a relative newcomer like Tyler Reddick (four wins in the last 44 Cup races) live up to the faith his team owner Hamlin has in him and win multiple races and a title?

Perhaps Alex Bowman (seven wins) can do what his two Hendrick teammates have already done and win a title. But for me, the name that sticks out is William Byron.

Still just 25, Byron, like Reddick, has four wins in his last 44 Cup races and six in total, but you just get the sense that he’s primed for a serious breakthrough.

So, there you have it. I think there are eight Hall of Famers in the current field with the potential for one or two more. What say you all?

About the author

Danny starts his 12th year with Frontstretch in 2018, writing the Tuesday signature column 5 Points To Ponder. An English transplant living in San Francisco, by way of New York City, he’s had an award-winning marketing career with some of the biggest companies sponsoring sports. Working with racers all over the country, his freelance writing has even reached outside the world of racing to include movie screenplays.

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kb

I got to go with truth. Petty, as it is. Joey IS 32. His 33rd Birthday is May 24th. Let’s keep the reporting actuate at every detail. We are owed that. IMO.

Bill B

Agree with everyone down to Elliott. To that point everyone except Hamlin has a championship. As I said yesterday, a championship is almost a guarantee to get in the HOF because they are running out of worthy inductees. While it pains me to admit, Hamlin is a lock as well. He’s won a lot of races.
After that, the rest of the drivers mentioned aren’t there yet. Fortunately for them,they are young and have half their careers ahead of them.

J.W. Farmer

Maybe then, the hall should make entrance into the hall more lucrative and only induct a class once every five years.

janice

what they have to wait 5 yrs after career ends to be eligible? how does johnson’s part time stuff factor into the formula? i think it’s way too early in some of the younger drivers careers to speculate hall of fame worthiness. hamlin (hurl) will make it into the hof cause martin is in there without the bonus of cup championship. it will be interesting to see if hamlin makes it into hof as an owner.

and logano, if he stays healthy has atleast 10 years left to race or more.

DoninAjax

No Christopher Bell? He’s one of the best out there now.

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