Why Ricky Rudd has strong case for Hall of Fame

NASCAR


Editor’s note: This story originally ran on Feb. 26, 2016, two days after Ricky Rudd was first nominated for the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Want to see an exciting NASCAR finish? Search YouTube for the 1988 Budweiser At The Glen, a race in which Ricky Rudd furiously fought off Rusty Wallace, whose car was clearly faster in the closing laps, for a dramatic victory.

That was the ninth of Rudd’s 23 official Cup wins (more on that below). Why do I bring this up? Because, all these years later, it still ranks as one of my most vivid memories of Rudd, NASCAR’s recently dethroned iron man who on Wednesday was named one of five new nominees for the 2017 Hall of Fame class.

Joining him on the list, which is now at 20 candidates, are car owner Jack Roush, longtime engine builder and crew chief Waddell Wilson, four-time Camping World Truck Series champion Ron Hornaday and broadcaster Ken Squier.

So, does Rudd have a real chance to get the Hall call? He’s far from a shoo-in, but at least he’s finally in the conversation. Although Rudd rarely seems to be mentioned among the greats of his time, his résumé is better than most probably realize.

In addition to his 788 consecutive starts (a record until it was surpassed by Jeff Gordon late last season), Rudd’s lengthy career included 374 top-10s, 29 poles, a rookie of the year award and a whopping 19 finishes in the top 10 of the standings. He won at least one race in 16 straight seasons, including the 1997 Brickyard 400 in his own equipment, and gave Dale Earnhardt a valiant fight for the 1991 Cup title.

He was also as tough as the come. Remember, this is a guy who earned a place in NASCAR lore by driving the 1984 Daytona 500 with his eyes held open by tape — the result of injuries suffered in a scary crash the week earlier — and persevered through persistent back pain in the later stages of his career.

Of course, no Rudd retrospective would be complete without mention of the infamous Sonoma, California, incident in ’91 — still one of the most controversial outcomes in NASCAR history.

After spinning Davey Allison in a fight for the lead coming to the white flag, Rudd drove the race’s final lap thinking he was headed for victory. But once he made his way back to the start/finish line, Rudd surprisingly was greeted with the black flag, not the checkered. (He was awarded a second-place finish.)

Sure, one race doesn’t make or break a Hall of Fame candidacy, but a win that day could have been a shot in the arm for his title chase. It also would have enhanced his status as a road course ace. (He ranks tied for third all time in road course victories with six.)

The biggest knocks against Rudd? He never won a championship or Daytona 500, and never won more than two races in a season. But few of his peers were more consistent (he has more wins, top-5s and top-10s than 2016 inductee Terry Labonte), and his longevity alone (he’s second to only Richard Petty in Cup starts) should earn him merit.

So here’s hoping the Hall of Fame voters will give Rudd a long look this year. His numbers are worthy — so was his talent. Just dial up YouTube if you need a reminder.

— Scott Symmes is an editor for ESPN.com.



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