By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Correspondent
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Five more legends of NASCAR will be immortalized in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
The five that will be inducted in 2020 are Buddy Baker, Joe Gibbs, Bobby Labonte, Tony Stewart, and Waddell Wilson. Edsel Ford II was named the winner of the Landmark Award for Outstanding Achievements to NASCAR.
‘The Gentle Giant,’ Baker never earned a Premier Series Championship, coming closest in 1977, but scored 19 victories during his time on the circuit, which included several of NASCAR’s crown jewel events — the World 600 in 1968, 1972, and 1973, the Southern 500 in 1970, and the Daytona 500 in 1980.
Baker still holds the record for the fastest Daytona 500 at 177.603 mph. His No. 28 NAPA ‘Gray Ghost’ Oldsmobile had fellow Class of 2020 inductee, Wilson as the crew chief.
The Charlotte, N.C. native was the first driver to set a lap at over 200 mph on a closed course at Talladega Superspeedway in 1970.
After his driving career, Baker spent time in the broadcast booth before transitioning to SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
‘Coach’ Gibbs entered NASCAR in 1992. In the 27 years since, the former Washington Redskins Coach has earned three Premier Series Championships with three different drivers — Kyle Busch, Labonte, and Stewart. Gibbs’ organization has also won five Owner’s Championships in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
Gibbs started the team from the ground up with help from his sons, JD and Coy. Both drove briefly for their father’s team in the Truck and Xfinity Series.
“I think about showing up on Norm Miller’s door step, JD and I telling Norm that we want to go racing, we didn’t have a car, a shop, nothing,” Gibbs reminisced. “He took a chance on us. I think about our family and the fact that Coy is now working so hard.
“JD spent his entire life working on the race teams. I think about all of the guys that first started, Dale Jarrett took a chance, Jimmy Makar took a chance to come with us. That first group down there that started off with us and has been such a big part of this. I’m so thankful for all of those people that made this possible.”
Joe Gibbs Racing earned its’ first victory in the Daytona 500 as Dale Jarrett held off Dale Earnhardt, Sr. for the victory. Since then, the team has earned 164 combined victories with Busch, Carl Edwards, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Labonte, Joey Logano, Stewart, and Martin Truex, Jr. behind the wheel.
Gibbs’ 2015 title with Kyle Busch was the first Cup Championship for Toyota Racing, which first entered the sport in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series in 2004.
The 2000 Premier Series Champion, Labonte, joins his former car owner, Gibbs, and teammate, Stewart as a part of the Class of 2020. Having joined JGR in 1995, he helped make the organization a championship caliber team on a consistent basis.
“Right now, it certainly feels like it was meant to be (to go in with Gibbs and Stewart),” Labonte explained. “Maybe that’s why it didn’t happen before. It wasn’t disappointing. After a couple of years, it was like, maybe I won’t get in. When it comes down to today and you see who is inducted into it, what an awesome day and feeling for everybody.
“As far as Joe, Tony, and myself, I am so thankful to be in with them. It just really is an honor.”
In 1999, he finished runner-up in the final standings to Jeff Gordon. The following year, he beat Earnhardt by 255-points to claim his only Cup championship. Labonte’s championship season saw the Corpus Christi, TX native earn four victories, 19 top-five, and 24 top-10 finishes.
Becoming a NASCAR Hall of Famer was still surreal for Labonte.
“It’s still sinking in. I’m so thankful, and speechless. I don’t know exactly what to say, but I do feel like, ‘wow, what an honor.’ I didn’t want to watch the broadcast because I didn’t know if it was going to happen or not. I have a lot of emotions.”
Labonte also earned the 1992 NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship. He is one of 31 drivers that have earned a victory in all three series, having achieved the mark in 2005 at Martinsville Speedway in the Truck Series.
With 21 victories, Labonte is tied for 37th on the all-time wins list with fellow Hall of Famer Benny Parsons and current NASCAR on NBC Analyst Jeff Burton.
Although he has retired from full-time competition, the 55-year-old still competes on a part-time basis in the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series Elite 1 Division.
Nicknamed ‘The People’s Champion,’ Stewart earned three Cup championships, including the first one ever decided on a tie-breaker in 2011. With 49 victories at NASCAR’s top level, the Columbus, Indiana native ranks 14thout of 191 drivers that have earned Cup victories.
“It’s very humbling, but it’s a really cool day,” Stewart admitted. “To me it’s way bigger for us getting in is the fact that the guy that is responsible for me getting to Joe Gibbs Racing, Bobby Labonte, and Coach getting in, Waddell Wilson who was with Harry Rainer when I started in ’96 with Rainer Walsh Racing.
“The four of us all going in at the same time, there’s personal ties to all three of those guys, even Buddy Baker. When I went through the Buck Baker school, Buddy was there one day and watched me run the car. It’s really cool that all five of us, the four that are going in with me, I had a connection with at early parts of my career.”
Stewart is one of 15 drivers that have earned multiple championships during their NASCAR Cup Series tenure. His three championships have the 48-year-old tied with fellow NASCAR Hall of Famers David Pearson, Lee Petty, and Darrell Waltrip.
Also, in 2011, Stewart joined forces with Gene Haas to create Stewart-Haas Racing. In the eight years of its’ existence, the team has earned 51 victories, two Monster Energy Cup Series Championships and the 2018 Xfinity Series Owner’s Championship.
Of his 51 victories, the most coveted are his two Brickyard 400 wins.
As an engine builder, Wilson earned three championships, two with David Pearson in 1968 and 1969, as well as one with Benny Parsons in 1973. As a crew chief, he earned 19 victories, the first with fellow Class of 2020 Inductee, Baker, in the 1980 Daytona 500.
Wilson’s engine was the first to break the 200 MPH barrier in qualifying when Parsons went 200.176 MPH at Talladega for the Winston 500 in 1982.
After working with Baker as a crew chief, Wilson won the 1981 World 600 with Bobby Allison as well as the 1983 and 1984 Daytona 500 with Cale Yarborough.
Edsel Ford II
Ford has been a name synonymous with auto racing and NASCAR for over 50 years. As a member of the Ford Motor Company Board of Directors, Edsel Ford II has been a driving force within the auto racing world.
As a leader, Edsel Ford II was the President and COO at Ford Motor Company from 1991-1998 and a Directory of International Speedway Corporation from November 2007-October 2015.
“It means a great deal to me,” Ford admitted. “I’m honored to be given this award and I feel I have an ambassadorial role within Ford Motor Company and NASCAR, so it’s wonderful. I’m truly honored.”
The auto racing arm of Ford’s company, Ford Performance earned their 16th Manufacturer’s Championship in NASCAR last season with Logano. In addition, the company earned a title in Virgin Australia Supercars.
“I don’t know, but we’ve been in the NASCAR business for a long time,” Ford admitted. “I think this will be a great honor for Ford as it is a great honor for me. Our NASCAR presence has almost been since Day 1, I think.”