The 2023 NASCAR Cup Series is here and it’s bound to be one of the best seasons of all-time due to the many changes, innovations, and evolutions we’re seeing in the sport today. It comes at a pivotal time for NASCAR, with it being their 75th Anniversary Season and 52nd season for the modern-day Cup series.
“I take a lot of pleasure in celebrating that time frame, whether it’s 50 years or 75 years,” said Mike Helton, a longtime NASCAR exec. “When you study the history of our sport, you see all the evolutions that went into the first 50 years and then the last 25 years – the things we’ve done and gotten done.”
NASCAR was founded by Bill France Sr. on February 21, 1948, but the modern-day Cup Series (as we know it today) didn’t start until 1971, when it received its first title sponsor. Today, the series has four sponsors (known as ‘Premier Partners’) – those being Busch Beer, Coca-Cola, GEICO, and Xfinity.
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Honoring Some of the Greatest NASCAR Drivers of All-Time
The NASCAR 75th Anniversary Season began on February 5 with the Busch Light Clash at The Coliseum and the Bluegreen Vacations Duel on February 16, but neither of those were points races. The points race began on February 19 with the coveted Daytona 500 at legendary Daytona International Speedway.
So far, there have been three Cup Series points races and three different winners. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. won the Daytona 500 on Feb. 19, Kyle Busch won the Pala Casino 400 on Feb. 26, and William Byron won the Pennzoil 400 on March 5. The next race is the United Rentals Work United 500 on March 12.
The 2023 season will come to an end on November 5 with the NASCAR Cup Series Championship Race – the final points race is on Aug. 26 and the playoffs start on Sept. 3. With a long way to go, let’s take a moment to celebrate the 75th Anniversary Season with some of the greatest NASCAR drivers of all-time.
15. Buck Baker
Buck Baker had 46 wins, 372 top-tens, and 45 poles in 635 NASCAR Cup Series races in his 26-year career between 1949 and 1976. His first win came in 1952 at the Columbia Speedway and his final win came in the 1964 Southern 500 at the Darlington Raceway. He died on April 14, 2002 at 83 years old.
Baker was a two-time Grand National Series Champion (1956 and 1957) and became the first driver to win back-to-back titles – he also led the series in wins and poles in each of those seasons. He was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1998 and the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2013.
14. Ned Jarrett
Ned Jarrett retired with 50 wins, 239 top-tens, and 35 poles in 352 NASCAR Cup Series races during his 13-year career between 1953 and 1966. His first win came in 1959 at Myrtle Beach Speedway and his final win came at the 1965 Tidewater 300 at Dog Track Speedway. He was known for his calm demeanor.
Jarrett was a two-time Grand National Series champion (1961 and 1965) and led the series in total wins twice in his career (1964 and 1965). He has also been inducted into more than 10 different Hall of Fames, including the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2011 and the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1997.
13. Rusty Wallace
Rusty Wallace retired with 55 wins, 349 top-ten finishes, and 36 poles in 706 NASCAR Cup Series races during his 25-year career between 1980 and 2005. His first win came at the 1986 Valleydale 500 in Bristol, TN and the final win of his career came at the 2004 Advance Auto Parts 500 in Martinsville, VA.
Wallace is a one-time Winston Cup Series Champion (1989), but he led the Winston Cup Series in wins four times (1988, 1989, 1993, 1994) – he also led the series in poles in 2000. 9 of his wins came at Bristol and he has a record 6 Food City 500 wins. He was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2013.
12. Kevin Harvick
Kevin Harvick has 60 wins, 432 top-tens, and 31 poles in 792 NASCAR Cup Series races in his 22-year career (and counting) – he made his debut in 2001. His first win was the 2001 Cracker Barrel Old Country Store 500 in Atlanta and his most recent win was the 2022 Federated Auto Parts 400 in Richmond.
Harvick is a one-time NASCAR Cup Series Champion (2014) and was the regular season champion in 2020 – he also won the Busch Series Championship (Xfinity Series) in 2001 and 2006. He’s the King of Phoenix International Raceway, holding an all-time record with nine career wins at the famous raceway.
11. Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart retired with 49 wins, 308 top-ten finishes, and 15 poles in 618 NASCAR Cup Series races during his 18-year career between 1999 and 2016. His first win came at the 1999 Exide NASCAR Select Batteries 400 in Richmond and his last win came at the 2016 Toyota/Save Mart 350 in Sonoma.
Stewart was a 3-time NASCAR Cup Series Champion (2002, 2005, 2011) and won a fourth championship as an owner in 2014. He was named the 1999 Winston Cup Rookie of the Year, was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2020, and won a number of championships in other popular racing leagues.
10. Lee Petty
Lee Petty retired with 54 wins, 332 top-ten finishes, and 18 poles in 427 NASCAR Cup Series races during his 16-year career between 1949 and 1964 – his first win came in 1949 and his final win came in 1961. He also had two wins in and 21 top-ten finishes in 28 NASCAR Convertible Division races.
Petty was a three-time Grand National Champion (1954, 1958, and 1959) and a one-time Daytona 500 winner – the first ever Daytona 500 race. He was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1990, the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2011, and is a member of the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame.
9. Kyle Busch
Kyle Busch currently has 61 wins, 356 top-ten finishes, and 32 poles in 642 NASCAR Cup Series races during his 20-year career, which began in 2004. His first win came at the 2005 Sony HD 500 and his most recent win came at the 2023 Pala Casino 400. He has at least one win in every season since 2005.
Busch is a two-time NASCAR Cup Series Champion (2015, 2019), two-time Cup Series regular season champion (2018, 2019), 2009 Xfinity Series Champion (2009), and holds the all-time record for Xfinity Series wins (102) and Craftsman Truck Series wins (63). He won two ESPY Awards for Best Driver.
8. Bobby Allison
Bobby Allison retired with 85 wins, 446 top-ten finishes, and 59 poles in 718 NASCAR Cup Series races during his 25-year career between 1961 and 1988. His first win came at the 1988 Miller High Life 500 and the final win of his career came at the 1988 Daytona 500. He also won two career Xfinity Series races.
Allison is a one-time Winston Cup Series Champion (1983), but won the Daytona 500 three times (1978, 1982, and 1988) and the Winston 500 three times (1979, 1981, 1986). He was later inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1992 and most recently the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2011.
7. Darrell Waltrip
Darrell Waltrip retired with 84 wins, 390 top-ten finishes, and 59 poles in 809 NASCAR Cup Series races during his 29-year career between 1972 and 2000. His first win came at the 1975 Music City USA 420 and his final win came at the 1992 Southern 500 – he also has 13 wins in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
Waltrip was a three-time Winston Cup Series Champion (1981, 1982, 1985), one-time Daytona 500 winner (1989), and a five-time Coca-Cola 600 winner (1978, 1979, 1985, 1988, and 1989). He was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2003 and NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2012.
6. Cale Yarborough
Cale Yarborough retired with 83 wins, 319 top-ten finishes, and 69 poles in 560 NASCAR Cup Series races during his 31-year career between 1957 and 1988. His first race came in 1965 in Valdosta and the final win of his career came at the 1985 Miller High Life 500. He also competed in the IndyCar Series.
Yarborough was a three-time Winston Cup Series Champion (1976, 1977, and 1978) and is just one of two NASCAR drivers to win a championship in three consecutive seasons. He’s a four-time Daytona 500 winner and five-time Southern 500 winner. He was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2012.
5. Jeff Gordon
Jeff Gordon retired with 93 wins, 477 top-ten finishes, and 81 poles in 805 NASCAR Cup Series races during his 25-year career between 1992 and 2016. His first win came at the 1994 Coca-Cola 600 and his final win came at the 2015 Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500. He also had five Xfinity Series wins.
Gordon was a 4-time Winston Cup Series Champion (1995, 1997, 1998, and 2001), one-time Winston Cup Rookie of the Year, 3-time Daytona 500 winner, 3-time Coca-Cola 600 winner, 5-time Brickyard 400 winner, and 6-time Southern 500 winner. He was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2019.
4. David Pearson
David Pearson retired with 105 wins, 366 top-ten finishes, and 113 poles in 574 NASCAR Cup Series races during his 27-year career between 1960 and 1986. His first win came at the 1961 World 600 and his final win came at the 1980 CRC Chemicals Rebel 500. He also had one win in the Xfinity Series.
Pearson was a three-time Grand National Series Champion (1966, 1968, and 1969), one-time Daytona 500 winner (1976), three-time Southern 500 winner, three-time World 600 winner, three-time Winston 500 winner, and one-time Triple Crown winner. He was later inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2011.
3. Dale Earnhardt Sr.
Dale Earnhardt Sr. ended his career with 76 wins, 428 top-ten finishes, and 22 poles in 676 NASCAR Cup Series races during his 27-year career between 1975 and 2001. His first win came at the 1979 Southeastern 500 in Bristol and the final win of his career came at the 2000 Winston 500 in Talladega.
Earnhardt Sr. was a seven-time Winston Cup Series Champion (1980, 1986, 1987, 1990, 1991, 1993, and 1994) and led the Winston Cup in wins twice (1987 and 1990). He also had 21 wins, 75 top-ten finishes, and 7 poles in the Xfinity Series and was later inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2010.
2. Jimmie Johnson
Jimmie Johnson currently has 83 wins, 374 top-ten finishes, and 36 poles in 687 NASCAR Cup Series races during his 20-year career, which began in 2001. His first win came at the 2002 NAPAAuto Parts 500 and his last win came at the 2017 AAA 400 Drive for Austin. He also has one win in the Xfinity Series.
Johnson is a seven-time NASCAR Cup Series Champion (2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2013, and 2016), making him the only driver to win five consecutive championships – he’s also a two-time Daytona 500 winner (2006, 2013). He was the 2009 APMale Athlete of the Year and is a future Hall Of Famer.
1. Richard Petty
Richard Petty retired with a record 200 wins, 712 top-ten finishes, and 123 poles in 1,184 NASCAR Cup Series races during his 35-year career between 1958 and 1992. His first win came in 1960 at the Southern States Fairgrounds and the final win of his career came at the 1984 Firecracker 400 in Daytona.
Petty is a two-time Grand National Series Champion (1964, 1967), five-time Winston Cup Series Champion (1971, 1972, 1974, 1975, and 1979), and a seven-time Daytona 500 winner. He was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2010 and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1992.
What Does the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series Have in Store for Us?
Through the first three races, we already have five drivers with at least 100 points in the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series. Ross Chastain leads all races with 129 points (one top-5 finish, two top-10 finishes), but Alex Bowman is right on his tail with 126 points (1 pole, 2 top-5 finishes, and three top-10 finishes).
Kevin Harvick (108 points), Daniel Suarez (104 points), and Martin Truex Jr. (102 points) are all off to good starts, while five other drivers have at least 90 points through three races. Of course, the season is still extremely young and we have a lot more NASCAR to ingest before we get to the 2023 playoffs.
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Some of the other NASCAR drivers you’re going to want to keep an eye on as the season continues include Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, and Kyle Busch. Those drivers are primed to stay consistent and make some noise in the playoffs.
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