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J.J., Stewart and Gordon all deserve spots in the Hall of Fame

NASCAR Power Rankings

Those knotty rules and a major backlog of legends figures to keep Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson out of the newly opened NASCAR Hall of Fame for quite some time. And then there's their longevity. Gordon, 38, has expressed a desire to race into his 40s so his children can enjoy his fabled career, and Johnson talks of another decade, at least, while hoping he can bring along crew chief Chad Knaus for most of it. They each will be required to stay retired for three years to be considered for the Hall of Fame, which inducted its first class on Sunday. The four-time series champions figure to go directly to the front of whatever line when they are eligible. But exactly which active NASCAR participants have already cobbled together enshrinement-worthy careers? Glad you asked. Have a comment? Send to siwriters@simail.com. You can also follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/brantjames

1Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon
Four Sprint Cup championships. Sixth on the all-time wins list at 82 and just three victories shy from overtaking Bobby Allison for third all-time. A loved, loathed and misunderstood figure, Jeff Gordon's career synched with NASCAR's ascent into the stratosphere, and he helped bring millions of otherwise ambivalent fans to the sport with exploits, acceptability, accessibility and utter professionalism. Mentored by Dale Earnhardt, Gordon is the template for the modern American race car driver and was the inspiration for a generation of kids who broke from would be-open wheel careers for the bright lights and big stage of NASCAR.
 
2Jimmie Johnson
Jimmie Johnson
Jimmie Johnson has four straight championships, 50 wins in 303 Sprint Cup races (17 percent) and is the best driver in the sport since he debuted full-time in 2002. Johnson's win total is double that of the next-most-successful driver, Tony Stewart, in that span. He is already 11th on the all-time wins list and is poised to ghost Junior Johnson and Ned Jarrett with his next victory. Next up, Lee Petty at 54. Keep in mind he's only 34 years old.
 
3Rick Hendrick
Rick Hendrick
Owners technically are not bound by retirement dates but are required to have participated actively for a decade, which is why the founder and owner of NASCAR's current juggernaut was a finalist for the alpha class after a quarter century. Drivers are expected to fill the first several classes, but Hendrick is certainly deserving of the honor, having won a NASCAR-best 12 top-tier championships: nine Sprint Cup championships and three in the truck series. He also launched the careers of the two greatest drivers -- Gordon and Johnson -- and crew chiefs -- Ray Evernham and Knaus -- of their generation and has become an influential figure within the sport.
 
4
Richard Childress
Second only to Hendrick with 11 national series titles, Childress traded his No. 3 Chevrolet for a hard-charging firebrand from Kannapolis, N.C., and quickly became one of NASCAR's most enduring personalities. Childress won six championships and 67 races with Earnhardt and helped him drive that stylized No. 3 into the Hall of Fame's first class.
 
5The Wood Brothers
The Wood Brothers
Team owners, innovators, winners of 97 races with the likes of legends David Pearson, Marvin Panch, Curtis Turner, Cale Yarborough, A.J. Foyt and Neil Bonnett in the iconic No. 21, Leonard and Glen Wood helped lay the foundation upon which NASCAR was built as a flagship team.
 
6Chad Knaus
Chad Knaus
No crew chief had won three straight championships until Knaus in 2008, and he raised the bar to four last season. Before the inception of the Car of Right Now, he was an innovator, a tinkerer and intrepid bandit of the grey areas of the NASCAR rule book -- the suspensions and fines were simply by-products of his trailblazing. Knaus has thrived even since those gray areas have been largely flooded with fluorescence, honing and manipulating the remaining variables and helping the driver of his car -- Johnson is his friend, but Knaus thinks the No. 48 Chevrolet is his -- become a master of the Chase for the Championship. Meticulous down to the compatibility of his crew's personality traits, he has redefined the job description of the new age crew chief in an era when the sanctioning body has tried to enforce parity.
 
7Smokey Yunick
Carburetors
Come on 20th century. NASCAR can work on the 21st century later.
 
8Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart
Two-time Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart has won 37 races in 12 seasons since leaving the Indy Racing League, where he won the 1997 title. Ownership adds credentials, assuming the whole thing doesn't fall apart on him.
 
9Jack Roush's hat
Jack Roush's hat
There's the brown felt one, which coupled with the leather jacket connotes a certain Indiana Jones feel, and the fair weather straw model that lets just the right amount of spring breeze in but keeps those harmful UV rays out. The "Cat in the Hat" would not be such without the brim, and Roush's chapeaus have become one of the more recognizable images of both he and NASCAR. They're not in a Richard Petty cowboy hat league, but they're ubiquitous. With five NASCAR championships, two in Cup, he'll likely lean a brim atop his personal monument in the Hall one day.
 
10Kyle Busch's temper
Kyle Busch's temper
It is epic, robust beyond his 25 years and has manifested a profound body of work in eight seasons in NASCAR's top three series. Temper tantrums that iced his relationship with his older brother, Kurt, for months, radio chatter tizzies --the latest involving threats against teammate Denny Hamlin after their All-Star race incident, are all part of a strong and burgeoning emotional resume. If only his smashing of the guitar trophy after winning a Nationwide Series race at Nashville was an anger issue, he'd be a true first-ballot Hall of Famer. Granted, his willowy body likely would not have been able to back up the bellicosity of some of NASCAR's old-school tempers (see Pearson, David), but he'll have to deal with that on his own.
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