In honor of NASCAR's 75th season, many outlets are publishing their picks for the 75 greatest drivers in the sport's long history. It's easy to disagree on who belongs on the list and who doesn't, but all of the names listed below have earned their place in the story of NASCAR.
2020 - present
108 starts, 4 wins
Our 75th greatest driver is Christopher Bell, current driver of the #20 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. Bell had a breakout season in 2022, coming two spots from a championship in one of the most competitive seasons in NASCAR history. For that reason and for a bright future ahead, Bell cracks the list after just three full-time seasons.
2017 - present
151 starts, 2 wins
Also making the list from last year's Final Four is Ross Chastain, driver of the #1 Chevrolet for Trackhouse Racing. Chastain has hopped from ride to ride in his career thus far, but set himself apart with a second-place finish in the 2022 points standings. Along with the 'Hail Melon' move that landed him in the Final Four, Chastain has secured himself as a modern great of the NASCAR Cup Series.
1985 - 2017
784 starts, 4 wins
Michael Waltrip didn't win often, but when he did, he made it count. Waltrip is a two-time Daytona 500 winner, and a surprisingly consistent presence across his 32-year career. Waltrip won his first NASCAR race in the 2001 Daytona 500, and saw Victory Lane for the last time in the Daytona Truck Series race in 2011.
1956 - 1969
127 starts, 9 wins
1951 - 1955
129 starts, 13 wins
1994 - 2007
375 starts, 5 wins
Ward Burton's chief career accomplishment was his victory in the 2002 Daytona 500. He was at his best around the turn of the milennium, winning four times between 1998 and 2002 and finishing a career-best 9th in the 1999 standings.
1951 - 1966
216 starts, 17 wins
2011 - present
336 starts, 4 wins
1964 - 1967
103 starts, 14 wins
2005 - 2020
541 starts, 10 wins
2014 - present
256 starts, 7 wins
1966 - 1988
242 starts, 10 wins
2002 - 2021
584 starts, 7 wins
Similar to Michael Waltrip, Jamie McMurray had a knack for the big races. Having won the Daytona 500, Brickyard 400, and Coke Zero Sugar 400, McMurray thrived most when the intensity was on.x
2000 - 2021
725 starts, 18 wins
1973 - 1994
362 starts, 18 wins
1979 - 2011
575 starts, 18 wins
Even with his first Cup Series start coming at age 30, Geoff Bodine has the distinction of racing in five different decades: the 70's, 80's, 90's, 00's, and 10's. He won a dozen and a half races in that span before finally hanging up the helmet for good after the 2011 season. Geoff is also known by his brothers, fellow racers Todd and Brett Bodine.
2o14 - present
270 starts, 7 wins
1950 - 1964
160 starts, 9 wins
1976 - 2009
748 starts, 10 wins
1963 - 1997
128 starts, 7 wins
1985 - 1993
207 starts, 5 wins, 1 championship
1960 - 1973
198 starts, 14 wins
1973 - 1994
474 starts, 18 wins
1987 - 1999
313 starts, 15 wins
1949 - 1957
154 starts, 19 wins
2002 - 2016, 2022
515 starts, 19 wins
Among the best drivers of the 00's decade, Greg Biffle won eleven races from 2005 to 2008. He finished top five in points three times in his career, though he was never quite able to seal a championship for Roush Fenway Racing. Biffle stepped away from Cup Series racing after 2016, only to return for five races in 2022.
1950 - 1971
197 starts, 20 wins
1949 - 1964
264 starts, 21 wins
1949 - 1972
421 starts, 25 wins
1993 - 2014
695 starts, 21 wins
1949 - 1968
184 starts, 17 wins
2004 - 2018
529 starts, 18 wins
1980 - 1987
185 starts, 13 wins
2004 - present
621 starts, 31 wins, 1 championship
1964 - 1988
526 starts, 21 wins, 1 championship
1975 - 2007
906 starts, 23 wins
Once NASCAR's iron man, Ricky Rudd is known for his incredibly raw tenacity. He held the streak for the most consecutive starts until it was broken by Jeff Gordon late in Gordon's own career. Rudd placed top ten in points a staggering 19 times, but was never quite able to secure a Cup Series championship.
1991 - 2016
729 starts, 21 wins, 1 championship
1961 - 1976
308 starts, 37 wins, 1 championship
1984 - 2008
668 starts, 32 wins, 1 championship
1999 - 2017
631 starts, 26 wins
1956 - 1964
233 starts, 28 wins, 1 championship
1959 - 1994
700 starts, 19 wins
1985 - 1993
191 starts, 19 wins
1978 - 2014
890 starts, 22 wins, 2 championships
1998 - 2020
697 starts, 39 wins, 1 championship
2015 - present
257 starts, 18 wins, 1 championship
NASCAR's most popular driver, Chase Elliott entered the Cup Series on a mission to prove he was worthy of carrying on the legacy of his dad. After two full-time seasons without a win, some questioned whether it'd happen. Starting in 2018 Chase proved resoundingly that he was one of Cup's top drivers, and hammered it home with a championship in 2020. By the end of his career, Chase may well usurp the great Bill Elliott on NASCAR's all-time best list.
1951 - 1964
230 starts, 25 wins, 2 championships
1956 - 1972
158 starts, 26 wins
2004 - 2016
445 starts, 28 wins
2013 - present
295 starts, 19 wins, 1 championship
2000 - 2022
776 starts, 34 wins, 1 championship
As many times as Kurt Busch changed race teams, he was able to take almost all of them to Victory Lane. It's hard to think of an accomplishment Busch didn't secure, having won a series championship, Daytona 500, All-Star Race, Coca-Cola 600, and more in a Hall-of-Fame career. It's possible Busch hasn't made his last Cup Series start just yet, but with a major concussion in 2022, his full-time career is almost certainly over.
1981 - 2013
882 starts, 40 wins
1953 - 1966
313 starts, 50 wins
1949 - 1961
178 starts, 39 wins, 2 championships
2008 - present
485 starts, 35 wins, 1 championship
1950 - 1964
206 starts, 33 wins
One of NASCAR's earliest greats, Glen 'Fireball' Roberts was actually nicknamed for his searing fastball. Roberts amassed almost three dozen wins in his career, and likely could've added more had it not been for a life-ending crash in the 1964 World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Roberts is also known to Daytona Beach as a local legend, having been born there in 1929.
1949 - 1976
635 starts, 46 wins, 2 championships
Another pioneer of NASCAR's infancy, Buck Baker collected an incredibly 46 wins between 1952 and 1964. He also picked up back-t0-back championships in 1956 and 1957, with runner-up finishes on either side. Baker won his last race in 1964, but continued on racing until 1976.
2005 - present
614 starts, 48 wins
Often considered one of the best drivers without a series championship, Denny Hamlin could still kick that pesky caveat before things are said and done. Though Hamlin has repeatedly fallen short of the big trophy, he has plenty to boast about in his decade-plus career: three Daytona 500 wins, three Southern 500 wins, and the status of the first rookie to qualify for NASCAR's Chase for the Nextel Cup in 2006. He's also now a team owner, co-founding 23XI Racing with Michael Jordan in 2021.
1975 - 2012
828 starts, 44 wins, 1 championship
More than just Chase's father, Bill Elliott is perhaps the most popular driver in NASCAR history. He was voted the fans' favorite driver 16 times in his career, the most of any driver in history. But don't let the popularity distract you from Elliott's legendary accomplishments: a series championship, two Daytona 500 wins, three Southern 500 wins, and the fastest lap in the history of NASCAR racing. Elliott is known as 'Awesome Bill from Dawsonville' for a reason: he's the most remarkable athlete ever to emerge from his Georgia hometown.
1980 - 2005
706 starts, 55 wins, 1 championship
A diverse talent with stellar longevity, Rusty Wallace provided a potent foil for Dale Earnhardt Sr. in the 90's and 00's. He won an amazing 55 races, including almost every one of NASCAR's Crown Jewel events. Wallace was especially dangerous on short tracks; his nine Bristol wins and seven Martinsville wins often shut out even the likes of Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon. Though Wallace retired in 2005, he's often said he feels he still had another good season or two left in the tank.
2008 - present
507 starts, 31 wins, 2 championships
After an underwhelming stint at Joe Gibbs Racing, some suspected one of the most hyped prospects in NASCAR history wouldn't pan out after all. As it would turn out, they were wrong. Joey Logano became an entirely different driver after arriving at Team Penske in 2013, becoming a perennial championship favorite and one of the most aggressive drivers on the racetrack. Though Logano rubbed some competitors wrong, it's hard to argue with the results: two championships by his age 33 season, a Daytona 500, an All-Star Race, and the honor of being the youngest winner in both Cup Series and Xfinity Series history.
1949 - 1964
427 starts, 54 wins, 3 championships
The tremendous accomplishments of Richard Petty sometimes distract from just how dominant father Lee Petty was in NASCAR's first 15 years. Petty won the inaugural Daytona 500 in 1959, three championships in ten years, and the distinction of NASCAR's first major all-time wins leader. As fate would have it, that last honor would stay in the Petty family like a timeless heirloom
1949 - 1962
229 starts, 48 wins, 2 championships
Herb Thomas is a strong contender for the most underrated driver in NASCAR history. Seldom mentioned in the same breath as Petty, Pearson, and Yarborough, Thomas sports a winning percentage higher than all of them. His 21.05% success rate is the highest of any driver in history with 100 starts or more, outlining the absolute dominance he put down in his relatively brief career. Thomas also holds the distinction of being the first Cup Series driver to win a second championship.
2001 - present
790 starts, 60 wins, 1 championship
It was always going to be impossible for Kevin Harvick to fill the shoes of the man he succeeded: the late Dale Earnhardt Sr. But instead of trying to rise to The Intimidator's legend, Harvick forged one of his own. He wouldn't truly find his stride until joining Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014, leading Harvick to a Cup Series championship and a close pass at one numerous additional times. The sheer longevity of a now-retiring Harvick has ensured him a permanent place among the sport's greats, especially the one whose seat he stepped into so many years ago.
1953 - 1966
352 starts, 50 wins, 2 championships
Though he's just as well-known for his broadcasting career, Ned Jarrett was one of the most dominant drivers in NASCAR's first two decades. His 14.2% win rate is among the best in NASCAR history, and an average finish of 4.9 in 1965 is borderline impossible to replicate. Ned never once ran every race in a single season, but still found himself with two Cup championships and four more top-five points finishes, out of just eight years starting four or more races.
1999 - 2016
618 starts, 49 wins, 3 championships
Open-wheel drivers aren't supposed to succeed in NASCAR. Outside of the odd top-ten run, they almost never do. Tony Stewart is the exception. Stewart won his first championship in just his fourth season of full-time competition, the first of three. Stewart is also renowned for his remarkable adaptability, having won a championship in two different points formats and under three different title sponsors. Stewart excelled at superspeedway racing as much as he did on road courses, proving himself a threat no matter what the track, car, or era he appeared in.
2004 - present
642 starts, 60 wins, 2 championships
The last season Kyle Busch didn't win a race was the one before his rookie season. Even as his equipment has fluctuated in quality and his own temperament has impeded him to various degrees, Kyle Busch has been reliable for, at minimum, one win over the course of a season. At his best, he's a top championship favorite, having taken the title in 2015 and 2018. Busch's new challenge will be to prove his competitive prowess outside the umbrella of Joe Gibbs Racing, as he moves into Richard Childress's iconic #8 car.
1961 - 1988
719 starts, 84 wins, 1 championship
Bobby Allison was really good for a really long time. You may not have been born the first time he won, and been old enough to drink by the last time. His 84 career wins has been outdone by only three drivers, making it all the more shocking he only took home one championship. That achievement came in 1983, when Allison was 45 years old and on the verge of locking up the 'best without a title' title for life. In a family with several defining talents, Allison undoubtedly shone the brightest of them all.
1957 - 1988
560 starts, 83 wins, 3 championships
When Cale Yarborough was at his best, he was almost unbeatable. The first and still one of only two drivers to win three straight championships, Yarborough was capable of shutting out some of the greatest drivers in history. He won a staggering 28 races out of 87 from 1976 to 1978, his three championship years. In 1977, he finished top-five in all but five of the 30 races of the season. And while he had other dominant years across his career (ten wins in 1974 stands out), he'd never truly replicate the lights-out dominance of those three years - and it's arguable no one else has either.
1972 - 2000
809 starts, 84 wins, 3 championships
Though he might've raced a little long past his prime, Darrell Waltrip was incredibly tough to beat in the best years of his career. He won the championship in both 1981 and 1982, winning twelve races each year to boot. His performance at Bristol Motor Speedway was especially significant, having won seven straight races there from 1981 to '84, and twelve overall in his career (both records). He's tied with Bobby Allison for fourth on the all-time wins list, and is known for a decade-plus broadcasting career after he hung up the helmet. All things said, Waltrip was every bit a match to any driver he ever competed against.
2001 - 2020, 2023 - present
686 starts, 83 wins, 7 championships
It's truly defensible to arrange the top five drivers of all time in any order, but there's no questioning who the five are. Jimmie Johnson is the latest of NASCAR's titans, reaching feats of dominance never seen before and unlikely to be seen again. Winning a championship in the latter half of the 00's didn't even feel possible for someone other than Johnson; his championships came to seem like an inevitability.
The prime #48 team operated at a level other top teams only reached with a particularly great showing. His dominance was all-encompassing, historic, and relentless. Five consecutive titles probably won't happen again for centuries, and his record-tying seven series championships occurred in a more competitive era than those of his predecessors. With the legend now emerging from retirement to run part-time in 2023, it's possible he may pass Bobby Allison and Darrell Waltrip for fourth on the all-time wins list. To crown Johnson the greatest ever is more than justifiable.
1960 - 1989
574 starts, 105 wins, 3 championships
If winning percentage is your kind of stat, there's a good chance you hold David Pearson as the greatest of all time. 105 wins out of 574 starts equates to an 18.3% rate, something that simply won't ever happen again. At the absolute pinnacle of Richard Petty's dominance, Pearson was the driver who matched and at times exceeded him.
Most any driver to come after Pearson wouldn't have matched his career win total if they'd doubled him in starts, and only the likes of Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson have come remotely close in the modern era. Petty once said he didn't beat himself up for losing to Pearson, because he lost to the best in the business. If there exists a type of racetrack that Pearson couldn't dominate on, he never found it during his 26-year racing career.
1992 - 2016
805 starts, 93 wins, 3 championships
There are two NASCARs: the one before Jeff Gordon, and the one after. The sport was simply changed when the fluorescent rainbow Hendrick Motorsports car started racing circles around the old guard in the mid-1990's. As much as Dale Earnhardt Sr. liked to joke at the expense of Gordon's demeanor, The Intimidator was hardly less hopeless than the field at stopping the relentless onslaught of the Rainbow Warriors.
Led by crew chief Ray Evernham, Gordon's #24 team broke and redefined countless series records. His 13 wins in a 33-race 1998 season represents a week-in, week-out dominance that hasn't been sniffed in the quarter-decade since. Even as his prime was marred by a back injury, he regularly beat dialed-in versions of Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch for race wins. On multiple occasions he nearly won championships against them. But having bested Earnhardt, Tony Stewart, Mark Martin, and Rusty Wallace at their best, Gordon had nothing left to prove by the time the guard changed from under him.
1975 - 2001
676 starts, 76 wins, 7 championships
The greatness of Dale Earnhardt Sr. isn't adequately explained by his statistics. The Intimidator wasn't just a racer, he was a presence. When competitors saw the black #3 in their mirror, they didn't seek to hold him off so much as to evade his wrath. Dale was no stranger to using his bumper to complete a pass, but for most of his 76 wins he wouldn't have needed to. He simply mastered the field enough to leave the competition in the dust.
When Earnhardt won his record-tying seventh series title, he surprised a lot of people who thought Richard Petty's caliber of dominance was impossible to replicate. It's entirely possible he was on the verge of a career resurgence when he was tragically killed in the 2001 Daytona 500; he had never reached a point where he wasn't competing for wins. No driver has fully embodied the role Earnhardt Sr. filled in the NASCAR Cup Series, and it's hard to imagine anyone ever will.
1958 - 1992
1,184 starts, 200 wins, 7 championships
The driver they call 'The King' didn't get his nickname for nothing. Petty's record 200 career win total is virtually guaranteed to stand for all time, and his seven series championships are matched only by Dale Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson. Where Petty's father Lee Petty was NASCAR's first greatest driver, Richard took the sport to heights previously undreamt of. He dominated against many of the sport's other heroes, holding his own against anyone and everyone he raced.
Beyond just the mountainous numbers, Petty's iconic blue #43 cars became synonymous with NASCAR greatness, having been driven by a series of elite competitors even after The King stepped aside. He also set the tone for ambassadorship to the sport, notoriously staying as long as he physically could to greet fans and sign autographs. His legacy represents an impossible standard, and his leadership was crucial to NASCAR becoming the global presence it is today.
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