CHARLOTTE – Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a well-established devotee of racing lore.
But on the eve of the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s 11th class being inducted Friday, he is trying to avoid pondering something historic.
That he could be a part of its 12th class next year.
“It’s hard not to think about it, but that’s as far as I let myself go,” Earnhardt said. “I try not to get too wrapped up in it.
“I follow a lot of guys on social media that are passionate about the history of the sport even more so than I am, and there’s a lot of guys that belong in the Hall of Fame that probably should go in there before me. And my feelings about that are if I ever get in, I’ll be very honored. I hope that may happen one day.”
It’ll happen Friday for Tony Stewart, Joe Gibbs, Bobby Labonte, Waddell Wilson and the late Buddy Baker as the 2020 class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame formally is enshrined at the Charlotte Convention Center. The ceremony will be broadcast live on NBCSN at 8 p.m. ET.
The vote for the 2021 class likely will happen in May, and Earnhardt, who retired from full-time racing after the 2017 season to become an NBC Sports analyst, is eligible to be chosen among the 20 names on the ballot. According to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, drivers who have competed for at least 10 years and have been retired for two years are eligible for nomination.
The 2020 candidates, which are selected by a nominating committee next month, should be announced by mid-March. Among recently retired big-name drivers, Jeff Gordon and Stewart both were candidates in their first year of eligibility. Carl Edwards, who left NASCAR after the 2016 season, didn’t make the nominee list last year.
A 15-time Most Popular Driver and two-time Xfinity champion with 26 Cup victories, Earnhardt has credentials that can match those of others who have been elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
But he lacks the on-track resumes of Gordon (four championships, 93 wins in Cup) and Stewart (three titles, 49 wins in Cup), both of whom were first-ballot selections.
The NASCAR Hall of Fame annually inducts the top five in voting from 20 candidates. Last year’s top three vote-getters outside the top five were Mike Stefanik, Ray Fox and Hershel McGriff.
The trio is likely to return for consideration this year along with the 12 others on the 2020 ballot who weren’t selected: Sam Ard, Neil Bonnett, Red Farmer, Harry Gant, John Holman, Harry Hyde, Ralph Moody, Marvin Panch, Jim Paschal, Larry Phillips, Ricky Rudd and Red Vogt.
Votes are cast by a panel of more than 50 that includes NASCAR executives, track owners, media members, manufacturer representatives and the reigning Cup Series champion (Kyle Busch), as well as an online fan vote.
“I’m certainly young enough to wait it out if I need to, and there’s a lot of guys in our sport that belong in there, and there’s only so many that get inducted each year,” said the 45-year-old Earnhardt, whose late seven-time champion father was among the inaugural class in 2010. “There’s just so much history in our sport that should be acknowledged and appreciated and will be, so it’s got to be tough as someone who’s having to vote for who goes in.
“That’s got to be some of the toughest decisions to make that decision on who’s going to get there.”
He addressed his Hall of Fame prospects while attending a Jan. 15 news conference at the Uptown Charlotte shrine, which recently unveiled a new Glory Road exhibit that features 18 championship cars chosen by Earnhardt.
NASCAR Hall of Fame executive director Winston Kelley said Earnhardt was selected because of his appreciation of stock-car history. Earnhardt recently helped spearhead a project to map defunct North Wilkesboro Speedway for iRacing gamers, and he has an upcoming program about vanished racetracks slated for the Peacock streaming service.
One of his first forays into TV production was a documentary show called “Back in the Day” that celebrated classic NASCAR races and footage.
“I do love to be acknowledged for the passion that I have for the history,” said Earnhardt, whose favorite era is the 1970s. “If you’re a bit of a historian of the sport, any involvement in anything the Hall of Fame is going to be doing is awesome and going to be a great experience.”