Which current drivers belong in NASCAR Hall of Fame?

Jared C. Tilton

We all know Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon will one day make the NASCAR Hall of Fame. But what about Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and other notable drivers?

Tonight the NASCAR Hall of Fame will induct its fourth class, as Rusty Wallace, Herb Thomas, Leonard Wood, Buck Baker and Cotton Owens all take their places alongside the sport's elite.

But what current Sprint Cup Series drivers, owners and crew chiefs deserve enshrinement in the NASCAR Hall of Fame?

By my count there are 14 obvious selections whose credentials are deserving, with almost all likely making it on the first ballot. They are: Bill Elliott, Ray Evernham, Jimmy Fennig, Joe Gibbs, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Chad Knaus, Bobby Labonte, Terry Labonte, Mark Martin, Roger Penske, Jack Roush, and Tony Stewart.

But after these 14 selections is where things get interesting, as there are quite a few notable drivers whose credentials are still up for consideration.

Each of the drivers below has an impressive résumé, but all still have question marks and none should be considered locks to receive NASCAR's highest honor -- yet.

Note that there is a high credence to drivers who have won championships along with one of NASCAR's preeminent races - the Daytona 500, Southern 500, Coca-Cola 600 and the Brickyard 400. Also taken into consideration are drivers with multiple win seasons and those who have led over a thousand laps in a given year.

Here are the eight current drivers on the proverbial Hall of Fame bubble:

Greg Biffle

Case For: 2000 Truck Series champion ... ‘02 Nationwide Series champion ... 18 wins in Cup, 20 in Nationwide and 16 in Trucks ... ‘05 Sprint Cup runner-up and finished third in points in '08 ... Back-to-back winner of the Southern 500 in 2005-06 ... Made the Chase five times - the same amount as his more heralded teammate, Carl Edwards.

Case Against: Without a Cup title, 18 victories may not be enough for inclusion ... Dominant at times, but the year-to-year consistency hasn't always been there ... Though no fault of his own, Biffle's accomplishments tend to get overlooked.

Final Verdict: While he has a well-rounded résumé, for Biffle to get a nod he simply needs to win more. If he can add another 10 wins or so, he deserves to be in. Otherwise, without a Cup title, his career will likely be viewed as very good but not Hall of Fame worthy.

Kurt Busch

Case For: 2004 Sprint Cup champion ... 24 Cup victories in Cup ... Won at least one Cup race in 10 consecutive years ... Finished in the top-four in points three times ... 2010 Coca-Cola 600 winner.

Case Against: Busch has just one victory in NASCAR's four majors ... Multiple off the track issues including a NASCAR-imposed suspension last season.

Final Verdict: Like him or not, it's hard to believe voters won't elect a former Cup champion. So even if Busch were to never win another Cup race, his championship alone makes him a future inductee.

Kyle Busch

Case For: 24 wins in eight full seasons of Cup ... More victories in Nationwide than any other driver in history with 51 ... 30 wins in the Truck Series ... Went to Victory Lane in the '08 edition of the Southern 500 ... Has led no less than 1,100 laps in each of the last five years.

Case Against: Despite the gaudy numbers, sustained success in Cup is lacking ... Never finished better than fifth in the standings ... Has missed the Chase two of the last four years ... Behavior on and off the track has been questionable at best and was suspended a race in 2011 for intentionally wrecking a competitor under caution.

Final Verdict: With over a 100 victories in NASCAR's three major series, Kyle Busch is a Hall of Famer. Whether he gets in on the first ballot or not comes down to whether he ever wins a Cup championship.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Case For: 19 Cup victories including the 2004 Daytona 500 ... Five Chase appearances ... Two-time Nationwide champion with 23 wins overall ... NASCAR's most popular driver for over a decade, who has brought unprecedented attention to the sport.

Case Against: Has never won a championship at the Cup level and has never finished better than third in points ... Went winless in three consecutive seasons during the prime of his career ... Scored just four victories in an eight-year period.

Final Verdict: While it may have something to do with his famous last name, Earnhardt Jr. will one day have a plaque in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. His numbers combined in Cup and Nationwide will be too hard to ignore.

Carl Edwards

Case For: The winner of 19 Cup races and 38 Nationwide events ... Twice has finished runner-up in the standings ... 2007 Nationwide champ.

Case Against: Never contended for a championship in consecutive seasons ... Went winless each year following a season where he finished second in points ... His 19 Cup wins have come at just seven tracks with none at Daytona, Charlotte, Darlington or Indy.

Final Verdict: Yes, but it's debatable. What Edwards needs more of is wins at marquee events. Also, he needs to stop mixing in the occasional year where he disappears on the track -- i.e. last year where failed to both win a race and qualify for the Chase.

Denny Hamlin

Case For: 22 Cup victories with at least one win every season ... Qualified for the Chase seven times and has made the playoffs every year in which he's ran the full season ... Won the 2010 Southern 500 and later narrowly lost the championship in the final race of the year ... His third-place points finish in '06 was the highest by a rookie in NASCAR history ... Has topped over a thousand laps led three times.

Case Against: Has yet to win a points race at Daytona, Charlotte or Indy ... Still looking for his first championship at the national touring series level.

Final Verdict: Like most of the drivers above, we're assuming Hamlin is going to continue winning races at his current pace. If he can do that, Hamlin would be a near-lock - even if he never wins a title.

Kevin Harvick

Case For: 2007 Daytona 500 winner ... '03 Brickyard 400 champion ... Winner of the ‘11 Coca-Cola 600 ... 19 career Cup wins... Two-time Nationwide Series champion ('01 and '06) ... 39 Nationwide wins (third all-time) ... Six Chase appearances in the last eight years ... Also has won two Truck Series championships as an owner.

Case Against: In 12 years in Cup he has won multiple races in a season just four times ... Went three seasons without a win ... Has never led more than 900 laps in a single season ... Only seriously contended for the Cup title once.

Final Verdict: Maybe Harvick doesn't jump out at you as a surefire Hall of Famer. But when you look closely at his numbers and what he has done and where he has won, he deserves to hear his name called -- just not on the first ballot.

Brad Keselowski

Case For: The defending Cup champion, who also won the Nationwide title in ‘11 ... Become just the third driver in the modern-era to win a title in less than three full seasons.

Case Against: Longevity is still a question having been in the big leagues for only three full seasons ... Doesn't have double-digit wins in Cup ... Yet to have scored a victory in one of the big four races.

Final Verdict: It's hard to imagine the voting committee omitting a driver who has won a championship. Not to mention, Keselowski is entering his prime years and will almost certainly be able to pad his stats before he hangs up his helmet. He gets in.

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Spinner

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.