Before dismissing the question as pure blasphemy, consider his résumé both on and off the track:
• Eighteen Cup wins ranks him 40th all-time, is twice as many as current Hall of Fame nominee Cotton Owens and two more than Curtis Tuner, another nominee.
• He's won two championships in the Nationwide Series, matching another Hall of Fame nominee Jack Ingram. (Ingram also won three titles in the Late Model Sportsman Division, the precursor to the Nationwide Series.)
• Eight times he's been named the sport's most popular driver, ranking him No. 3 all-time on that list behind Bill Elliott (16) and Richard Petty (9).
While some will dismiss the popularity aspect, building up the sport cannot be overlooked. It's why Bill France Sr. and Jr. were both elected in the first Hall of Fame class. And it's why H. Clay Earles, T. Wayne Robertson and Les Richter, names unfamiliar to most, are among the nominees up for Hall of Fame consideration right now.
Junior's win total puts him in the 75th percentile all-time. Two more wins puts him in the 80th percentile, four more in the 84th.
Because the sample size of NASCAR Hall of Famers is so small and the election process is still in its infancy, it's impossible to know what the parameters will be for future votes. If you've won a Cup championship, does that mean automatic induction? If you haven't, how many wins warrant entry? How important is popularity?
Here is what Dustin Long of Landmark Newspapers and a Hall of Fame voter had to say:
"At this time it would be hard to believe the voters would go for somebody without a championship, unless there was a unique circumstance, because there's so many people to consider with this Hall in its infancy. There were some champion drivers who were not discussed at great length today, so even though Dale Earnhardt Jr. has two Nationwide titles, he likely will have to do much more to earn a spot in the Hall of Fame someday. Then again, at age 35, he has some time to do so and could put up numbers that would demand his inclusion into the Hall. We'll have to see what happens.''
Right now, Junior doesn't pass the "feel test," as he just doesn't feel like a Hall of Famer. That said, putting his name in the conversation isn't outrageous.
What say you?
- Jack Ingram