On Wednesday, the NASCAR Hall of Fame announced its Class of 2019, a group of five that featured figures from one of NASCAR’s winningest drivers to NASCAR’s top owners: drivers Jeff Gordon, Davey Allison, and Alan Kulwicki, along with owners Jack Roush and Roger Penske.
Jim Hunter, the late Darlington Raceway Track President, was also honored as he received NASCAR’s Landmark Award.
Was there any doubt that one of NASCAR’s household names would become a Hall of Famer? As a driver who is often in the discussion as the greatest of all time, not making it in would have been a massive surprise.
In his first year of eligibility, Gordon was considered an unsurprising inductee. After 23 years of racing at NASCAR’s highest level, all with Hendrick Motorsports, he ranks third on the Monster Energy Cup Series‘ all-time win list with 93 victories. The four-time champion holds numerous records, including the longest consecutive starts streak with 797, and is one of the sport’s most iconic names.
The current Fox color commentator received a near-unanimous vote as 96 percent of the voters agreed in favor (two of the fifty-seven did not vote for him).
“Extremely honored to be part of the 2019 [NASCAR Hall] of Fame Class,” Gordon tweeted. “I’m grateful to so many people that played a role in my career. Thank you to everyone who voted.”
The late Allison’s career was cut short by tragedy when he died in a helicopter crash in 1993. Before the accident, he was a rising star in the Cup Series, winning nineteen races and the 1992 Daytona 500, while also finishing third in the championship in 1991 and 1992. A member of the Alabama Gang, his #28 Havoline Roush Yates Racing car is one of the most well-known schemes of the 1990s.
With father Bobby Allison being inducted in 2011, the Allisons are the third father/son driver duo to be enshrined after the Pettys (son Richard in 2010, father Lee in 2011) and Jarretts (father Ned in 2011, son Dale in 2014).
Just months before Allison’s death, Kulwicki was also a victim of an aircraft accident. Prior to this tragic event, Kulwicki was a very special driver on the Cup circuit.
From 1987 to 1993, Kulwicki owned and raced for AK Racing, making him the quintessential owner/driver. His #7 Hooters Ford, nicknamed “Underbird”, guided him to five career victories and 75 top tens. In 1992, he scored the Cup championship in one of the most dramatic title battles in NASCAR history, edging out Bill Elliott by ten points.
Like Allison, Kulwicki remains one of NASCAR’s biggest what-if stories of the 1990s; had both of them lived, would drivers like Gordon have enjoyed the same success? Nevertheless, Kulwicki’s legacy resonates to this day; his famous Polish victory lap has become a popular celebration among other drivers, while Alan Kulwicki Driver Development Program has seen the likes of those like Roush Fenway Racing driver Ty Majeski.
In the last thirty years, Ford’s success in NASCAR can be attributed to one team in particular: Roush Fenway Racing.
Roush founded his Cup team in 1988, fielding the #6 Ford for 2017 Hall of Fame inductee Mark Martin. A year later, Martin scored the team’s first win at Rockingham Speedway. In the three decades since, the team has enjoyed 137 Cup wins, 138 in the Xfinity Series, and 50 in the Camping World Truck Series, along with eight Driver’s Championships across the three series (two in Cup, five in Xfinity, one in Truck). Current Cup drivers Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Trevor Bayne, and Matt Kenseth have all visited Victory Lane during their premier series careers, with Kenseth also scoring the 2003 championship.
Stenhouse tweeted: “This right here well well deserved happy for my boss man!!!”
Besides Roush, the 2019 class features another Ford owner, one with one of the most legendary careers in not only NASCAR, but auto racing as a whole.
Penske’s Team Penske is one of the top Ford teams in NASCAR, winning 108 Cup races and 63 Xfinity events along with one title in each. Led by the trio of Brad Keselowski, Ryan Blaney, and Joey Logano, all three drivers are currently in the top ten in the Cup standings. However, the team’s success is especially noted in the IndyCar Series, where it is one of the series’ most powerful operations; in 50 years of racing, Penske has an astounding 16 Indianapolis 500 victories. Penske’s influence has also expanded to other series like sports car racing, Formula One, and the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship.
The Cup trio expressed their support for their owner through Twitter:
“The captain! Congratulations to the entire class. Great and deserving group.” – Keselowski
“Congrats boss!!! You’ve done more in motorsports then I could ever dream of and glad you can now add this to the list!” – Logano
“Congrats RP!” – Blaney