ThatsRacin

Three-time Cup Series champion Tony Stewart headlines 2020 NASCAR Hall of Fame class

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Tony Stewart laughs with members of his team as he climbs into his car for practice at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 2016. Stewart is one of the incoming 2020 inductees of the NASCAR Hall of Fame
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Tony Stewart laughs with members of his team as he climbs into his car for practice at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 2016. Stewart is one of the incoming 2020 inductees of the NASCAR Hall of Fame jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Another year, another surefire lock spearheading NASCAR’s newest Hall of Fame class.

The Hall of Fame announced its 2020 class on Wednesday, headlined by three-time Cup Series champion Tony Stewart. He will be inducted alongside team owner Joe Gibbs, engine builder and crew chief Waddell Wilson, and drivers Buddy Baker and Bobby Labonte.

Stewart, like Jeff Gordon in last year’s class, was largely considered a lock, and he garnered 88 percent of the vote. Stewart won 49 races at NASCAR’s highest level over his 17-year career, including two Brickyard 400s. He now continues to stay heavily involved with the sport as a co-owner at Stewart-Haas Racing.

“It’s very humbling for sure,” Stewart said. “To me it’s even way bigger than us getting in — it’s the fact that the guy who really was responsible for getting me to Joe Gibbs Racing, Bobby Labonte, and getting Coach in as well...

“There was that sense of pride obviously when (former NASCAR president) Mike Helton called my name. At the same time, it’s fun to sit there and share that moment and know how much that’s going to mean to Joe and Bobby and to Waddell... To be able to share that moment with these guys is something that I’m more excited and proud about.”

Gibbs’ entry is his second in a professional sports Hall of Fame. He was also inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1996 as a three-time Super Bowl-winning head coach with Washington. The four-time Cup Series champion also represents something of a sweep with the 2020 class, as both Stewart and Labonte won their Cup titles while driving for “Coach.”

“Well obviously its a thrill for me,” Gibbs said, “and what you think about when something like this happens is, I get pushed out front, but I think about all the people that built the race team and are a part of this.

“I think about the people, and I’m so thankful.”

Labonte now joins his brother Terry, who was inducted in 2016. He won the 2000 premier series title in addition to 21 wins at NASCAR’s highest level. Labonte also won an Xfinity Series championship.

Then there’s Wilson, whose legend as both a crew chief and engine builder helped guide some of NASCAR’s best-ever drivers. Wilson helped David Pearson and Benny Parsons on the way to their respective Cup Series championships, not to mention his work with Fireball Roberts, Bobby Allison, Cale Yarborough, and Darrell Waltrip. The “Grey Ghost” car he built for Buddy Baker still holds the Daytona 500 record with an average speed of 177.602 miles per hour.

Lastly, Buddy Baker. Baker won 19 races at the Cup level, including both the Southern 500 and the Coca-Cola 600. His reputation is only aided by his successful post-racing transition to the broadcast booth, where he helped cover races for both Sirius XM radio and CBS.

“What a class,” Gordon said. “I was so worried about Bobby Labonte — I raced against him, I know what a great competitor he was — and with an Xfinity championship and a Cup championship, I was just concerned that he was going to get overlooked. That’s awesome that he’s in there.

“And then Waddell, when you start to look at the stats of what he’s contributed to the sport beyond just being a crew chief, it’s great. Certainly he deserves to be in there.”

NASCAR also announced that Edsel Ford II, the great-grandson of Henry Ford, had been named its Landmark Award recipient. That honor is given annually to someone for outstanding contributions to NASCAR, which Ford has certainly done as a representative of both Ford Motor Co. and International Speedway Corp.

The 2020 NASCAR Hall of Fame class will officially be inducted in a ceremony on Jan. 31, 2020.

Brendan Marks is a general assignment sports reporter for the Charlotte Observer covering the Carolina Panthers, Charlotte Hornets, NASCAR and more. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has worked for the Observer since August 2017.
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