The NASCAR Hall of Fame, akin to other sports in the American consciousness, has become a great talking point between fans and members of the stratosphere of motorsports. Those long standing barber shop style conversations ranking the greats or fantasizing about who would have succeeded in a different era are good to have in a sport like NASCAR. Every once in a while though, a certain question or discussion topic will come up that needs a little extra interrogation, something that needs to be talked about more than a simple yes/no. The question on this occasion came from friend and writing colleague Max Corcoran when he sent me a rather innocent Twitter DM last week:
“Is Matt Crafton a NASCAR Hall of Famer?”
To me, this is a fascinating question to dig into because of how quickly the wheels started spinning in my head to produce an answer. What started as a very basic question to gauge the yardstick of NASCAR’s unique Hall of Fame turned into pages and pages of stats and text, over 50 back-and-forth DMs, and a 2 hour on the record podcast with Max and Justin Glenn.
For me, it’s not so much a question as to what kind of racer Matt Crafton was and is, but what the NASCAR Hall of Fame would specifically look like should he be inducted. To be clear, Crafton is still an active truck series driver and could indeed add to his legacy, but what we’re working with here is an interrogation of what he’s accomplished to date. So let’s get started.
Matt Crafton is one of the last Truck series “lifers,” and is one of the most accomplished of this generation. It’s not that he’s ever been UNsuccessful anywhere else, but between the business of racing and other factors, the trucks have been Crafton’s thing for pretty much his entire NASCAR career. In that time, Crafton has collected 15 race wins, and more importantly 3 Truck Series point Championships. Any case for Crafton in the HOF has to begin with the championships, it’s quite literally the thing holding up the argument.
While I’m going to sound like I’m picking it apart, it’s important to point out there’s really no such thing as a “Mickey Mouse Champion.” If everyone is working within the same rule set, the champ is the champ, and that’s the end of it. One place we CAN add or subtract weight from that discussion however is for the Hall of Fame. In Matt Crafton’s case, for better or worse, each of his championships came with either 2, 1, or even 0 wins during that season. Again to TRIPLE down on my point, he won those ‘ships fair and square, but there’s rarely an occasion that Crafton was the most dominant truck racer while also winning the championship. We dug DEEP in this during the podcast but to be frank, lack of both elements can hurt someone’s enshrinement chances down the road. This is just one man’s opinion though, and it’s clear that there’s some fair and reasonable dissent.
Ok, fair enough – there really does exist a possibility that Crafton could be granted NASCAR Hall of Fame enshrinement, and that wouldn’t be the end of the world. For the rest of this article, let’s all pretend that Crafton had a dignified retirement and goes to the ballot with the winning stats he has right now. We’ll wave a magic wand, circumnavigate the five year waiting period and put him in Charlotte right now.
*POOF*, done. Matt Crafton is a NASCAR Hall of Famer.
But wait, through our hubris we might have left a few things out. If Matt Crafton is now a Hall of Famer doesn’t that mean we have to bring everyone else with a similar level of success and/or longevity into the Hall as well? Shoot, I guess so…but that’s probably not a big deal. What’s it going to be, 2, maybe 3 more old guard Truck racers and a couple old Busch guys to toss in? How crowded could we possibly make the Hall with this newly anointed “Matt Crafton Bump?” Well to start, let’s talk about Truck legacy.
An immovable, unmistakable fact of life is that there are more accomplished truck series racers than Matt Crafton that are not currently in the NASCAR Hall of Fame as we sit in March of 2023. The first moves we have to make in this post-Crafton Bump era are to bring in anyone with at least as many championships AND to try to find the sweet spot to wins and other factors of individual legacy. Going off the overall win list, I’ll chart out those that should be in or might be left out in the cold. A couple points: while we will use wins and championships as a baseline, their entire career AND contributions will be considered. While I will try my hardest, driver stats beyond wins are NOT exhaustive nor encyclopedic. Finally, I’ll be making some tough calls you might not agree with…just hear me out.
Under the standards of the Crafton Bump, I see six more drivers that need to be added in based on stats and/or a general “vibe” of how their career went. Some may disagree with a couple of these, which I would understand, but if your personal view of the HOF has Matt Crafton in it, we’ve added a few more drivers along with him for certain. While it’s important to remember the old guard that gets the benefit of the bump, it’s also important to remember active drivers that are suddenly “on their way” or nearly Hall of Fame members from the bump as well. John Hunter Nemechek, who sports 13 truck wins, has the whole world ahead of him with xfinity and possible Cup future success…but the more interesting driver that gets a bump is now Brett Moffitt. With 12 wins and a championship Moffitt suddenly becomes that much closer to enshrinement. No, there’s no case to make for it today, but if the still 30 year old driver turns in another season or two of success back in the truck world, there’s nothing to say he wouldn’t suddenly be in the category of a Todd Bodine or Johnny Sauter. While I’m game for that, I’m not so sure the most ardent of Crafton supporters would be ready to confront the notion that Brett Moffitt was an equal talent…but the stats could say otherwise someday soon.
The Matt Crafton Bump can’t just be for the Truck series, as we’ve got to consider at least the two higher levels of NASCAR as well. Someone much smarter than me could work out a super formula of how much a different series win could be valued, or how many wins could replace the value of a championship. For me though, this must be accomplished by feel.
Moving up through the ranks of the Busch/Nationwide/Xfinity series, things will get a little more complex. On these charts we won’t double-dip drivers we’ve already bumped or locked into the HOF, but there’s a few interesting things to note once we’ve reworked the Bump. First of all, three drivers come in that may very well crack the Hall of Fame without our help in Jeff Burton, Carl Edwards, and Harry Gant. In our scenario however, it almost becomes insulting that they’ve had to wait this long to get in when you consider their Cup careers combined with the strong Xfinity series stats. Second, and perhaps more controversial are the old school drivers I think we have to put in as well.
To date, old school ace Jack Ingram was the only “pure” Sportsman/Grand National driver to be included – sort of carrying the torch for the series like Ron Hornaday is for the trucks. With the Crafton Bump however, I think anyone in that same conversation needs to be added in as well, which adds four more members to our list.
Finally, late 90s and 21st century stalwarts need some consideration as well. While drivers like Joe Nemechek and Justin Allgaier now become solid conversations at the table, the most fascinating out of this is Christopher Bell. As he’s already shown strong results in the trucks, and to date already has some Cup accomplishments, with the Crafton Bump Christopher Bell could make 2024 his farewell season and still make a very solid case for Hall of Fame induction. Again, there’s a LOT of debate to be had about how many wins could “replace” a championship or how much more a win in Cup is valued over something else in a lower series…but the Crafton Bump is opening up a lot of questions that the NASCAR community might not be ready to confront. And yet, we still need to talk about the Cup series.
On to the Cup series, we have four more HOF locks which are outside the scope of our discussion, and at least one more Winston Cup era lock in Ricky Rudd. While we should be baking Rudd a great big apology cake for making him wait like this, we can then turn our attention to the old school drivers that I’d put in with a Crafton Bump. As has been generally agreed, the line for the Hall of Fame when considering pure top-level wins is about 25. There will be those with a different ethos than me, but I think adding Crafton to the Hall of Fame would then mean the bar comes down just a little for drivers in that range. With the commitment the Hall makes to the “black and white” era of NASCAR, it’s not even that big a gap to bridge, so we’d just have to do it now. This also allows Chase Elliott and Kyle Larson to take early retirement should they so choose, along with some other unique cases that I think we’d be up for in the very near future.
None of what we’re discussing here should be viewed as a criticism. Every driver name in this article is a fantastic racer, and most if not all are already in some sort of racing Hall of Fame as it stands. But the NASCAR Hall of Fame was designed a little differently. For its 75 years of history, the Charlotte museum has allowed itself to stay focused solely on its own product, and for better or worse has weighted its highest honors to those that accomplished the most in its highest classes. At the end of the day however, it’s a business entity as part of a worldwide corporation, and as such should be doing its best to please its consumers. A more crowded Hall of Fame might be viewed to some purists as a problem. Personally, if the decision came down to me, I’d probably decline to add Matt Crafton to the Hall. But thankfully these decisions come down to a collective. So long as we’re remembering the history of NASCAR racing and paying homage to the people that shaped and competed in it, we can make as many plaques as we damn well please. Should we someday decide to put Matt Crafton in the NASCAR Hall of Fame, he and his 20-30 new best friends might just make Charlotte a better place.
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