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(Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography)

4 Burning Questions: Who’s Your 2020 NASCAR Hall of Fame Class?

Who will be inducted into the 2020 NASCAR Hall of Fame Class?

Wednesday evening (March 13), NASCAR formally announced the 20 nominees for next year’s NASCAR Hall of Fame class. 14 nominees return from last year, while Kirk Shelmerdine, who won four Cup championships as crew chief for Dale Earnhardt in the 1980s and 1990s, did not return to the ballot. Meanwhile, Janet Guthrie and Barney Hall were removed for consideration of the sport’s Landmark Award.

The six new nominees are three-time Cup champion Tony Stewart, Neil Bonnett, Jim Paschal, Red Vogt, Marvin Panch, and Sam Ard. Landmark Award nominees are Edsel Ford II, Mike Helton, Dr. Joe Mattioli, Alvin Hawkins, and Ralph Seagraves.

There are a number of issues with the Hall of Fame in general, which this column will go more in depth on during the next off weekend for Cup. Until then, however, looking at the list of 20 nominees, there are six that stand out to me.

MASSIE: IS THE NASCAR HALL OF FAME NOMINATING MEDIOCRE CANDIDATES?

Even if you don’t count Stewart’s second career as an owner, it’d be hard for voters to justify not selecting a three-time Cup Series champion as a first ballot Hall of Famer. Stewart is easily the greatest driver in NASCAR history to have never won the Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600 or Southern 500.

It’s also hard to see the committee overlooking Joe Gibbs. Gibbs, the former NFL head coach, has become one of the most successful owners in the history of NASCAR. In just over 25 years, Coach has won over 300 Cup and NXS races along with four Cup championships.

Red Vogt was the original engine man in stock car racing. He was an innovator, making sure the shop was completely clean so that dirt particles wouldn’t disrupt an engine’s performance. He also devoted significantly more time to gear ratios than anybody else during his time period, producing impressive results.

Buddy Baker was an accomplished driver, a Daytona 500 champion and winner of both the Coca-Cola 600 and Southern 500. But it’s the on-air media career following his retirement that helps push him over the line toward being an inductee. Baker was a longtime analyst for CBS Sports and TNN before transitioning to radio with a popular show on SIRIUS XM.

Then, there’s Ricky Rudd and Bobby Labonte. I’d argue Rudd’s second-best streak on consecutive starts was more impressive than Gordon’s. That considers Rudd’s streak was over more years, more teams, and more generations and models of cars. Rudd was also a consistent winner. His streak of at least one win per season won’t be challenged until at least 2021. But Labonte won a championship and had a better prime than Rudd. His five years as a contender just wasn’t as long as Rudd’s decades.

So what’s more impressive? Years upon years of being a viable driver? Or somebody who won a championship and was great for five years? It’s up to the voters to decide in May.

[Obligatory Kyle Busch Question]?

After sweeping Phoenix, Kyle Busch has 199 career victories in NASCAR’s top three series. He needs to win just one more in order to reach Richard Petty’s record of 200.

Even though Busch will almost certainly blow through 200 at some point in the next month, there has been an almost preposterous amount of coverage on his quest. There’s no question he’ll get there and everyone seems to have an opinion about it.

2-HEADED MONSTER: IS KYLE BUSCH’S ACCOMPLISHMENT BIGGER THAN RICHARD PETTY’S?

But instead of looking where Busch will be in the near future, let’s take a look at where he might go.

Busch has done a ridiculous amount of winning before turning 34 years old. Junior Johnson’s mantra used to be that a driver’s prime began at age 35. If that were to hold true on Busch, he might well just be starting a period of complete dominance in Cup.

In 14 seasons of near full-time Cup racing, Busch has won 52 races and a championship. If he can carry on to his late 40s, which he definitely seems intent on doing, suddenly his goal of 100 Cup wins he made following the race on Sunday (March 10) isn’t out of the question.

But Busch’s other stats would also be highly impressive if we doubled them. He would trail only Petty in starts, top-five finishes, top-10 finishes, and laps led. That’s impressive considering in Petty’s prime, he raced in upwards of 60 Cup races per year.

So, in conclusion, if Busch retires tomorrow, he’d already be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. But if he can continue to perform at a fairly high level for the next 10 or so years, suddenly that 200 wins mark is just the tip of the iceberg. Like him or not, the driver is creating a record-setting resume in the sport’s modern era.

When will Martin Truex Jr. win again?

You might not have guessed watching the Cup race on Sunday, but Martin Truex Jr. has now been winless in his last 21 starts.

Granted, the New Jersey native has had some strong runs this year, rallying late at ISM Raceway to finish second and coming just short of a win at Atlanta. But the fact remains he hasn’t been able to close since Kentucky Speedway last summer.

Part of the problem obviously was the turmoil that naturally happens after a team (Furniture Row Racing) is told in August they’re closing up shop at the end of the year. A new environment at JGR was going to take some getting used to.

But still, something has seemed off with Truex. It just seems like he can’t figure out how to get the car going until the final stage. In that 21-race span, he’s only led 456 laps, 100 laps less than what he had done the first 19 races of 2018.

Truex and crew chief Cole Pearn have had great speed to end races. But in a track position year, he’s going to need to find speed throughout the race. They need to enter the last run in much better position than he’s been the last eight months.

Is there light at the end of the tunnel for Roush?

There might finally be signs of hope at Roush Fenway Racing.

The long-struggling team transitioned from being a perennial championship contender in the 1990s and 2000s into a punchline once Carl Edwards left the team following 2014. But this season might finally be the year the team makes much-needed progress on the track.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has jumped to 10th in points in the early going this season. His average finishing position has also improved five spots from a season ago. Meanwhile, Ryan Newman has been having stronger runs than what the results show, spending chunks of races this year among the top 10.

Stenhouse’s number will more than likely come down; I don’t think Ryan Blaney will be behind him in points for much longer, for example. But both teams jumping into playoff contention through points would be a big step up. They might not have to rely on Stenhouse’s restrictor plate skill to become a 2019 postseason contender after all.

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About Michael Finley

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Michael has watched NASCAR for 15 years and began covering the sport five years ago. He is a graduate of Salisbury University and a proud member of the National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA).

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    Smokey
    Stewart
    Ray Hendrick
    Harry Hyde
    John Holman

    When Bobby drove the Matador for Penske the engines expired at the most inopportune times. The problem was traced to a bad batch of rocker arms that Penske got for a “good price.” Bobby wanted to get new rockers but Penske wanted to use up the ones he got. Bobby used his own and started to win races (back when they were races).