Kevin Rutherford · Friday May 24, 2013
NASCAR’s second-tier national series will have one of its own honored when the sport’s hall of fame inducts its newest class next year.
Jack Ingram will join Dale Jarrett, Maurice Petty, Fireball Roberts and Tim Flock as part of the 2014 NASCAR Hall of Fame class.
Ingram, a frequent competitor in the NASCAR Busch Series at its start, won 31 races and earned two series championships between 1982 and 1991, with the bulk of his good fortune coming before 1988. For a time, Ingram was the all-time winningest driver in what became the Nationwide Series, until Cup regular Mark Martin eclipsed his total in 1997.
Ingram’s induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame isn’t necessarily important because of the championships he won or the races he paced. The most important aspect of Ingram’s induction is the hope it gives to the competitors in the Nationwide Series.
His tenure in the second-tier series recalls almost no one. The Nationwide Series, of course, is a circuit used by many as a springboard to the higher levels of NASCAR. The best drivers in the series are often stolen away to the Cup Series, where they sometimes continue that success on a more national stage, while others falter under pressure and never quite attain the level of acclaim they garnered one series below.
When the Busch Series began in 1982, Jack Ingram wasn’t exactly a fresh face looking for a shot. That year, Ingram was 45 years old, by most standards an old man past his prime. And yet, the North Carolina native paced the field that season, become the first NASCAR Busch Series champion, scoring seven wins in the process.
From that year until 1988, Ingram was one of the men to beat in the series. In the first four seasons of the series, the Iron Man never finished outside the top two in points. His 1984 brought eight wins and a second-place points finish, beating out a score of drivers including Dale Jarrett, one of the drivers with whom he will be inducted. The next season saw Ingram get his final championship, and in subsequent years, he was still a major contender, not just in individual races but for the points battle.
It was 1988 that Ingram, by then 51 years old, began to falter. He won no races that season, and followed up the next few seasons with diminishing returns. Finally, in 1991, Ingram hung up his helmet, never to race in the series again.
Of course, Jack Ingram was not just a competitor in the NASCAR Busch Series, though that was the circuit for which he was known. Ingram ran 19 Cup races, dating back to 1965. He was only running at the finish of four of them, but all four saw the driver finish inside the top 10.
Ingram was also a NASCAR Late Model Sportsman champion, winning three consecutive titles from 1972 to 1974.
All in all, he was more than a tough competitor in NASCAR’s second-tier series. Ingram provides hope for those who compete in the NASCAR Nationwide Series full time, that perhaps they can someday attain glory in the Hall despite never winning a Cup championship or even a Cup race.
It’s incredibly rare these days for Nationwide-only drivers to even contend for wins, let alone stick around long enough in the series to vie for multiple championships. That said, the game could easily change down the road, if fate will have it. If and when that happens, and if the Nationwide Series regains some of its own identity, the series could see another Ingram-esque driver take the reins and establish themselves as a fierce competitor able to duke it out with the Cup regulars that will undoubtedly still try to cherry pick on occasion.
Of course, Ingram’s feat is helped by his age as well as his team situation; he was a driver-owner during his run, something rarely seen by non-Cup superstars these days. In order to attain the Jack Ingram level of triumph, one can’t just win 31 races and two championships.
But hey, it’s a start.
At the very least, it’s good to see a driver of the Nationwide Series get his due. It recalls a time when the series did have more of an identity, when guys like Jack Ingram could be considered a NASCAR great despite rarely setting foot in the big, big leagues.
And in 2014, NASCAR will honor that accomplishment.
-Michael Annett is finally back in the driver’s seat. Annett, driver of Richard Petty Motorsports’ No. 43, was injured in the DRIVE4COPD 300 at Daytona last February and has been out of his seat ever since, relenting his ride to Aric Almirola and Reed Sorenson. This weekend, Annett will compete in his first race back since suffering a broken sternum. “Pumped to announce I’ll be making my return to the #43 car this weekend at Charlotte,” Annett tweeted. “Can’t wait to get back in the seat.”
-Another familiar face is returning to Nationwide Series competition at Charlotte, though this driver has been out of the spotlight for a bit longer. Steve Wallace will attempt to make his first start of 2013 and only his second since the 2011 season, driving for his father’s No. 66 team. Wallace has been sidelined due to lack of sponsorship. Richard Tocado Companies, a Charlotte-based provider of mortgage and real estate consulting services, will sponsor the team’s Ford.
-Alex Bowman and RAB Racing secured a fairly large sponsor for this weekend’s Charlotte race, with Microsoft coming onboard the team’s No. 99. Microsoft’s Windows 8 Trackside app, which helps enhance racing performance on and off the race track, will adorn Bowman’s Toyota. The team will also field a car for Kenny Wallace in the race, the veteran’s second start of the season.
Looking Forward: Charlotte
Stats (entered drivers):
Most Wins: Kyle Busch (6)
Most Top Fives: Kyle Busch (14)
Most Top 10s: Kyle Busch (16)
Most Poles: Matt Kenseth (4)
Top Average Finish: Kyle Busch (6.3, 19 races), Austin Dillon (8.5, 2), Joey Logano (8.6, 9), Brian Vickers (11.1, 10), Kevin Harvick (11.5, 22)
Charlotte Nationwide Debuts: Bryan Silas, Landon Cassill, Chris Buescher, Tanner Berryhill, Dakoda Armstrong, Nelson Piquet Jr., Kyle Larson, Matt DiBenedetto, Hal Martin, Jamie Dick, Juan Carlos Blum, Dexter Stacey, Kevin Swindell, Alex Bowman
Season Debuts: Matt DiBenedetto, Steve Wallace
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