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That’s got Pearson and Moore, close friends of the 86-year-old Owens, optimistic the cancer-stricken former driver/owner will make it this time.

But the unspoken theory is that Waltrip and Yarborough were left off ballots last year _ and might be again this year _ because voters simply don’t like them. It’s quite possible that’s what happened last October, when rumors of voting blocs spread even before the results were announced.

Even Pearson, in the minutes after he was announced as the leading vote-getter, speculated as to personal feelings being in play.

Cale don’t go anywhere he don’t really have to go. He wants to get paid everywhere he does go, which there ain’t nothing wrong with that,” Pearson said after last year’s vote. “Darrell? How do you know?”

It is fair to call both Waltrip and Yarborough polarizing figures.

Yarborough, who retired as a driver in 1988, essentially walked away from NASCAR after shutting down the team he owned in 1999. He later joined a group that tried, but failed, to launch a rival series to NASCAR.

Whether true or not, there’s an accepted perception that Yarborough will do nothing without collecting an appearance fee, and that’s contributed to his lack of visibility the last decade. He made a rare appearance at the 2008 awards ceremony to honor Jimmie Johnson tying his mark as the only driver to win three consecutive titles. Even though he received a standing ovation, there was snickering as to how much NASCAR had to pay to get Yarborough to New York.

Yarborough has not attended any of the Hall of Fame events to date.

Waltrip, on the other hand, is front and center at NASCAR as an analyst for Fox and Speed. He’s as polarizing today as he was as a driver, and people either love or hate ol’ DW, with no middle ground.

But opinions of his schtick or self-promotion shouldn’t count in Hall of Fame criteria. And since contribution to the sport so obviously was considered in the elections of Allison and Jarrett, then Waltrip’s weekly television work most certainly should be considered.

Only Waltrip, who earned the nickname “Jaws” during a feud with Yarborough, can’t help himself sometimes. He rubbed some voters wrong last year with an outspoken desire to be elected, and though he was composed on the air after his snub last year, it obviously hurt him.

Waltrip emerged from the snub a humbler man _ at least for a while. But because ego and unfiltered opinion often get in his way, he’s used his platform of late to criticize current media coverage of NASCAR, a peculiar position to take considering most of his support for Hall induction comes from the journalists on the panel.

Whether he’s cost himself more votes remains to be seen. But personal feelings for a candidate shouldn’t count come voting time, nor should age or whether the nominee is dead or alive.

Accomplishments and statistics should be the only thing that matters, and that should be more than enough to get Waltrip and Yarborough in.