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Is It Ricky Rudd’s Year to Make the Hall of Fame?

The 2025 NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee class is here.

Seven of the 10 modern-era nominees for the 2024 class return for the 2025 class, with 2024 inductees Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus no longer on the ballot. Larry Phillips, who won five NASCAR Weekly Series championships from 1989 to 1996, was moved from the modern list to the pioneer ballot.

Before I get into my yearly deep dive and endorsement of the HOF class, I should explain my credentials for analyzing the Hall. I have written numerous columns before about the state of the Hall and how it functions, such as this one.

I do not have a vote myself, but I do keep track of the HOF at a very close level by keeping a spreadsheet of annual results. That can be found by clicking here.

In addition to the 15 nominees, there were also five candidates for the Landmark Award revealed. I’m not that impressed with the five candidates this year; none of them really jump off the page like previous winners Jim France, Janet Guthrie and Mike Helton did.

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If I had to choose one to endorse, it would be Dr. Dean Sicking, who is credited with creating the SAFER barrier. The reality is that soft walls had already existed or been proposed in various forms prior to SAFER becoming the standard, but Sicking refined the concept and made it practical for both NASCAR and INDYCAR. The result has been numerous lives affected over the years — at most saved and at least dramatically improved by not wrecking into concrete walls as often.

The Pioneer Ballot

Before getting into this, it should be mentioned that it is completely ridiculous at this point that the Pioneer nominators just refuse to nominate Smokey Yunick.

Even if you agree with NHOF President Winston Kelley up there, and not many seem to, that’s perfectly fine. Nominate Yunick anyway.

If Yunick wouldn’t get support by being on the ballot, that’s fine. The nominators just removed both AJ Foyt and Sam Ard from the 2025 ballot after being nominated in 2024, in part due to lack of support at the ballot box. Or one of the names Kelley mentioned, Jake Elder, who was taken off after the 2021 class and hasn’t been on the ballot since.

Let the voters decide if Yunick wasn’t historically significant enough for the Hall of Fame. If they don’t, take him back off. He wouldn’t be the first multi-time, championship-winning crew chief the nominating committee removed.

Consider too that Donnie Allison just made it into the Hall last year from the pioneer ballot. This is not a knock on Allison, who by all accounts is a very nice man, and I am happy he was able to experience being inducted into the Hall of Fame. I know his brother Eddie Allison had to have been absolutely tickled pink, as Eddie served as his mechanic for years before he drove in Cup.

But Allison was inducted as a Cup driver. And of the drivers that were inducted into the Hall primarily due to their top series driving careers, Allison is the only one who never finished in the top 10 in points. He had 10 career Cup wins, with the biggest being a Coca-Cola 600.

He didn’t have the outstanding local/regional success candidates like Phillips and Harry Gant bring to the table. In terms of historical significance, he is best known for the 1979 Daytona 500 fight in which he only participated in at the very end, as brother Bobby Allison did most of the actual fighting while Donnie was unstrapping himself from the car.

I don’t see his overall contributions, numbers or otherwise, at the level of Yunick.

This category frustrates me. Banjo Matthews is my pick this year.

The Modern Ballot

Three new nominees join the seven from last year, the biggest name of them being Greg Biffle. He is joined by legendary Hendrick engine builder Randy Dorton and three-time NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion Jack Sprague.

Hold up a second, let me go ask Rusty Wallace who he thinks should go in this year.

Well, I couldn’t agree with Wallace last year on the modern era ballot because Johnson and Knaus were both very obvious first ballot Hall of Famers, and they ended up getting in. I can this year.

First, let’s look at Gant. A lot of people will look at the Cup career and see a very good driver, sometimes bordering on great, but without the stats to back up a HoF spot.

The reason numbers mean something is because we assign them meaning. Anybody finishing in the top four in points six times in a career is impressive, but it is more so once you consider Gant was a 39-year-old rookie in 1979.

Why was Gant so old when he made his Cup debut? Because he was laying waste in the local and regional divisions of NASCAR. There was a Dale Jr. Download years ago where Matthew Dillner noted that when he was filming Lost Speedways, he kept running into Gant either as a winner or a track champion at most of the tracks they visited.

Separately, neither his Cup career (as dazzling as it was with the legendary Skoal Bandit and driving for Burt Reynolds was) nor his short track career would be enough to get him over the hump. But together, they absolutely should.

And then there’s Ricky Rudd, the main man I asked Wallace about in that video. The reason I brought up Rudd was because Wallace was telling a story prior to the video about the 1988 Watkins Glen International race, an absolutely thrilling duel between Wallace and Rudd. Let the late, great Bob Jenkins lead you through the finish.

On the surface, Rudd seems like a prime candidate for the Hall of Very Good, as that was what he was. He would occasionally rise to greatness, like finishing runner-up in the 1991 championship to Dale Earnhardt, but he would usually fade in the background of good.

But when you start looking at his longevity stats, it’s really not a contest.

Rudd made 788 consecutive starts. This is not the record, which is held by Jeff Gordon. But Rudd’s record took place over more years due to how many more races Gordon had per year, and thus over so many eras of racecars.

Gordon also always had equipment that was at worst top-10 level, driving for one team his entire career and usually being locked into the race thanks to provisionals. Rudd drove for eight team owners during his streak, including himself, and he didn’t always have top-tier equipment whatsoever.

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But let’s also go to his other big streak. His 16-year win streak was accomplished with five owners, again including himself. None of the drivers who have matched or beaten that streak drove for more than two owners while doing so.

There have been just four drivers in the history of NASCAR who have finished in the top 10 in points in 19 or more seasons. Richard Petty leads the field at 25 times, Gordon is in second at 21 times, Earnhardt is third with 20 times and Rudd is fourth with 19 times. This type of consistency is never seen outside of the most elite company.

Rudd raced for a long time; he’s the only driver to attempt full-time seasons in years when Petty, Earnhardt and Johnson won championships. But he didn’t get to 19 top-10 point finishes by just being around so much; he finished there 67.86% of the time, higher than names such as Terry Labonte.

Finally, there is the number of consecutive seasons with at least one top-10 finish. He did so 31 straight seasons, tied with Petty for the most all time.

Rudd’s three streaks are something that will never be seen again in NASCAR, and I argue as a diehard Baltimore Orioles and Green Bay Packers fan that they are more impressive than either Cal Ripken Jr. or Brett Favre’s consecutive game records. They are Hall of Fame-worthy, and with Gant, I have to endorse him for this ballot because of them.

And I didn’t even need to bring up him winning at Martinsville Speedway with no cooling system in 1997.

About the author

Michael has watched NASCAR for 20 years and regularly covered the sport from 2013-2021. He moved on to Formula 1, IndyCar, and SRX coverage for the site, while still putting a toe in the water from time-to-time back into the NASCAR pool.

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DoninAjax

How many people don’t know that is Robert Yates in the picture with Rudd who are voting for the NA$CAR Hall of Fame?

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