In the least surprising racing story of 2018, four-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon was elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Wednesday in his first year of eligibility.
But Gordon certainly wasn’t the only worthy choice for the Class of 2019. Team owner Jack Roush, a brilliant innovator who has racked up victories and championships across a broad spectrum of motorsports, will join Gordon when the stellar class is officially ushered into the Hall on Feb. 1, 2019.
Team owner Roger Penske, who fostered the Hall of Fame career of driver Rusty Wallace and won his first championship in NASCAR’s top division in 2012 with driver Brad Keselowski, will accompany his fellow Ford team owner into the Hall.
Davey Allison, winner of 19 Cup races and one of the brightest stars in the sport before he succumbed to injuries sustained in a helicopter crash at Talladega in 1993, joined his father, Bobby Allison, as a member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Alan Kulwicki, whose life was cut short by a plane crash in 1993 less than five months after he became the last driver to win the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship as a “privateer,” was the fifth member of the Class of 2019 introduced by NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France.
If ever there was a “lock” for the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Gordon fills that role. Winner of 93 Cup points races — third all-time behind Richard Petty (200) and David Pearson (105) and ahead of Darrell Waltrip (84), Bobby Allison (84), Cale Yarborough (83) and Jimmie Johnson (83) — Gordon drove the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet for 797 consecutive races from his debut in 1992 until he bowed out of the ride at the end of the 2015 season.
Now an analyst for FOX Sports, Gordon won four Cup championships, behind only Petty, Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Sr., who share the series record with seven each. Gordon won three Daytona 500s, four straight Southern 500s and a record five Brickyard 400s in his remarkable career.
“Man, I’m on cloud nine,” Gordon said during a televised interview after the announcement.
He follows his long-time crew chief Ray Evernham and team owner Rick Hendrick into the Hall.
“The significance of being there when Rick was inducted and being a part of it earlier this year with Ray, that’s when it really started to sink in with me about how special it would be,” said Gordon, who was named on a record 96 percent of ballots. “They dedicated their whole lives (to racing), and that’s the thing I see as a common thread of anybody that goes into the Hall of Fame.
“They sacrificed everything for racing and for NASCAR, and it became their life. To be honored by going into the Hall of Fame makes it all worthwhile and makes it very, very special.”
Roush, who was named on 70 percent of ballots, started his career in drag racing and sports cars but gravitated to NASCAR racing in 1988. An owner with a keen eye for talent, Roush supported the careers of such luminaries as NASCAR Hall of Famer Mark Martin, Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle.
“When we got started, I was just hoping I could stay in the sport for a while,” said Roush, who won Cup championships in 2003 with Kenseth and 2004 with Busch. “I can’t imagine that my name is up there with the 45 people that have already been inducted, with the things that they’ve accomplished.
“It’s rarefied air, and I’ve got to take a while to think about what it all means to me.”
In addition to the 2012 Cup championship, Team Penske has won the 2010 NASCAR Xfinity Series title and four of the last five Xfinity Series owners championships. In addition to his NASCAR accomplishments, Penske has won the Indianapolis 500 16 times as an owner.
“There were many great candidates,” Penske said in a SiriusXM NASCAR Radio interview after the announcement. “This is my day, and I’ll never forget it.”
Wallace was delighted for his former boss.
“I don’t know of anyone that has accomplished as much across all levels of motorsports as Roger Penske,” Wallace said. “I don’t know of anyone in motorsports that is as respected among all levels of racing and business as Roger.
“He’s my personal mentor and my personal hero. He has helped me immeasurably, both in racing and in business. I can’t say enough about Roger — he’s just an all-around fantastic person.”
Penske was named on 68 percent of the ballots submitted by Voting Panel members.
Davey and Bobby Allison, the only father/son combination to finish 1-2 in the Daytona 500, are the second father/son duo to be inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, joining Ned and Dale Jarrett.
“It’s was a great feeling of happiness, of weakness and everything,” Bobby Allison said of the moment when France announced his son’s name. “I just had to bend over and get a hold of myself. It was really good news.”
Davey Allison received 63 percent of the vote from panel members.
Kulwicki, who was named on 46 percent of ballots, rallied from a 278-point deficit to win the 1992 series title, edging Bill Elliott by 10 points — then the closest margin in Cup history — after a thrilling season finale at Atlanta in which Davey Allison also had a shot at the championship.
Former NASCAR executive and newsman Jim Hunter received the 2019 Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR. Known for his rapier wit and wise counsel, Hunter was instrumental in guiding the careers of an abundance of current and former NASCAR stars.
After his days as sports editor of the Columbia (S.C.) Record, Hunter served as public relations director for both Darlington Raceway and Talladega Superspeedway. He was later named president at Darlington and corporate vice president of International Speedway Corporation, before returning to NASCAR to lead the sport’s PR initiatives.
—By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service. Distributed by Field Level Media