December 14, 1947. A day that has gone down in history for all you NASCAR fans and NASCAR drivers, pit crew, and staff. This is when, per NASCAR.com, “Bill France Sr. organizes a meeting at the Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach, Fla., to discuss the future of stock car racing.” Now we are listing 25 of the best NASCAR drivers of all time.
Bam, just like that, NASCAR was ready to start its engines. Then, on February 15, 1948, NASCAR’s first race revved up “in Daytona Beach at the beach road course. Red Byron wins in a Ford,” according to NASCAR.
Fast forward to 2021 and there’s been a plethora of races, tragic races, races to be remembered, dramatic races, exciting races. There’s been highs, lows, heartache, and exuberance. And through it all, the racing sport has seen its fair share of drivers get behind-the-wheel and do their thing. You know, just casually racing at high speeds turn-after-turn, driving in close proximity to another trying to get to that checkered flag first.
From Jeff Gordon to Richard Petty to Dale Earnhardt to Bubba Wallace, we’ve got you covered for this list of the top 25 NASCAR drivers of all time.
Full disclosure: this list, just like any other “top” list is up for debate. So, feel free to let us know in the comments who your top 25 best NASCAR drivers are. It’s all love, no hate up in here. But, it’s also open for a healthy debate.
Let’s start this off first, though, with some honorable mentions before the top 25.
Had to have the first ever NASCAR winner on this list: Red Byron. He’s the Chicago Bears of NASCAR, (the Bears were the NFL’s first champions according to the Pro Football Hall of Fame).
Bubba Wallace has to also get an honorable mention here. Wallace went through a roller coaster year in 2020, highlighting social justice issues and helping NASCAR have difficult conversations to discuss the state of racism in the US and the sport today. The moment was powerful when drivers and pit crews walked alongside to support him after this FBI investigation of a reported noose found in his garage stall (per NASCAR.com, which eventually found “the noose had been on the garage door at Talladega since October 2019”).
Joey Logano has 27 NASCAR Cup wins. According to Bleacher Report’s Chad Robb, “Randy Lajoie gave him the nickname ‘Sliced Bread,’ because Lajoie thought Logano would be one of the best drivers to ever drive a stock car.”
Ryan Newman has 18 NASCAR Cup wins. But what stands out is his recovery after a scary, horrific crash “at the end of (2020’s) Daytona 500” per NASCAR.com’s Zack Albert. The NASCAR community and so many people were praying for Ryan after the crash and thankfully, he recovered and got back behind-the-wheel, competing in more NASCAR races after the crash.
Now, without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, the top 25 Best NASCAR drivers of all time:
25 – Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
Readers, start your engines! Starting off this list is someone you may all already be familiar with. The casual fan probably knows this name: Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Of course, son of Dale Earnhardt, Junior truly made a name for himself in the sport. Having 26 total NASCAR Cup wins, he also was “selected…a record 15 consecutive times as NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver (by race fans)…(and) has appeared on Harris Interactive’s annual survey of America’s Top 10 Favorite Athletes, frequenting the list with such names as LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Peyton Manning and Derek Jeter” according to his website.
24- Martin Truex Jr.
Martin Truex, Jr., as NASCAR.com states, was “the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series champion” and “has 30 career victories in the series”. Truex, Jr. drives “the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota…(and) is also a two-time NASCAR Xfinity Series champion (2004-05) and has 13 career wins in that division. He won his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race in 2021 on Bristol Motor Speedway’s dirt track” per NASCAR.com.
23- Kurt Busch
Another name that may sound familiar when you think of NASCAR or racing is Kurt Busch. According to his website, “Busch’s driving accomplishments are among the best in the sport. With 27 poles and 31 NCS victories, he has won poles and races on every type of track on the NASCAR schedule.”
22- Brad Keselowski
From Rochester Hills, Michigan (per Sports Management Network), Brad Keselowski, has got off to a good start in his racing career. Per Keselowski’s site, “(t)he 2012 season is when Keselowski turned dreams into reality by winning the first MENCS Championship in Penske Racing history, in just his third full season with the team. The championship gave Roger Penske the only title that was missing on his resume in his nearly 30 years of competing in NASCAR, and it firmly established Keselowski as one of NASCAR’s true superstars.”
21- Matt Kenseth
Ladies and gentlemen, at number-21 on this list is Matt Kenseth. Per Kenseth’s website, “(o)ver the course of his 20-year Cup Series career, Kenseth racked up 39 victories at 19 different tracks and took the top honor in 2003 as the last Winston Cup Series Champion. Kenseth also boasts an International Race of Champions (IROC) title in 2004, and qualified for the Playoffs in 13 of 14 seasons.”
20- Mark Martin
Rounding out the first five on the list is Mark Martin. The driver accomplished a feat similar to what Tom Brady has been doing in the NFL and LeBron James has been doing in the NBA in their sports. Winning no mater what stage of their career they’re in. “The 50-year-old Martin became the third-oldest winner in NASCAR history…at Phoenix International Raceway” in 2009 per the AP via ESPN.
19- Bill Elliott
True to his name, “Elliott became ‘Million Dollar Bill’ after winning the Daytona 500, Winston 500 and Southern 500 in one year” according to the NASCAR Hall of Fame. The driver’s “most prestigious accomplishment came in 1988 when he won the NASCAR premier series championship with six wins, 15 top fives and 22 top 10s in 29 races…(he also won) a record 16 Most Popular Driver Awards” per the Hall of Fame.
18- Buck Baker
From bills to bucks, the buck stops here at number-18. Here’s how the NASCAR Hall of Fame describes Buck’s driving results: “Elzie Wylie ‘Buck’ Baker established himself as one of NASCAR’s early greats, becoming the first driver to win consecutive NASCAR premier series championships. That repeat performance in 1956-1957 was the meat of an incredible four-year span”.
17- Herb Thomas
Forty-eight NASCAR Cup wins. That’s how many Thomas had in his career. The NASCAR Hall of Fame states he “was truly one of NASCAR’s first superstars. He was the first to win two NASCAR premier series championships (1951,1953). He finished second in the points standings in 1952 and 1954 giving the North Carolina veteran top-two championship finishes in four consecutive seasons.”
16- Junior Johnson
The NASCAR Hall of Fame notes that “Robert Glenn ‘Junior’ Johnson is unique in NASCAR history, with tremendous success both as a driver and a car owner…Johnson won 50 races in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series then…(a)s an owner, Johnson never missed a beat; through the years, his drivers won 132 races.”
15- Ned Jarrett
The NASCAR Hall of Fame describes Ned Jarrett as “one of NASCAR’s greatest ambassadors”. Ned’s nickname? Per the Hall of Fame: “’Gentleman Ned’…Jarrett and his wife, Martha, reside in Hickory, N.C. Their family includes son Dale, who won the 1999 NASCAR Sprint Cup title…he is especially remembered for the emotional (broadcast) call of his son Dale’s 1993 Daytona 500 victory”.
14- Lee Petty
Coming in at 54 total NASCAR Cup wins, Lee Petty is a NASCAR Hall of Famer. One of his races was a memorable one in the sport as the NASCAR Hall of Fame states the results took “three whole days—for officials to declare Lee Petty the winner of the first Daytona 500. On the final lap, Petty and Johnny Beauchamp barreled toward the finish line, in what would become one of the closest finishes in the prestigious race’s history.”
13- Rusty Wallace
There’s nothing rusty about this driver on a race track except for his name. According to his website, “Wallace—the 1989 NASCAR Cup Series Champion, 1984 Rookie of the Year and 55-time Cup Series race winner—will go into history as one of NASCAR’s finest drivers. For 16 straight seasons, Wallace won at least one race in NASCAR’s Cup Series, marking the third-longest such streak in history.”
Another name on this list you may recognize. Tony Stewart’s got 49 total NASCAR Cup wins. Per his website, Stewart “is the first and only driver to win championships in stock cars, Indy cars and open-wheel Midget, Sprint and Silver Crown cars. And his three NASCAR Cup Series championships make him one of just 16 drivers who have scored multiple Cup titles.”
11- Denny Hamlin
Fitting for Denny because that’s his number on the circuit. Known for rocking the Jordan gear, he’s also a part of history being co-owner with Michael Jordan for Jordan’s new 23XI racing team with Wallace being the driver (per the AP’s Dan Gelston via NBA.com). Hamlin’s website also lists that “Denny is a court side season ticket holder of the Charlotte Hornets NBA team where he’s become…friends with…Jordan”. Chalk up 44 total NASCAR Cup wins to his name and in the sport, Denny delivers.
10- Kyle Busch
Donning that yellow M&M’s gear, Busch does his thing in “all three NASCAR national series and races full time in the NASCAR Cup Series” according to NASCAR.com, which lists him having 58 NASCAR Cup wins, 99 NASCAR Xfinity Series wins, and 61 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series wins, totalling 218 overall wins spanning across the three series. That’s a lot of wins. That has to earn top 10 recognition.
9- Kevin Harvick
Now getting into the single digits and Harvick ranks the highest of any current NASCAR driver on this list. Harvick’s tied with Busch at 58 wins a piece as they’re both behind Dale Earnhardt on the all-time list. Earnhardt had 76 wins. A recent notable win came, per NASCAR.com, “(i)n NASCAR’s return following a 71-day stoppage due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Kevin Harvick won The Real Heroes 400 at Darlington Raceway.”
8- Cale Yarborough
Chicago Bulls, Golden State Warriors, Miami Heat, Detroit Pistons, LA Lakers, Boston Celtics, and…Cale Yarborough. When you think of dominating the sport over a few years or more, count Yarborough as one who did exactly that in NASCAR. According to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, “(h)is string of three consecutive premier series championships was unprecedented and unmatched…Yarborough won 28 races —nine in 1976, nine in 1977 and 10 in 1978”.
7 – Darrell Waltrip
Let’s take a trip down memory lane with Darrell Waltrip. After a NASCAR career winning 84 races, he decided to join the broadcast booth and chalked up calling “more than 330 races and 1,500 practice and qualifying sessions for FOX” per NASCAR.com. Waltrip’s “best seasons were 1981 and ‘82, when the Owensboro, Kentucky, native won 12 races each season” according to Sportscasting’s John Moriello“.
6 – Bobby Allison
Allison is tied for fourth with Waltrip all-time in NASCAR wins. Per Allison’s website: “Robert Arthur ‘Bobby’ Allison…is not only one of NASCAR’s ’50 Greatest Drivers’, but is one of their most beloved former competitors” and a “NASCAR Hall of Famer”.
5- Jimmie Johnson
Jimmie! Johnson is the recent retiree on this list having retired just last year, in 2020 (per CBS Sports’ Shanna McCarriston). Johnson is “the only driver to win five consecutive Cup Series championships” per McCarriston.
4 – Jeff Gordon
One name that is synonyms with the sport is Jeff Gordon. I grew up having a Gordon NASCAR toy car with that #3 painted on the car. Most casual fans may know of Gordon and he’s got the third-most wins all-time with 93.
3 – Dale Earnhardt
When you think of NASCAR, usually Dale Earnhardt comes to mind. A legend in the sport, NASCAR continues to honor his legacy. Brittanica describes Dale as being “known in racing circles as ‘the Intimidator,’ and the sight of his charging number-3 car, a black Chevrolet Monte Carlo, in the rearview mirror rattled many drivers.” When you raced Earnhardt, you know you were going to be intimidated.
2- David Pearson
Casual fans may not recognize this name. But, he’s got to make this list as the second best driver of all time. Numbers don’t lie and he’s got 105 wins to his name, which is second all-time.
1 – Richard Petty
Two-hundred NASCAR race wins. Enough said. The 200 is tops all-time in NASCAR race wins and it’s not even close. Having 95 more wins than Pearson, who has the second-most, this dude was born to drive, which he did excellently on the race track. Ladies and gents, the GOAT of NASCAR drivers.
There you have it. These are some of the best drivers to start their engines and get those NASCAR race wins. I know, there’s some notable drivers still in the game who have been left off the list. But they’ve got plenty of time to shine, stack those wins up, and make the list to…drumroll please: top 25 NASCAR Drivers of All Time!
Charlie Lapastora is a sports/news multimedia journalist who’s reported, written, produced, anchored, shot video/edited on different NBC, ABC, and FOX shows in multiple TV markets, along with digital & new media companies. Charlie has traveled the country telling national sports, news, feature, and original stories on a cable news network, airing on top 10 TV markets, satellite radio, and digital platforms. He is passionate about his faith, family—being a husband to whom he calls the G.O.A.T. of women—about reppin’ his home state of Michigan and Detroit teams (yes, including the Lions), good coffee, and loves how sports brings people together. He’s traveled the world leading and coaching sports camps and has also worked at the Detroit Pistons and LA Clippers’ NBA teams.
- 1 Let’s start this off first, though, with some honorable mentions before the top 25.
- 2 Red Byron
- 3 Bubba Wallace
- 4 Joey Logano
- 5 Ryan Newman
- 6 Now, without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, the top 25 Best NASCAR drivers of all time:
- 7 25 – Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
- 8 24- Martin Truex Jr.
- 9 23- Kurt Busch
- 10 22- Brad Keselowski
- 11 21- Matt Kenseth
- 12 20- Mark Martin
- 13 19- Bill Elliott
- 14 18- Buck Baker
- 15 17- Herb Thomas
- 16 16- Junior Johnson
- 17 15- Ned Jarrett
- 18 14- Lee Petty
- 19 13- Rusty Wallace
- 20 12-Tony Stewart
- 21 11- Denny Hamlin
- 22 10- Kyle Busch
- 23 9- Kevin Harvick
- 24 8- Cale Yarborough
- 25 7 – Darrell Waltrip
- 26 6 – Bobby Allison
- 27 5- Jimmie Johnson
- 28 4 – Jeff Gordon
- 29 3 – Dale Earnhardt
- 30 2- David Pearson
- 31 1 – Richard Petty
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