NASCAR’s 75 Greatest Drivers: The Goats

NASCAR is celebrating its 75th anniversary throughout the 2023 season.

In 1998, NASCAR had a board select a list of its 50 greatest drivers to celebrate its golden anniversary.

Likewise, we are in expansion We decided to compile our list of the 75 Greatest NASCAR Drivers in honor of this year’s milestone. 17 of our writers participated in the selection of the 75 drivers, and we will release four to seven drivers from that list each weekday for the next three weeks.

Similar to the list in 1998, this list is not a ranking of the top 75 drivers. Instead, we’ve broken the list down into categories, with a new category released each day (see full list below). Within these categories, drivers are listed in alphabetical order.

Let’s start our 75 Greatest List with the goats (the greatest of all time) from NASCAR.

1. Dale Earnhardt

Dale Earnhardt’s father, Ralph, was a legendary competitor on Southern dirt tracks throughout the ’50s and ’60s. Like his father, Dale cut his teeth on the dirt but quickly switched to the powerful and rapidly expanding NASCAR circuit.

Driving for Rod Osterlund, the Kannapolis, NC competitor scored his first NASCAR Cup Series win at Bristol Motor Speedway during his rookie campaign of 1979. He followed it up by winning his first championship in 1980.

Earnhardt enjoyed most of his success with car owner Richard Childress. The duo won six more titles between 1986 and 1994.

In total, Earnhardt has won 76 times in 676 starts, including the 1998 Daytona 500, a race he finally won after 20 attempts.

In 1988, GM Goodwrench replaced Wrangler Jeans as the title sponsor for Earnhardt’s Chevrolet, creating its black No. 3 Chevrolet. During this time, he earned the nicknames The Intimidator, The Man in Black, and Ironhead for his tough, bumbling, take-no-prisoners style of leadership.

Earnhardt was killed on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500 while coasting in an attempt to win his eighth Cup championship. His son Dale Earnhardt Jr. carried on his father’s name and legacy, winning 26 times between 2000 and 2015.

Earnhardt was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame as part of its inaugural class in 2010. -Zach Gillespie

2. Jeff Gordon

1992 Hooters 500.

In what is being talked about as one of the greatest races in NASCAR history, the entourage at the event may have made its debut. A fresh-faced, mustache-wearing mullet kid from California has propelled his bright, rainbow-coloured Chevrolet Lumina into the history books.

Jeff Gordon eventually went from that California kid to a legend in the short span of eight years. He won three championships and 52 races and tied Richard Petty’s single season wins record of 13 in that period.

He was a NASCAR attraction too, battling with Dale Earnhardt in a rivalry that helped sell out racetracks across the country. And the exposure from their rivalry would make both men household names not just in the South, a traditional market for the series, but also in entirely new areas where the sanctioning body could grow.

The new millennium was kind to Gordon at first, winning his fourth championship in 2001. But as in racing, Gordon lost a step in the latter part of the 2000s. He had a strong season in 2007 but won only once between 2008 and 2010.

Wonderboy, as Earnhardt famously called him, experienced a resurgence that few had seen before from 2010 to 2015 as he resumed his winning ways. He’s won 11 times in that time frame, including a thrilling and fitting final victory at Martinsville Speedway in 2015.

Gordon retired fourth on the all-time wins list with 93, and his contributions to the sport found him among the first inductees into the Hall of Fame in 2019.

This was not the end of Gordon’s run. He went on to work at FOX Sports alongside Mike Joy and Darrell Waltrip as a color commentator after his retirement. His natural charisma and knowledge of sports made him a crowd favorite in this regard. He stayed there until 2021, when his longtime car owner Rick Hendrick asked him to come aboard as Vice President of Hendrick Motorsports. Gordon continues in that role as of this writing. Garrett Cook

3. Jimmy Johnson

Jimmy Johnson’s first venture into NASCAR was for Tad and Jody Gescheker in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, driving the No. 59 Kingsford/Matchlite Chevrolet at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park in 1998. He then ran part-time for Herzog Motorsports in 1999 before competing the majority of the races. in 2000 and a full season in 2001. Johnson had one win in ’01 at Chicagoland Speedway.

After getting his feet wet in the Cup Series that same year, the El Cajon, California,
The compatriot began his career full-time with Hendrick Motorsports in 2002. Although he did not win Rookie of the Year, Johnson still had three wins, six top-fives and 21 top-10s—the start of a Hall of Fame-worthy career.

Across 686 starts as of the start of the 2023 season, Johnson has 83 victories, 232 top fives, 374 top 10s and 36 poles. He also won seven titles, including five consecutive titles from 2006-2010. His 2007 championship campaign saw him claim 10 wins – more than ever before – as well as 20 Top 5s and 24 Top 10s.

He’s also a two-time Daytona 500 champion, accomplishing the feat in 2006 and 2013.

In addition, Johnson has taken home the $1 million prize in four All-Star Races: 2003, 2006, 2012, and 2013.

He finished his last full-time season in 2020 with a top five at Phoenix Raceway before moving up to the NTT IndyCar Series in 2021 and 2022. 2022.

After the 2022 IndyCar season, the 47-year-old announced he would rejoin the Cup Series with the Legacy Motor Club. He will serve part-time as a co-owner, starting with the 2023 Daytona 500. – Joey Tomlinson

4. David Pearson

David Pearson was part of an era of NASCAR famous for its seasons stretching well into the 20’s and 30’s—Richard Petty’s 35, Hershel McGriff’s 29 are among the most famous—and The Silver Fox put together 27 seasons of two or more starts, despite never competing on a schedule. full chronological.

But when Pearson was hot, so was he warmHe achieved five seasons of double-digit wins and three championships in the span of four years (1966, 1968, and 1969) while ranking third all-time in winning percentage with . 183. Pearson also led all drivers at the poles during six different seasons.

After entering the world of NASCAR at the comparatively older age of 25 in 1960, Pearson racked up 15 wins in the 1966 season—more than a third of his starts—on his way to his first title. As if that wasn’t enough, his second title came on the heels of 16 wins and a 5.8 average two years later while leading in 30% of the laps he ran.

He finished in the top 5 more than half the time he got to the track, was in the top 10 64% of the time and only led 19% of the laps he raced. He also owns 43 of Wood Brothers Racing’s 99 wins while holding the records for wins on two tracks and poles at two other tracks.

As far as he and Richard Petty sit at the top ranks of NASCAR’s greatest drivers, their duels at the 1974 Firecracker 400 and 1976 Daytona 500 are among the sport’s greatest finishes, with Pearson feigning a blown engine in the former and crashing with Petty in the latter. In case it wasn’t obvious, he won both—managing to reconstruct his malformed 21st in time during the latter for one of his 10 career victories. Adam Chick

5. Richard Petty

The son of three-time NASCAR Champion Lee Petty, Richard Petty’s legendary driving career spanned from 1958 to 1992. He drove primarily for his family’s Petty Enterprises team, and his iconic No. 43 entry became synonymous with victory.

The Level Cross, NC, native has a NASCAR-record 200 victories between 1960 and 1984, 95 more than second on the all-time list. His accolades also include the 1959 Rookie of the Year Award, a record seven Daytona 500 wins, a record seven Cup championships, a record 123 poles, the most career starts, and the most wins ever in a single season ( 27) and the most consecutive. Wins

Among The King’s victories was the 1979 Daytona 500, victorious after leaders Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison crashed on the last lap.

His final win came at the 1984 Firecracker 400, barely edging Yarborough due to his 200th win being recorded by President Ronald Reagan in watching from
Press booth.

For his accomplishments, Petty was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George H. W. Bush, the only NASCAR driver to receive such an honor.

Petty was inducted into the inaugural NASCAR Hall of Fame class in 2010 and is widely considered the greatest driver in NASCAR.

After retiring from driving, Petty shifted his focus to team ownership, serving as a key figure with Petty Enterprises, Richard Petty Motorsports, Petty GMS Racing and now the newly created Legacy Motor Club. ZG

expansionNASCAR’s 75 Greatest Drivers

Dale Earnhardt
Jeff Gordon
Jimmy Johnson
David Pearson
Dale Earnhardt

??? (24 January)

The tenth generation
??? (25 January)

Heroes of the 2000s and beyond
??? (26 January)

next generation
??? (27 January)

??? (30 Jan)

Brotherly love
??? (31 January)

Masters of modifications
??? (February 1)

Bottom chain hoist
??? (2 February)

Exceptional longevity
??? (3 February)

He left early
??? (6 February)

Stars of the sixties and seventies
??? (7 February)

Stars of the eighties and nineties
??? (8 February)

Stars from 1949-1960
??? (9 February)

Cranes of all trades
??? (10 February)

Joy joined Frontstretch in 2019 as a NASCAR DraftKings writer, expanding to news and iRacing coverage in 2020. She currently works as an assistant editor while continuing to write feature articles and daily news. A native of California, Joey grew up as a motorsports fan and began watching NASCAR extensively in 2001. She earned her BA in Liberal Studies from California State University Bakersfield in 2010.

Adam Chick joined Frontstretch as a contributing writer in January 2019. A 2020 graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, he works as a producer and talent for Audacy Richmond radio stations. In addition to motorsports journalism, Adam also covered and broadcast numerous VCU athletics for the campus newspaper and radio station during his four years there. A fan of racing since the age of three, he inherited his passion from his grandfather, who competed in amateur events up and down the East Coast in the 1950s.

Share this article

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *