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Will 'The Mayor' be elected to the 2021 Hall of Fame class?

Jeff Birchfield • May 7, 2020 at 6:30 PM

Jeff Burton earned a reputation as one of the smartest and most thoughtful drivers during his time racing in NASCAR’s top series.

The question is whether Burton, nicknamed the “Mayor of NASCAR” for his willingness to talk about the tough issues surrounding the sport, will be elected to the 2021 Hall of Fame class. Following an impressive driving career with 21 Cup Series victories, Burton is now an analyst for NBC Sports. He served on the lead broadcast team until Dale Earnhardt Jr. took over in 2018.

Therein lies one of Burton’s major obstacles.

NASCAR Hall of Fame inductions have been reduced from five per year to three with two modern-era and one for the sport’s pioneers.

Carl Edwards, who took over the No. 99 Roush Racing Ford from Burton, has better overall statistics with 28 Cup Series wins. Earnhardt has five more victories than Burton with 26 wins, including two in the Daytona 500, and he outdistances him in other metrics.

Earnhardt is a 15-time winner of the NMPA Most Popular Driver award and although retired, he is arguably the most recognizable driver to the general public. Burton has more Xfinity Series wins, 27-24, than Earnhardt. However, Earnhardt owns two series championships and Edwards has one series title.

Ricky Rudd also has an advantage of 23 Cup Series wins, two more than Burton. Rudd has other factors like his longevity and retiring as the all-time leader in consecutive Cup Series starts in his favor.

That’s not to diminish Burton’s career, whose 21 victories are the same as 2020 Hall of Famer Bobby Labonte. He falls short with 26 pole positions for Labonte to six for Burton, although Burton has a higher percentage of top-10 finishes.

Burton posted much better numbers than older brother, Ward, who scored five Cup Series victories, including the 2002 Daytona 500.

Jeff Burton won on a variety of oval tracks from the shortest track on the circuit at Martinsville to the superspeedway at Daytona. Among his major victories, he captured two wins in the Coca-Cola 600, one in the Southern 500 and one in the Daytona summer race.

His greatest success came over a five-year stretch from 1997-2001 in the No. 99 Ford. He had 17 victories, three more wins than his teammate and future Hall of Famer Mark Martin during that period. Jeff Gordon and Dale Jarrett were the only drivers to win more races during that stretch.

Burton won in both the Cup and Xfinity Series at Bristol Motor Speedway. He led a 1-2-3 finish by Richard Childress Racing at the 2008 Food City 500, holding off then teammates Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer for the win.

He also won the 1997 Moore’s Snack Foods 250 in the Xfinity Series, driving for longtime car owner Roush. He has 1,005 starts in all three national series, which rank ninth all-time.

His contributions to driver safety and his perspectives about the sport shouldn’t be diminished, and there’s little doubt Burton will be a Hall of Famer at some point. However, it appears unlikely that he will be as part of the 2021 class.

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