EAST LANSING — As several sporting leagues across the country struggle to establish a protocol for returning to action, NASCAR has reached a point where fans are allowed to slowly re-enter and spectate races. This isn’t the only exciting news gripping the sport; NASCAR recently announced the three newest members of the Hall of Fame.
The 2021 Hall of Fame class consisted of two members from the Modern Era Ballot—which refers to drivers, owners, and other contributors who have participated in the sport within the last few decades—and one nominee from the Pioneer Ballot, which honors some of the sports’ earliest contributors.
Instead of opting for more modern nominees, NASCAR instead chose to honor Mike Stefanik– Stefanik won seven NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Championships— and famed “Alabama Gang” member Red Farmer. Dale Jr. is the only semi-modern day driver who received the sport’s ultimate honor.
While both Stefanik and Farmer had immeasurable impacts on the sport, men like Carl Edwards and Banjo Matthews would’ve been my picks for induction. Below are the three picks that NASCAR should’ve made for the 2021 class.
1. Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Modern Era Ballot)
Throughout his entire 20-plus year career, Earnhardt dealt with having his accomplishments measured against those of his father, Dale Sr. While the elder Earnhardt had significantly more success on the track than his son, Earnardt Jr. was still able to carve out an impressive career in his own right.
The biggest knock on the younger Earnhardt is the fact that he never won a championship at the highest level. However, both his on-track accomplishments and achievements as a car owner—Earnhardt is a five-time XFINITY series champion car owner–-outweigh this one blemish on his resume.
After finally calling it quits in 2017, Earnhardt Jr. retired with 26 wins, 260 top-10’s and two Daytona 500 victories at NASCAR’s top-level. He also registered 24 wins and 94 top-10’s in the XFINITY Series as a driver. These accomplishments alone would probably be enough for enshrinement, but when considering that Earnhardt Jr. also won two XFINITY titles in 1998 and 1999, it becomes clear that NASCAR got this selection right.
2. Carl Edwards (Modern Era Ballot)
Like Earnhardt Jr., Edwards was never able to capture NASCAR’s top prize. He came oh so close in 2011, but lost the title on a tiebreaker to Tony Stewart.
Edwards shocked the NASCAR world when he announced his immediate retirement at the end of the 2016 season, despite being in good health at the time. While Edwards retired a bit young, his accomplishments are second to none.
By the time he called it quits, Edwards had amassed 28 Cup wins and 220 top-10’s in his rather brief career. He also won an XFINITY title in 2007 and registered 38 wins in the series, which places him at fifth on the all-time wins list. Edwards’ 72 wins across NASCAR’s top-three series (Cup, XFINITY and Truck) should’ve made him a worthy inductee as part of the Class of 2021.
3. Banjo Matthews (Pioneer Era Ballot)
Unlike Edwards and Earnhardt, Matthews never won a race as a driver; he instead carved out a lengthy career as one of the best chassis and car builders in the history of NASCAR after his brief driving career puttered out. Matthews is officially credited with three Cup championships (1976-78) as a car builder.
The most enticing feat on Matthews’ long list of accomplishments may be the fact that from 1974-85, cars constructed by him won 72% of the overall races in the Winston Cup series.
While not nearly as well-known as Earnhardt Jr. or Edwards, Matthews revolutionized the way NASCAR car manufacturers and shop owners prepare for races on a weekly basis. He deserved the chance to achieve the sport’s highest honor.