NASCAR will announce its 2019 Hall of Fame class on Wednesday, and there's only one certainty: Jeff Gordon will be inducted.
Write it in Sharpie. It's happening.
The things we don't know are: 1. Will Gordon be the Hall's first unanimous selection? and 2. Who will accompany the four-time Cup Series champion in the 2019 class??
There's a long list of deserving candidates — everyone from former champions to engine builders, owners to crew chiefs — but only four others will join Gordon in the Class of 2019. Here are our predictions for the five inductees for NASCAR's 2019 Hall of Fame Class.
Jeff Gordon: Again, this is a given. If Gordon, one of NASCAR's most successful stars, isn't a first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee, then there shouldn't be a Hall of Fame anymore. The voting panel will obviously applaud Gordon's four Cup Series championships and his 93 victories at NASCAR's highest level, but there's more to it, too.
Gordon's career spanned an era in NASCAR when the sport was surging in national popularity and needed a face to sell to fans. Enter Gordon. He was as much a national celebrity as he was strictly an athlete, something else Hall of Fame voters must consider. Now, even Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt weren't unanimous selections, but their inductions came at a different point in the hall's history. Gordon should be the first unanimous selection — he has more than earned that honor.
Alan Kulwicki: Kulwicki almost got in with the Class of 2018, tying with former Camping World Truck Series legend Ron Hornaday Jr. for the fifth and final spot. After a re-vote (and some lobbying for NASCAR to represent "all its divisions"), Hornaday got the nod over Kulwicki. But no matter. This should be the year Kulwicki is finally honored.
Kulwicki's story is a tragic one. After capturing the 1992 Cup Series championship (in what was then the closest margin of victory in history), Kulwicki never got the chance to defend his title. He was killed in an airplane crash in April 1993, just five races into that season. We'll never know how good Kulwicki might have been or whether he had more championships in him, but it's hard to imagine he wouldn't have finished his career with more than five Cup Series victories. Either way, Kulwicki proved enough in his short career to warrant induction.
Davey Allison: Another story of a top driver taken too soon. Like Kulwicki, Allison was killed midway through the 1993 season, in a helicopter crash. His death that July was tragic, especially on the heels of Kulwicki's passing. But what he accomplished in his short NASCAR career was noteworthy.
Allison won 19 times at the Cup Series level in 191 races, including the 1992 Daytona 500 and the 1991 Coca-Cola 600. He never won a Cup Series championship, but his consistency and near-misses in 1991 and 1992 prove that Allison was one of his era's best drivers. Again, a Hall of Fame career that never saw its true potential, but a Hall of Fame career nonetheless.
Buddy Baker: Baker has a legitimate argument as one of NASCAR's best drivers who never won a championship. He's one of eight drivers in history — the others are all either in the Hall of Fame or will be when they retire — to win every major race, even though he also never won a championship. Again, when you're mentioned in the same company as Petty and Earnhardt, you're doing something right.
Baker won 19 times in over 200 Cup races spanning his 33-year career (1959-1992). After his retirement, Baker served as a television analyst for both TBS and CBS. He was diagnosed with lung cancer in July 2015 and died at his North Carolina home a month later.
Jack Roush: If these other predictions hold true, then the 2019 class figures to be quite driver-heavy; given NASCAR typically likes to diversify its classes if possible, it makes sense that voters would also push for an owner to be inducted in 2019. That could be Roger Penske or Joe Gibbs, but more likely is that Roush gets the nod.
Roush has two Cup Series championships as an owner (Matt Kenseth in 2003, Kurt Busch in 2004) and six others in the Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series. While another owner like Gibbs has more championships, Roush will always have a place in NASCAR's history books given his ability to develop and discover top-tier drivers like Kenseth, Mark Martin and Greg Biffle. Roush is already a member of the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, and he turned 76 last month.
Next five up: Joe Gibbs, Roger Penske, Bobby Labonte, Waddell Wilson, Kirk Shelmerdine.