On Friday, January 31, Tony Stewart, Joe Gibbs, Bobby Labonte, Waddell Wilson, and Buddy Baker will be formally inducted into the 2020 NASCAR Hall of Fame at the Charlotte Convention Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. Unlike more longstanding Hall of Fames in such professional leagues as the NFL (1963) and MLB (1936), the NASCAR Hall of Fame has only had 11 classes. Because of this, a great number of NASCAR greats have yet to be honored as HOF inductees. Among these greats is Dale Earnhardt Jr.
With only a couple months until the candidates for the 12th Hall of Fame class are announced, it's never too early for speculation. There are 20 candidates and five inductees, and Dale Jr. may very well be among them.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. and the NASCAR Hall of Fame
"It's hard not to think about it, but that's as far as I let myself go," Earnhardt said during a January 15 news conference, according to NBC Sports. "I try not to get too wrapped up in it.
"I follow a lot of guys on social media that are passionate about the history of the sport even more so than I am, and there's a lot of guys that belong in the Hall of Fame that probably should go in there before me. And my feelings about that are if I ever get in, I'll be very honored. I hope that may happen one day."
A 15-time Most Popular Driver in the NASCAR Cup Series and a two-time Xfinity Series champion, Dale Jr. raced as a full-time driver for nearly 20 years before retiring after the 2017 season. With 26 Cup Series wins, the former Hendrick Motorsports driver may not have the accolades of other drivers selected in their first year of eligibility. For example, Stewart racked up three titles and 49 Cup Series wins. Jeff Gordon, who is a 2019 Hall of Fame inductee, has four championships and 93 Cup Series wins.
That said, he still has a Hall of Famer's résumé. Of course, whether or not Earnhardt will join his dad, seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt Sr., in the Hall of Fame is all up to a panel of voters. This panel includes more than 50 NASCAR track owners, executives, journalists, manufacturer representatives, and the current Cup Series champion (Kyle Busch, in this case). An online fan vote is also taken into account. As for next year's Hall of Fame class, the candidates should be announced in mid-March, and the official vote likely will happen in May.
"I'm certainly young enough to wait it out if I need to, and there's a lot of guys in our sport that belong in there, and there's only so many that get inducted each year," the 45-year-old Earnhardt said. "There's just so much history in our sport that should be acknowledged and appreciated and will be, so it's got to be tough as someone who's having to vote for who goes in.
"That's got to be some of the toughest decisions to make that decision on who's going to get there."
Dale Jr. and the Glory Road Exhibit
While Dale Jr. may not be among the 2020 Hall of Fame inductees, he is still very much involved in the festivities. Junior was chosen as the guest curator for the Hall of Fame's signature Glory Road exhibit. On January 11, for the exhibit's fourth iteration, Earnhardt debuted "Dale Jr.: Glory Road Champions," featuring 18 championship cars handpicked by Earnhardt.
According to NASCAR Hall of Fame executive director Winston Kelley, Earnhardt was chosen as the guest curator because of his appreciation of stock-car history.
"I do love to be acknowledged for the passion that I have for the history," said Earnhardt, who will be the honorary starter for the 2020 Daytona 500. "If you're a bit of a historian of the sport, any involvement in anything the Hall of Fame is going to be doing is awesome and going to be a great experience."