The Frontstretch: Future Hall Of Fame Arguments by Kurt Smith -- Thursday May 13, 2010

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Future Hall Of Fame Arguments

Kurt Smith · Thursday May 13, 2010

 

Just this one writer’s opinion, but the best thing a Hall of Fame provides for a sport is the discussions it inspires amongst sportswriters and fans. Now that Matt McLaughlin has so eloquently made the case for the next five inductees, and I can’t dispute much of it, I thought I’d look at current folks in NASCAR who have a future shot at Charlotte immortality.

Halls of Fame are enigmas in a certain regard. Members of these exclusive best in history clubs aren’t necessarily invited based on numbers and statistics; since they are elected by writers in nearly every case, there is no set standard of achievement that guarantees induction. Barry Bonds is baseball’s home run king, but he will not likely be voted into baseball’s Hall, at least not right away, as writers still hold him in contempt (and rightly so) for steroid use. For many years Richie Ashburn, a lifetime .300 hitter, was inexplicably denied entry in Cooperstown.

I once met ESPN football analyst Sal Paolantonio at a book signing, and we had a friendly debate about whether four-time AFC champion Buffalo Bills coach Marv Levy belonged in the Pro Football Hall of Fame (he is in it). He said no; I said yes. He argued that Levy never won a Super Bowl; I argued that neither did Dan Marino.

Debates like that are sports at their finest.

In most cases, I’d like to believe that Hall of Fame electors honorably put personal biases aside and judge each potential inductee on the merits. The one exception is the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which is an utter insult and should be denied any funding until the scum from Rolling Stone are removed from the election process.

But I digress. Other than the initial exclusion of David Pearson, an injustice that will almost certainly be corrected in a year’s time, there wasn’t too much squabbling over the initial inductees into NASCAR’s Hall. Yet someday down the road, of course, there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth over the induction of some figures and the exclusion of others.

So I thought I’d kick the ball off and get it rolling with some current names in the sport today.

Much of Hendrick Motorsports’ current roster already has tickets punched for an induction in Charlotte.

Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, and Tony Stewart are obvious locks, and along with them Rick Hendrick, Jack Roush, Richard Childress and Joe Gibbs. Drivers or owners with multiple championships to their credit have cemented themselves among the all-time greats; other than the oddball writer who will make a stupid case against their induction just to sound smarter than everyone else, their future enshrining is certain. So we won’t waste any more time on that. Similarly, crew chiefs with multiple Cup championships should probably be inducted. For the moment, the only active chiefs in the sport with such credentials are Chad Knaus and Greg Zipadelli. Knaus, absolutely, gets in on the first ballot.

Now let’s go to some other names currently wheeling Cup cars.

You could make a Paolantonio-esque argument that a driver needs to win a championship to make the Hall, but it would still be a travesty to deny Mark Martin. To finish in the top 5 in the standings 13 times is a far more impressive achievement than winning one title, even if there aren’t any trophies for it. Not to mention that his last runner-up finish came at the age of 50. Martin would also get the benefit of the popular-guy vote, the kind that can push a teetering potential inductee over the top. There is nothing wrong with that so long as impressive numbers are there. And they are. 40 Cup wins is Hall-worthy, championship or not.

Matt Kenseth is an interesting conundrum. His 2003 championship and 2009 Daytona 500 win surely put him on the ballot, but does he have the numbers overall to have a plaque emblazoned in the same room with Dale Earnhardt? Should he put up similar numbers as he has been for the rest of his career, the answer would be absolutely…but Roush Fenway seems to have lost a bit of mojo of late, and if it keeps up, we may not see many more wins than Kenseth’s total of 18 when he hangs up his helmet. However, I still say yes on Matt Kenseth, if for no other reason than his being the inspiration for a ridiculous playoff.

How about Kurt Busch? He’s also a champion, and there isn’t going to be any consideration against that for it being a Chase championship, sympathetic as I may be to the argument. Still, he has only finished top 5 three times in his career thus far, and has 21 race wins, not quite enough now. But he has many more years left in him, and could well reach at least 30 wins in his career. Kurt’s a tough call right now, but he’ll probably make it.

His brother Kyle should someday find his place among the greatest. Not only is he racking up wins—17 Cup wins at the age of 25—he’s doing it in all three major series, with an astonishing total of 67 overall. Kyle has already started to put up Hall-worthy numbers; should he nail down a Cup title a trip to Charlotte at the end of his career should go with it. But part of his problem is those last 10 races each year. If he doesn’t fix that, it could hurt his chances. Believe it or not, Kyle has only won one Chase event, the 2005 Phoenix race.

It pains me to say it, because I’m a big fan of his, but I doubt that at this point that it would be fair to include Jeff Burton. Maybe as one of those second or third ballot guys, whatever that means. But no titles and only 21 wins, in a career that probably doesn’t have too many more seasons, isn’t there at least as far as stats are concerned. He’s been a good, consistent driver throughout his career, but averaging just over one victory a year isn’t quite enough. I’d vote him in just on his being a decent guy and a great ambassador for the sport, but using just those criteria you could vote in Kenny Wallace.

Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards are still too early in their careers to start hammering out the plaque just yet, but both drivers can someday etch their names in the Hall simply by performing the way that they have over 10 more years or so. Both drivers have come very close to winning titles; should either pull one off it could seal the deal.

For all the impact he’s had on race fans, it remains questionable whether Dale Jr. will end his career in the Hall of Fame.

OK, here’s the obvious fight-starter. What about Dale Earnhardt Jr.? I and probably most motorsports journalists would say no. He doesn’t have the numbers—just 18 wins in 11-plus seasons. That seven of them came at plate tracks devalues almost a third of them, to this writer anyway. All seven of Junior’s plate wins came at the time when DEI was very strong at plate tracks; no one is likely to contend that Michael Waltrip belongs in the Hall. Compare that to Matt Kenseth with one of 18 wins at plate tracks, and even with identical totals, I think Kenseth’s total is more impressive simply based on the venues.

There will undoubtedly be some attempting to justify Little E’s place among the greats of the sport. Maybe there will be some merit to it. It’s impossible to measure the intangible lift the sport got, not only from his continuing to race without blinking following his father’s untimely and very public passing, but also from winning the next race at the track where the tragedy occurred. This is, after all, a Hall of “Fame,” and Junior’s carrying of a shaken sport through rough times might be worthy of some consideration. I still say no, but if someone made the case, I’d understand it.

Bobby Labonte is a tough one. A champion, yes, so based on that maybe he gets in, but he went into a sharp decline almost immediately following his 2000 title, to the point where several lackluster years at Joe Gibbs were followed by some mediocre years at Petty Enterprises. Other than his championship season, Labonte finished in the top 10 in the standings just five times and in the top 5 just once. I would vote for him because I like the guy, which is surely an edge that good fellas like Labonte will have, but I don’t know that a majority would.

Kevin Harvick? Probably not unless he gets a title under his belt. Joey Logano, maybe, someday? Far too early to tell, and so far, heck no. Greg Biffle? No. Clint Bowyer needs a lot of help for the rest of his racing days. Kasey Kahne? Homina homina homina…not likely on his numbers thus far, but let’s reserve judgment until he’s raced for Rick Hendrick for a few seasons. Juan Pablo Montoya, if he becomes the first driver since A.J. Foyt to win both the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500? I like that, but no. Not even with a Cup championship, unless he starts winning somewhere besides road courses. Besides, Indy 500 wins don’t count here.

Other than drivers, crew chiefs and owners, I can think of a few other potential future candidates for the Hall. Should Mike Joy stick around another decade, I could argue his being placed on the ballot as a broadcaster, although I can’t think of anyone else in the booth today that merits such distinction. Like him or not, SMI owner Bruton Smith and his ex-sidekick track promoter Humpy Wheeler may both find their places on a future Hall ballot. And while Kyle Petty accomplished little on the racetrack to be so honored, his philanthropic efforts, especially the formation of the Victory Junction Gang Camp, might make him a candidate. Brian France? I’ll let you hardcore fans debate that one. Easy on those keyboards.

It’s fun just writing about it. Nothing legitimizes a sport like passionate arguments over who was the best of the best. Nothing provokes such arguments like a Hall of Fame.

Kurt’s Shorts

  • Our newsletter reported earlier this week that Jason Keller will be attempting to make the Nationwide field at Dover for his 500th start, the first driver to reach such a milestone. This would make Keller the Crash Davis of NASCAR, although Crash probably isn’t a good nickname for a racecar driver.
  • Tony Stewart has lost Old Spice as a sponsor. I’m not sure what the reasoning was behind that. I do wonder why a company who markets shaving cream as one of their signature products would select a driver who is often seen with unsightly facial growth to represent them. Hopefully ol’ Smoke can find a replacement.
  • This writer is happy to see that Richard Childress is close to re-signing Kevin Harvick, if the news reports are to be believed. Leaving aside that Harvick doesn’t have too many other options, I like to see a guy drive the same number his whole career. Especially when something historic happened with it, like the finish in Atlanta three weeks after Dale Earnhardt’s death. I’d be ticked at all the new T-shirts I’d have to buy again next year if I were a Kurt Busch fan.
  • I still do not yet know why Brian Vickers has been hospitalized, but we at Frontstretch wish him Godspeed and a full and quick recovery, as full-time utility driver Casey Mears takes over for him at Dover. Best to you Brian.

Contact Kurt Smith

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DansMom
05/14/2010 07:21 AM
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Danica Patrick for being the first female driver in NASCAR

noel_w
05/14/2010 07:26 AM
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Kurt: Don’t you think Juan Pablo would be thrilled if he could even win a road course event? Granted as a rookie he won Infineon on a pit strategy/fuel mileage run. Not an ‘I’m a world-class road racer, catch me if you can run’. All of his wins since then bring the total to…1!!! I don’t think he would care about NASCAR HoF, but I know it’s gotta kill him that he isn’t really a true threat to win twice a season.
I promise you that you are wrong. Darrell Waltrip will be arguing for Mikey’s induction by the start of 2012.
It’s interesting that you didn’t suggest Ray Evernham. He is the man that made Jeff Gordon look magical. Everybody else has just made Jeff look mediocre.
If 31 wins and being a nice guy isn’t enough to get Jeff Burton into the hall (and I agree it’s not), how is 9 wins and being a nice guy going to get Kyle Petty there?
Maybe more important is that the hall have a dedicated wing with every driver that lost their life being enshrined so that newer fans can learn how racers they never heard of, impacted the sport in meaningful ways.
I also found it odd that you mention Kyle Petty (he is not a current driver), but fail to ask if 1 championship would be enough to secure Dale Jarrett‘s induction. He has to be considered one of the all time…nice guys.
As for Brian France, He should absolutely be in the HoF. He should be occupying space in the concrete foundation as I write this. John Darby and Mike Helton should be keeping him company!!!

Lastly, my thoughts and prayers also go out to Brian Vickers. May God speed his recovery.

noel_w
05/14/2010 07:36 AM
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DansMom once again proves a complete ignorance of NASCAR history. Janet Guthrie actually competed in the FIRST NASCAR sanctioned event. That occurred sometime prior to 2010. Patty Moise started several NASCAR events in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Chrissy Wallace also debuted prior to Danica Patrick. Other women have also competed in NASCAR over the years, but I am just feeling a little too lazy to look them all up right now.

The more important question is: Don’t you ever get tired of being wrong? Most people would at least break down and do some research just to be right ONCE!!!

RandyGoldman
05/14/2010 08:27 AM
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Im sure what DansMom meant to say was:
“Danica Patrick for being the first woman driver in Nascar that mattered!”

Noel: Dont you ever get tired of trying to correct everyone? Im sure everyone is impressed with your google skills..

DansMom
05/14/2010 08:29 AM
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Rick HANS should be in.

VolcanoNacho
05/14/2010 08:39 AM
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All Im saying is we should go ahead and induct Dale Jr into the HOF right now. I mean we can wait 10 years to do it if we want, but it would save everyone time to just do it now. He obviously deserves it more than most.

Sean
05/14/2010 08:57 AM
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Here are my opinions on modern drivers’ HOF statuses:

Jeff Gordon – Lock
Jimmie Johnson – Lock
Bill Elliott – Lock
Mark Martin – Lock
Tony Stewart – Lock
Jeff Burton – Borderline. I could see him getting in but I don’t think he deserves it.
Kurt Busch – Lock. I know people devalue his chase championship, but he clearly has more wins to come, he seems more versatile than Burton, and he has done more in the other NASCAR series IMO
Bobby Labonte – Lock, although I think some drivers with more talent than him but no title will be snubbed
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – Lock but he probably doesn’t deserve it; it will be his fame that gets him in
Matt Kenseth – Lock. He got Roush his first title, did a ton in Busch/Nationwide, and has stayed generally consistent for Roush in a period where Roush has fallen off
Kyle Busch – Lock. Wildly inconsistent but has been one of the dominant forces of his time, and considering guys like Curtis Turner, Neil Bonnett, Ernie Irvan, Geoff Bodine, and Tim Richmond are or should be locks with comparable wins, I see no reason to deny Kyle now, especially with many more wins and probably titles to come. I don’t like the theory that inflates championships over dominance, because championships are based on consistency and several non-champions in my opinion look stronger than weaker champions to me…
Carl Edwards – Probable future lock, but doesn’t deserve it yet. Too many of his wins have come on cookie-cutter tracks and his Nationwide success came against increasingly weaker competition
Greg Biffle – I think he deserves it now, but isn’t a lock yet. Being the first guy to win Busch and truck titles and winning as many races in Cup as he has in a down period for Roush should get him in, even now.
Ryan Newman – Not deserving yet, but has a chance
Kevin Harvick – Not deserving yet, but has a chance, probably more due to his Busch/Nationwide stuff
Denny Hamlin – Probable future lock considering he is one of the dominant forces now and will probably get at least 25-30 wins
Kasey Kahne – Probable future lock because he’ll win a lot more at Hendrick

No other drivers belong in the discussion. Guys like Montoya, Bowyer, Logano, etc… Let’s wait a few years and see if they become prolific winners, which is certainly possible. Montoya is a lock for IMHOF based on his wide-ranging Gurneyesque success in multiple series, but certainly doesn’t belong in the NASCAR HOF yet. I don’t think A.J. Foyt does either, but he’ll get in, largely due to his open wheel success, which is a double standard. I don’t think Foyt deserved being on the 50 Greatest Drivers list if you’re going to leave Gurney and Andretti out.

I’m not thrilled about owners getting in because I don’t think very many of the mega-owners today are likable, but Hendrick, Roush, Gibbs, Childress, Penske, Yates, and Glen Wood will get in for sure. I unfortunately think Leonard Wood will be snubbed because NASCAR likes to inflate Glen’s importance due to his relatively minor Cup driving career… Penske never won a title, but will get in due to his general motorsports notoriety and ownership of the tracks he sold to ISC, which will really put him in NASCAR’s good book as it helped destroy CART and IRL by denying them much-needed ovals.

Crew chiefs? I’d give it to most who have won one title. Knaus and Zipadelli deserve it for sure. I think Todd Parrott is better than Zipadelli and should be a lock. I’d say guys like Jimmy Makar, Robbie Loomis, Robbie Reiser, and Jimmy Fennig should also be in. They’ve all done enough.

Broadcasters? Joy, Squier, and Jenkins are probably the only ones that deserve it who weren’t also drivers or crew chiefs. Joy annoys me and I never liked Squier, but credit where credit is due.

Promoters? Smith and Wheeler will both make it, but I have little enthusiasm for them making it especially considering guys like T. Wayne Robinson who were more important promoters will be denied.

Following up on Noel’s post, Kyle Petty does not deserve it on his charity work alone. I don’t like Dale Jarrett and think his niceness is massively overrated, but he’s still a lock based on his driving career. Brian France will make it in just for being NASCAR’s president for long enough but doesn’t deserve it. Jeff Gordon has won 35 races post-Evernham so calling him a mediocrity in that period is just plain bizarre to me. 35 wins would be a great career by any standard. Janet Guthrie definitely isn’t old enough to have participated in the first NASCAR events in the ’40s. Others like Louise Smith, Sara Christian, and Ethel Mobley would be more appropriate woman pioneer picks in that regard, but Guthrie does get props for being the first woman to qualify at Daytona.

DansMom
05/14/2010 10:59 AM
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Sean,

Who else do you want to put into the Hall of Average? David Ragan? He had a good race once.

Also, whats up with only putting in 5 people (that no one has ever seen race) to begin with? Of course no one is buying tickets, why would I pay that much money to see 5 exhibits!

noel_w
05/14/2010 11:10 AM
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@ RandyGoldman: I’m not sure why you defend DansMom. Is your real name Dan maybe? Or are you possibly DansMom‘s father and brother? There is no other possible explanation.
Danica Patrick does not matter at all to NASCAR. Those other women actually got hired based on skill. But lets compromise. If NASCAR ever devotes a wing of the HoF to skanks that have no talent and sell a pseudo-sexuality in order to obtain a ride, then Danica should be enshrined first.
I don’t google anything you flipping idiot! I have been a NASCAR fan for decades. Just because you don’t have any interest in the history of the sport, doesn’t mean that no-one does.
Finally to answer your question, no, I am not tired of correcting DansMom, it is fun to point out her stupidity, and yours as well.

DoninAjax
05/14/2010 11:28 AM
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ETHEL MOBLEY! Google that.

Sean
05/14/2010 11:43 AM
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DansMom, I would say MOST drivers with 15 or more wins are deserving, but I surely wouldn’t induct Ragan. Geez…

DansMom
05/14/2010 12:11 PM
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Noel- It’s called the “Hall of Fame” not the “Hall of people no one has ever heard of”

Danica Patrick has brought more popularity to NASCAR in one year than all other female drivers combined.

Danica Patrick is the Jackie Robinson of NASCAR.

DansMom
05/14/2010 12:12 PM
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Also Carl what exactly does “Probable future lock” mean????

DansMom
05/14/2010 12:14 PM
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I guess that’s why these exhibits are “interactive”. They have a google toolbar open to look up who the hell these people are.

RandyGoldman
05/14/2010 12:29 PM
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it’s apparent that noel is one of those people that gets jealous of the attractive, i’m sure nascar would pay attention to you too if you had all your teeth or werent too big to fit into and operate a moter vehicle. and unlike you, i didnt have to use google to pretend that i knew that fact. wwjdd

Chris2
05/14/2010 01:39 PM
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Haven’t posted here in some time but then I read what must be the most asinine comment of 2010: “Noel- It’s called the “Hall of Fame” not the “Hall of people no one has ever heard of”

Danica Patrick has brought more popularity to NASCAR in one year than all other female drivers combined.”

This sort of stuff can only be written by someone that thinks that NASCAR started somewhere around 2002-2003. Regardless of how much “popularity” one brings to the sport that they participate in that does not translate into being Hall of Fame material. An example of this presently would be Dale Jr.. I hope his program picks but I haven’t seen anything yet that I would say is HOF material. This holds true for Danica. Even if we were speaking about an IRL HOF I she wouldn’t be the first name that I would nominate if we were talking statistics. If you really would like to understand the sport that you follow try reading up on its history a bit. It’s quite interesting and you may also find the photo of Louise Smith smiling in her flipped over race car prior to being pulled out. That’s when they raced to race not to see how much merchandise they could sell or what magazine they would appear in next. If one needs to have a Google toolbar open to figure out something before replying to a post then perhaps they shouldn’t be replying at all. On the plus side if they do search out some of this stuff then that also hopefully means they are educating themselves.

HankZ
05/14/2010 01:47 PM
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Tongue in cheek….
Kurt Busch is not a champion, at least not at 100%. Lets say, not only should you happen to score the most points in a year to be champ, but also to represent the sport fully the following year. He was at 94.4%…for missing the last two races of the following year when the “Cat” booted him. ;)

ElectricPeterTork
05/14/2010 05:10 PM
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“Danica Patrick is the Jackie Robinson of NASCAR.”

So… Jackie Robinson was overrated, and only played a couple of baseball games in the majors before going back to his full time job playing tennis?

Jackie couldn’t even get a hit with the best equipment money could buy?

On the flipside, Danica is facing a conspiracy by the owners to keep women out of NASCAR? The owners have all agreed to not hire women, no matter how talented they are? There’s a whole league of deserving female drivers out there who had to form their own racing series just so they could play, because the NASCAR owners refuse to hire them because they’re women?

noel_w
05/14/2010 06:17 PM
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@ DansMom: You just continue to prove your stupidity time and time again. Just because you have never heard of people doesn’t mean nobody has.
I, personally, love reading your stupid comments and correcting you. I feel just awful for Dan though, I can’t imagine the hell his life must be. You really are the worst example of what it means to be an American. You think that because you can comment on a subject, that you should. You consider history to be meaningless and refuse to educate yourself on it. Yet you continually comment on the history, when you are proven wrong, you then try to spin your words into something else. Most people would be embarassed into actually googling something just so they could be right one time. Not you, you just keep right on proving that stupidity reign’s supreme in your house. It’s amazing in a tragic sort of way.

noel_w
05/14/2010 06:27 PM
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@ RandyGoldman: I like your last comment. You can’t argue the NASCAR facts. You can’t win a debate based on the “you Google” comment. You can’t be troubled to actually educate yourself on a subject. You can’t spell. Clearly we have found someone that can give DansMom a run for her money in the “MOST STUPID AMERICAN EVER“ award. Congratulations, you must be very proud.

Iowa Guy
05/14/2010 06:31 PM
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Since we are listing crew chiefs, how about Dale Inman?

Chris2
05/14/2010 06:33 PM
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“Danica Patrick is the Jackie Robinson of NASCAR.”

I stand corrected. That_is the most asinine comment of 2010. Your tiara and sash for “Ms. Asinine Comment 2010” will be sent to you shortly. Clearly this comment was made by someone that hasn’t a clue,(nor the sensitivity), to recognize the difference between the struggles of an entire race and a pseudo-swimsuit-model/race driver entering a race division with no resistance from the organization. In fact, just the opposite as she will draw viewers in which in turn brings in more revenue even if she is mediocre at best. Now if this comment was made towards Janet Guthrie who did face adversity when she raced in NASCAR, (although still extremely far from the adversity that Jackie Robinson faced in baseball.), I could possibly see your point even if it was still a bit of a stretch and then some. So here is tonights homework for you. Google “Negro League” and read a bit about the struggles that faced that paticular league and how they overcame that hurdle. Secondly google “Women in NASCAR” and take a moment to read about women that really overcome adversity in order to do what they loved which was race cars. I realize that you feel that Google is for other people to use but I think you actually might benefit from using it. In absence of Google you could go to your local bookstore and find books on the appropriate topics.

Sean
05/14/2010 07:02 PM
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“Also Carl what exactly does “Probable future lock” mean????”

Drivers who don’t deserve HOF status if their careers ended today but probably will after their careers end. That’s where I put Edwards, Hamlin, and Kahne right now…

Regarding Inman, of course he deserves it, but I was generally only discussing current racing figures just as Kurt did in his article.

Slippo
05/14/2010 11:39 PM
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I think Dansmom is a Frontstretch “creation” to get people riled up/posting.

Everyone forgot about Shawna Robinson LOL

Richard
05/15/2010 08:43 AM
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I think one name missing is T Wayne Robinson he brought RJR Winston to NASCAR. Without him the sport would still be just regional

Contact Kurt Smith