The 2023 NASCAR Hall of Fame class is full of champions, with Matt Kenseth, crew chief Kirk Shelmerdine and Hershel McGriff all set to be commemorated next year.
The inductees were voted on and announced Wednesday in Charlotte, North Carolina. Additionally, Mike Helton was selected as the Landmark Award winner for Outside Contributions to NASCAR.
A first-year nominee, Kenseth was a model of consistency on his way to winning the 2003 Cup Series championship driving for Jack Roush. Kenseth won early in the season at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and then put up 25 top-10 finishes to clinch the championship with a week to spare and a final margin of 90 points over Jimmie Johnson.
The 2000 Cup Series rookie of the year, Kenseth ran 697 races at the Cup Series level with 39 career wins. Among those wins are crown jewel races such as two in the Daytona 500 (2009, ’12), the Coca-Cola 600 and the Southern 500.
Kenseth was also successful in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, where he won 29 races in 288 starts.
“It’s not something that I really thought about a whole lot until the last few days and then I really did think about it a lot,” Kenseth said. “I was outside doing some yard work and came in, and (wife) Katie had it live on her phone, so I got to watch. I’m just really, really grateful for everything this sport has done for me and my family.
“It’s pretty cool to be even on that list, much less be elected into the Hall of Fame. It’s just a really huge honor.”
Shelmerdine was the crew chief who guided Dale Earnhardt to more than half of his championships, capturing the title in 1986-87 and again in 1990-91. The duo won 44 races together, including three Southern 500s and two Coca-Cola 600s. During the 1987 season, Shelmerdine and Earnhardt won 11 races, including four in a row and six of seven.
Shelmerdine won 46 races as a Cup Series crew chief with 15 pole awards. Ricky Rudd was the driver Shelmerdine won his first two races in 1983.
“I’m still kind of in shock,” Shelmerdine said. “I’ve been on the ballot before and I figured there is a whole lot of other deserving names in that group as well, and yeah, I just figured it would be a few more years before it happened. It’s great, and it sure means a lot to me.”
McGriff became a legend in what was once known as the Winston West Series, where he captured the championship in 1986. Having started his driving career at the age of 22, McGriff last competed in NASCAR in 2018 at the age of 90.
Named one of NASCAR’s 50 Great Drivers in 1998, McGriff is credited with having the longest NASCAR career. In 28 seasons, he earned four Cup Series wins. He was also the recipient of the Bill France Award of Excellence in 1991.
McGriff is on the Kyle Petty Charity Ride this week. He heard his phone go off with a text and a call, but could not immediately answer. When he was able to look, he shared the honor with the other riders and his wife, who came running over.
“I’m really happy,” a choked-up McGriff said.
Kenseth received 69% of the vote and Shelmerdine 52% on the Modern Era ballot. McGriff received 31% of the vote on the Pioneer ballot.
Helton is one of the most recognizable faces in NASCAR and guided the sport through some of its darkest times, like the death of Dale Earnhardt and Sept. 11. The third president in NASCAR history, Helton was the first person outside the France family to hold the position.
Helton began his career in 1980 and held various jobs, including as a track operator at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway. He was also one of the influences in the NASCAR R&D Center as someone who continually pushed to increase safety in the sport. Today, Helton serves as a senior adviser to NASCAR and as a member of the board of directors for the NASCAR Foundation.
The induction ceremony will take place January 20, 2023.