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Only Yesterday: Hall of Fame Selection Not an Easy Choice This Year

Another year, another NASCAR Hall of Fame class announced. This year’s inductees, who will be officially enshrined in January, include drivers Ricky Rudd and Carl Edwards from the Modern Era ballot and car owner Ralph Moody on the Pioneer ballot.

This year’s vote was a little tougher than a year ago on the Modern Era side. Last year’s ballot included both a seven-time champion driver and crew chief with numbers that were pretty hard to overlook. Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus were first-ballot choices and deservedly so.

This year, voters had a little more to sort through. No driver on the list has a Cup Series title, and aside from Jack Sprague, who made his career in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, the drivers with titles won them in series that weren’t the primary series of their careers.

See also
Ricky Rudd Epitomized What Made NASCAR Great

Crew chiefs Tim Brewer and Harry Hyde have Cup Series titles as crew chiefs, and Randy Dorton has them as an engine builder, but voters tend to be sparing with mechanics compared to drivers, and we’ve seen a couple of head wrenches enshrined in the last two years.

This year is just the second year in which no Cup champion has been chosen. Neither Rudd nor Edwards won a title in NASCAR’s top series in their careers, though Edwards did lose one on a tiebreaker.

It makes for an interesting look at Hall of Fame voting. For the most part, Cup Series feats seem to be the most popular criteria. There are drivers in the Hall who were not primarily, if ever, Cup drivers, but for the most part they have had to achieve much more in their chosen series than the Cup drivers to get the call.

I feel like there’s a distinction between drivers who made one particular series outside of Cup a career than those who ran those series successfully and moved up, or dipped into them while running Cup full-time. Not that their wins or titles should be ignored, but they shouldn’t be measured the same — the driver’s career series should be weighted more.

For example, Edwards’ Xfinity Series title came after he had three full seasons in Cup, two of those in the top 10 in points. It’s hard to equate that to a driver like Jack Ingram, who made his career in that series or even a young driver who won the lower series title before becoming a bona fide Cup star. Edwards’ big picture is part of his success, but he defined himself as a Cup driver, and his Cup exploits should carry more weight.

Here’s a look at Rudd and Edwards strictly by the Cup numbers and how they rank all time among drivers with 100 starts or more:

Ricky Rudd

Wins: 23 (37th) /906 starts
Top 5: 194 (18th)
Top 10: 374 (19th)
Poles: 29 (28th)
Average start: 15.5 (74th)
Average finish: 16.5 (79th)
Laps led: 
7,872 (30th)
Miscellaneous: Rudd won at least once in 16 consecutive seasons. He did not race in Xfinity or Trucks. No NASCAR title. More top fives and top 10s than Edwards, but he had approximately twice as many starts. 1977 Cup Rookie of the Year.

Carl Edwards

Wins: 28 (30th) / 445 starts
Top 5: 124 (34th)
Top 10: 220 (36th)
Poles: 22 (T-37th)
Average start: 14.2 (63rd)
Average finish: 13.6 (34th)
Laps led: 
6,136 (39th)
Miscellaneous: Wins across all three national series (something only 41 drivers have accomplished BUT Trucks only in existence since 1995). Xfinity title. No Cup title.

I’m of two minds here. On one hand I feel like a driver needs an exceptional number of wins in his top series if he doesn’t have a title or other major contributions, like television. These two flirt with that, though I like a bar of 30.

On the other hand, ranking in the top 30 of any major statistical category over 75 years is absolutely elite. Rudd is in the top 20 among those with over 100 starts in top fives and 10s, which is in the top 1% of all drivers with at least one start. Edwards is in the top 40 in all but one category among drivers with more than 100 starts.

Both stack up fairly well against their peers as well. Neither won a title, but both have runner-up seasons, with Edwards’ coming only on a tiebreaker against Tony Stewart. Both have multiple top-10 points finishes.

Rudd has a couple of things that give him a slight edge over Edwards despite five fewer wins. When you talk about the biggest stars of the 1990s, Rudd’s name will come up for the first half of the decade. His seasonal winning streak was going strong. 

Rudd also has no lower series exploits to pad his numbers, and while Edwards has impressive numbers in Xfinity and Trucks, enough of them came in the “Buschwhacking” era when the Cup stars and their team owners simply outspent the independent teams with an experience edge over development drivers.

See also
The Case for Ray Hendrick in the NASCAR Hall of Fame

Edwards loses a little luster when stacked against his peers, which is mainly a product of the years he raced. Edwards was full-time in the Cup Series from 2005-2016. Two drivers accounted for nine of the 12 championships he raced for. He lost one of those on a tiebreaker. Four drivers Edwards competed for titles with have more than 50 Cup wins. Some of those came after Edwards retired, however.

Head to head is a little bit of a different story. Edwards comes out on top of Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch in that category. He falls short of both Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick.

Looking at these two in terms of how they stack up against their peers as well as all time and each other puts them in a much more favorable light than numbers alone. It changed my mind about their worthiness, though I’d have chosen Sprague over Edwards this year on the strength of three titles and his standing in his chosen series, and probably engine builder Randy Dorton over Rudd because more engine guys need to be recognized.

Voters aren’t going to have as easy a call as Jimmie Johnson every year. Both Rudd and Edwards sit favorably among their peers though both certainly raced against drivers who were overall more successful. You can’t hold Dale Earnhardt’s or Johnson’s numbers over everyone they raced against. Looking past the surface will reveal a whole lot more.

About the author

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Amy is an 20-year veteran NASCAR writer and a six-time National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) writing award winner, including first place awards for both columns and race coverage. As well as serving as Photo Editor, Amy writes The Big 6 (Mondays) after every NASCAR Cup Series race. She can also be found working on her bi-weekly columns Holding A Pretty Wheel (Tuesdays) and Only Yesterday (Wednesdays). A New Hampshire native whose heart is in North Carolina, Amy’s work credits have extended everywhere from driver Kenny Wallace’s website to Athlon Sports. She can also be heard weekly as a panelist on the Hard Left Turn podcast that can be found on AccessWDUN.com's Around the Track page.

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