The NASCAR Hall of Fame just wrapped up its voting for its five inductees for the 2019 class, and we noticed there are some worthy nominees who have yet to hear their names called.
Our experts have each selected one individual who has been overlooked for far too long.
Who has been the biggest snub in NASCAR Hall of Fame history thus far?
Mike Clay, ESPN: Dale Earnhardt won 44 races and four of his championships with Kirk Shelmerdine operating as his crew chief. The Philadelphia native was the youngest crew chief to win a race and to win a championship and also called the shots for Ricky Rudd, James Hylton and then-driver Richard Childress. Shelmerdine went on to compete as a driver at the highest level, and his career included a trio of ARCA wins. He should be in.
Ricky Craven, ESPN NASCAR analyst: Few drivers have shown an ability to wring speed out of a race car the way Buddy Baker did on NASCAR’s largest racetracks. His 19 Cup wins fall far short of the totals of Bobby Allison, Cale Yarborough and Darrell Waltrip, but each of those Hall of Farmers would confirm Baker was among the best when they competed at the fastest of NASCAR tracks. Of the more than 30 seasons Baker competed in NASCAR’s top series, he ran the full schedule only three times. One can only imagine how strong his numbers would have been and the potential for championships had Baker been given the full-time support during the prime of his career. Baker’s contributions extend from the driver seat to the TV booth and include years of radio contributions. He was a larger-than-life personality of endless racing stories that bridge the early days of this sport to the modern era. Buddy Baker will be in the Hall of Fame, and it’s my hope that it is sooner rather than later.
Ryan McGee, ESPN senior writer: Not only is Smokey Yunick not in the NASCAR Hall of Fame but he’s never even been nominated! He’s arguably (and it’s not a tough argument) the greatest race mechanic to ever turn a wrench. No fewer than nine current Hall of Famers won races in cars Smokey built and/or owned. Some point to his legendary feuding with his Daytona neighbors, the France family, as the reason he has never appeared on the ballot. I don’t know what the reason is, but whatever the cause of the oversight, it’s wrong.
Alisha Miller, ESPN.com: Buddy Baker, nicknamed the “Gentle Giant” for his 6-foot-6 stature, has been a “holdover” for the past couple of Hall of Fame classes. He’s a 19-time Cup winner who appears to just miss the cut, and it’s time he stops being overlooked. His 33-year career that spans breaking speed records on the longer racetracks combined with his contributions to the sport as a broadcaster make him a fine candidate to be considering among the sport’s elite. “Not many drivers can say they’ve won at NASCAR’s big four tracks during my era — Charlotte, Darlington [S.C.], Daytona and Talladega — so I feel real special about being among those who can,” Baker said at his International Motorsports Hall of Fame induction in 1997.
Scott Page, Jayski editor: Buddy Baker checks all the boxes for an inductee. He drove in the Cup series for more than 30 years. While he never won a championship, he won 19 races, including the Daytona 500, Southern 500 at Darlington and World 600 at Charlotte. After getting out of the driver’s seat, he moved to the TV booth and then on to radio, covering NASCAR and becoming a fan favorite. He will have to be considered one of the favorites next year.
Bob Pockrass, ESPN.com: A.J. Foyt won seven Cup races, including a Daytona 500, and posted 29 top-5s in 128 starts. When the baddest of all badasses competes in your series, it automatically elevates it with the fans, and should elevate him to the Hall of Fame. His qualifying for the first Brickyard 400 was one of the top storylines that weekend and helped ease any angst from the IndyCar faithful about stock cars gracing that hallowed ground.
Scott Symmes, ESPN.com: Because most people focus on his iron-man streak, Ricky Rudd‘s stellar consistency often gets overlooked. The 23-time Cup winner finished in the top 10 in the standings a whopping 19 times (more times than Hall of Famers Terry Labonte, Mark Martin and Rusty Wallace), and he recorded 374 top-10 finishes. The length of his career, which included parts of four decades, might compel some to give him the dreaded “compiler” label, but that’s underselling his résumé. Rudd’s overall numbers put him on par with many who have already been enshrined.
Matt Willis, ESPN Stats & Information: With Jack Roush and Roger Penske going into the Hall in 2019, Joe Gibbs should follow closely behind, but the pick I’m most passionate about is Smokey Yunick. One of the early characters of NASCAR, Yunick was a pioneer in many technological developments, continuously pushing the envelope and forcing NASCAR to make rule changes just to keep up with him. He’s a Rickey Henderson-esque character in that you never know what stories are true, what’s fiction and how much has been exaggerated, but his legendary status is part of NASCAR lore and more than enough for him to be enshrined.