Winners: 2011 NASCAR Champions

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series: Austin Dillon
NASCAR Nationwide Series: Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Tony Stewart

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

2012 Hall of Fame Class a Dandy

Now that I've had roughly a week to digest the 2012 class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, I have to say ... it's a pretty damn good class. While some of the sport's pioneers -- Raymond Parks, Herb Thomas, Red Byron, etc. -- were again passed over, and there is legitimate concern their time for induction is drawing short, the 2012 class is an excellent and varied assortment of the best the sport's past has to offer.

One might even call it a template for future classes.

Here's the 2012 class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame:

Cale Yarborough: Winner of 83 careers Cup Series races (fifth-most all-time) and three straight championships (1976, 77 and 78), becoming the first driver to win three straight titles. He won the Daytona 500 four times, and Yarborough's 14.82 winning percentage is the ninth-best all-time (and third-best among drivers with at least 500 career starts).

Darrell Waltrip: Tied with Bobby Allison and Jeff Gordon for third all-time with 84 career Cup Series wins, while also winning the Cup Series championship in 1981, 1982 and 1985. Waltrip also won the 1989 Daytona 500 driving for Rick Hendrick. After retiring as a driver in 2000, Waltrip moved to the broadcast booth for Fox and Speed, and he has been referred to as the "Jon Madden" of NASCAR.

Dale Inman: The first crew chief to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Inman won eight Cup Series titles -- seven with cousin Richard Petty and one with Terry Labonte in 1984. People seem to agree people like Ray Evernham and Chad Knaus are eventual Hall of Famers, so it's only right that the first well-known crew chief and the best ever gets in before them.

Richie Evans: A nine-time NASCAR National Modified Series champion -- including eight in a rown from 1978 to 1985, Evans was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame. Evans is the only driver to ever have his number (No. 61) retired by NASCAR, and Evans is the first inductee from outside the Cup Series.

Glen Wood: Driver, crew chief and car owner, Wood is one of the biggest reasons the Wood Brothers have been so successful -- winning at least one race in each of the past seven decades (including this year's Daytona 500 with rookie Trevor Bayne). Glen and his brother Leonard Wood also helped revolutionize the pit stop.

So there you have it: two legendary Cup drivers, a crew chief, an owner and someone from outside the Cup Series to round out a very nice Hall of Fame class. Yarborough and Waltrip were no-brainers (considering Allison got in this year with similar win totals and two fewer championships), so there's not really a lot to say about them.

Inman is notable for the reason I listed above, and Wood should eventually be joined by his brother Leonard in the Hall. Evans is the one who interests me, because of his status as the first non-Cup competitor or contributor to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Considering this is the NASCAR Hall of Fame, and not the Sprint Cup Series Hall of Fame, it's appropriate to induct and consider drivers from other series. Evans' numbers speak for themselves, and I think his induction could eventually open the door for drivers like:

-Ron Hornaday (all-time Camping World Truck Series wins leader with 48 wins, four-time Truck Series champion)
-Jack Ingram (two-time Nationwide Series champion, three-time Late Model Sportman champion)
-Sam Ard (two-time Nationwide Series champion; held virtually every Nationwide Series record before Kyle Busch broke them)
-Jack Sprague (three-time Camping World Truck Series champion)

Naturally, people affiliated with the Cup Series will dominate the Hall of Fame and the attention surrounding it, because the Cup Series dominates all in the world of NASCAR. But it's important for NASCAR and those who vote for the inductees to remember the other divisions and the competitors who shined in them. If we focus solely on the Cup Series, we run the risk of excluding people who are not only worthy, but also tell a more complete story of NASCAR's history.

Hopefully, Evans' induction will open the door for those who never made their names in the Cup Series, by choice or otherwise. The Cup Series is great, but there is a lot more to NASCAR than just the premiere division.

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