Hall's second class is not second-class
Wednesday is the big day when the second class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame is announced. Dr. Jerry Punch is the designated voter for ESPN, and he'll do a fine job.
But here are the people I would pick as the second five to get in:
David Pearson: He should have made the first class and should be on everyone's ballot this time. The Silver Fox is a three-time champion (the only three times he ran the full season) and the only man besides Richard Petty to win more than 100 races.
Dale Inman: A crew chief needs to be in the second class, and Inman is the clear choice. Excluding team owners, he is the only man in NASCAR to win eight championships (seven with Petty and one with Terry Labonte).
Raymond Parks: The voters need to recognize the pioneers, and Parks is NASCAR's best representative as the first championship team owner.
Lee Petty: NASCAR's first three-timer champ, the first winner of the Daytona 500 and the patriarch of the Petty legacy.
Jeff Gordon, a Hall of Fame lock when he retires, made a pitch for his boss -- Hendrick, who could win his 10th Cup championship this year.
"I would certainly love to see Rick get inducted," Gordon said at Fontana. "You know he's going to make it eventually, but to be in that second class would be pretty amazing. He's been in the sport for a long time and has achieved an awful lot beyond just the success with the race teams."
Since I'm already in the prediction business today, here's another one for you.
If Jimmie Johnson easily wins a fifth consecutive Sprint Cup title this year, going to the finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway without being seriously challenged, NASCAR will adopt an elimination system next year.
If he doesn't win it, or at least has to fight for it down to the final laps at Homestead, the Chase won't be changed.
Sunday's race at Auto Club Speedway should be a lesson to all tracks that shorter is better. The event was reduced 100 miles (50 laps) from the previous 500-mile race, and it was the best race ever at ACS.
There is more urgency to get to the front and make things happen when the race is shorter, so fans see much more on-track action even though it's a shorter distance.
Are you listening, Pocono? The same holds true for Martinsville and Bristol, which would have better events at 400 laps instead of 500.
You have to wonder whether Clint Bowyer will receive one of NASCAR's double-secret fines because of his comments after Sunday's race.
Bowyer, who finished second to Tony Stewart, insinuated that NASCAR officials called an unnecessary caution while he was leading late in the race at Fontana.
Denny Hamlin and Ryan Newman said they were privately fined earlier this season for critical comments they made publicly. Hamlin's $50,000 fine came from similar comments about debris cautions at Michigan.
Bowyer didn't deny debris was on the track Sunday (he wouldn't specify what it was), but he said it had been there for that entire green-flag run, so why was the yellow flag thrown with 18 laps to go?
Bowyer, who has been critical of the decision to penalize his team after his New Hampshire victory in September, also was asked whether he thought NASCAR was trying to send him a message.
"That's a good question," he said.
"Have fun with that one," said Jimmie Johnson, who was sitting next to Bowyer in the media center.
Bowyer wised up at that point and gave a "no comment."
But it's clear Bowyer remains deeply angered about the 150-point penalty that eliminated the No. 33 Chevy from Chase contention. Without the penalty, Bowyer would be only 97 points behind Johnson and still in the battle for the title.
Bowyer is desperate to get win a before the season ends so he can walk in the media center and say "I told you so'' to prove his team can win without cheating.
Johnson is one of the best in Cup at making suggestions and giving his crew chief detailed information to help make adjustments on the car. It's one of the reasons he has won four consecutive championships.
But he had a funny moment with Chad Knaus late in the race Sunday at Fontana during a caution.
Knaus: "Whatya wanna do?"
Johnson: "Man, I have no idea."
Knaus: "Whatya think they're gonna do?"
Johnson: "Not my job, man."
Johnson wasn't being obtuse. He was trying to lighten a tense moment for Knaus. That's how they roll, and it worked. Johnson finished third.
Take a wild guess -- who does Denny Hamlin think is his worst enemy in the Chase?
If you guessed Johnson, you're wrong.
"Your head is your own worst enemy," Hamlin said this past weekend. "Especially myself. Someone told me a quote not too long ago that I would hate to have myself as my own worst enemy. I feel like that is my own worst enemy at times.
"Your head really gets into it at times, but you have to just stay focused and stay light. The more pressure you put on yourself, you go out here and you're not having fun. That's when you really go downhill. I think you have to enjoy the aspect of the racing itself."
So if Hamlin wins the title, will he congratulate himself for beating his own worst enemy, himself?
Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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