The National Motorsports Press Association has been giving out the Most Popular NASCAR driver award every year since the Sprint Cup Series started back in 1949. Despite the fact that the award has been a major part of the motorsport tradition for decades, it’s still extremely difficult for anyone to predict who will come out on top and win the award each year.
However, thanks to the Internet, it’s now much easier for us to identify who the best NASCAR drivers are, and we’ve used this resource to determine the best NASCAR drivers that have ever participated in this sport.
Below is a list of the best NASCAR drivers which we came up with after searching the Internet for the most legitimate sources of information we could find.
20. Harry Gant
Gant has had a very long and rewarding career by any standard, and he went on to enjoy astronomical success well into his 50s. Not only did Gant win five races in one year during the 1991 season, but he finished fourth overall, and earned his highest standing in 1984 when he finished third. Gant has won a total of 18 times, finished among the top 10 for a total of 208 times throughout his career, and has had 17 pole positions. Not only that, but Gant bagged 21 Nationwide Series wins as well, making him one of the greatest of all times.
19. Mark Martin
While the Sprint Cup has eluded Martin throughout his career, he’s still considered to be one of the best thanks to all the achievements that he’s had, such as winning 49 Nationwide Series cups, 51 pole positions and getting the runner-up spot five times. Not only that, but motorsports have been good to Martin financially as well, as he’s made well over $85 million throughout his career, plus he’s won the highly popular Truck Series seven times and is one of NASCAR top paid drivers.
18. Rusty Wallace
With an impressive record of 55 wins, it’s no surprise that Wallace is among the best NASCAR drivers. His records include winning the Sprint Cup Series in 1989 and having the second most consecutive starts at 697, as well as winning the Bristol Motor Speedway a total of nine times, which is second only to that of Darrell Waltrip who has won it 12 times.
During the 1993 Sprint Cup Series, Wallace led the pack by winning 10 times and getting the runner-up spot, trailing by a mere 80 points behind his long-time friend and rival Dale Earnhardt. The following year, he got back his position as the series leader and bagged 8 additional wins. Wallace was also the trailblazer of his time, as he was considered to be a road course specialist when his peers were mainly oval experts. Prior to his retirement in 2005, Wallace managed to win six road courses and was only recently surpassed by Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon as the road course king.
17. Glen ‘Fireball’ Roberts
While Roberts’ career was relatively short-lived and spanned only 15 years, he sure did make the most out of it. Originally from Daytona Beach in Florida, Roberts has had a total of 106 career starts and has earned 32 pole positions and 33 wins during that time. He finished in the top ten 122 times and bagged the top five spot 93 times. He reached second place in 1950, and out of 16 starts in the Convertible Series, Roberts won the title an impressive four times.
16. Bill Elliott
Bill Elliot is undoubtedly one of the most legendary NASCAR drivers of all time, and is affectionately known by various terms of endearment by colleagues and fans alike, from “Million Dollar Bill” to “Awesome Bill from Dawsonville” and even “Mr. Popular”. To be fair, he probably earned the latter nickname after winning the National Motorsports Press Association’s Most Popular Driver award a record 16 times! And with a career that boasts 55 pole positions and 44 wins, Elliot has definitely earned his fair share of success.
On top of that, Elliot is the first NASCAR driver to win the “Winston Million” an achievement which is acquired by getting the checkered flag in three of the most prestigious races in the sport, namely the Southern 500 in Darlington, The Winston 500 at Talladega and The Daytona 500.
15. Terry Labonte
During the 27 seasons of Labonte’s career, he has won two championships and has been in top pole positions in each of the sport’s three most important tours. This is despite the 12-season dry spell that he experienced between cup titles over the years. Not only that but Labonte has 22 wins under his belt and is known as one of the most popular NASCAR drivers in history.
14. Tim Flock
While Flock comes from racing royalty, his reputation goes beyond his family name. This is due to all the awards that he’s amassed throughout his career, including holding 37 pole positions, winning 39 races and making an impressive 187 starts during his 12-year career.
He has also won the NASCAR cup twice in 1952 and then again in 1955, and holds a winning percentage of 20.86, which is the second-best winning percentage in the sport’s history. Flock will go down in history as the driver to win the only sports-car race to be hosted by NASCAR, an event which took place in 1955. Plus, Flock currently holds the number 18 spot on NASCAR’s list of the drivers with the most all-time wins.
13. Kyle Busch
Ever since his coming up into the sport as a protégé, Busch has made a name for himself as a legend in the making and it’s not hard to see why. With only seven seasons under his belt, Busch has made an impressive 104 wins so far among the sports’ top three tours, and he’s just getting warmed up.
12. Ned Jarrett
While Jarrett’s cup career only lasted 13 years, he has managed to make several accomplishments that include 35 pole positions, 50 series wins, three NASCAR championships and a 14 lap win at the Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway in 1965.
Not only that, but “Gentleman Ned” also managed to win 28 races during the 1964 and 1965 championship seasons, as well as two championships within the Sportsman Divisions during the 1957 and 1958 season.
11. Junior Johnson
Johnson has won 50 cups throughout his career, including the Daytona 500 in 1960, and has held 46 career poles. Johnson will also go down in the sport’s history as the first person to discover superspeedway drafting, and on top of that he is a well-known petrol head and boasts a fabulous car collection.
10. Tony Stewart
Stewart has three championship title wins under his belt, and has even had a win as an owner alongside his Stewart-Haas racing team during the 2011 season. His worst ever finish was when he took the 11th place in one of the 12 Cup competitions that he’s participated in.
He has finished in the top ten 266 times, placed in the top five 162 times, and has won 44 times. Stewart also boasts 13 pole positions and has an impressive winning streak with a ratio of 1 win for every Cup race that he’s competed in, all of which have definitely earned him a spot in the NASCAR top 20 drivers list.
9. Lee Petty
With 427 starts, 18 pole wins, three cup victories and a distinction as the first winner of the legendary Daytona 500, Petty is one of the greatest trail-blazers in the sport. He ranks ninth on the list of all-time championship winners and is known as the first driver in NASCAR history to win the Cup three times in a row. However, very few people know that Petty actually contributed more than just his sportsmanship to NASCAR racing, as he’s also credited with contributions like window nets and rolls bars to the sport.
8. Bobby Allison
Throughout his career, Allison has had 718 starts, 84 career wins, 58 pole positions and became a recognized member of the famed “Alabama Gang.” Not only that, but Allison also bagged the NASCAR Cup during the 1983 season, won the NASCAR Modified Division championship twice during the 1964 and 1965 seasons, and has two NASCAR Modified Special Division championships under his belt.
It doesn’t come as a surprise that he has since been placed in the NASCAR Hall of Fame, an honor which was bestowed upon him in 2011, over two decades after his premature retirement in 1988 due to irreversible injuries.
7. Darrell Waltrip
Known among his fans and colleagues as “DW”, Waltrip is a three-time NASCAR Cup championship winner and has held 59 pole positions as well as 84 career wins, 12 of which were for the Bristol Motor Speedway championship. Waltrip continued his winning streak as a team owner, as his team managed to win NASCAR’s three major national series tournaments, after which he went on to enjoy an equally successful career in television.
6. Cale Yarborough
From 1976 to 1978, Yarborough won three back-to-back championships and earned 68 pole positions. He also earned a spot on the NASCAR Hall of Fame, thanks to achievements like being the series runner-up in three different seasons, including the ‘73, ‘74 and ‘80 tours. Yarborough also boasts 83 NASCAR Cup race wins under his belt, 28 of which he got during his championship winning streak.
5. Jeff Gordon
Born and grown in sunny California, Jeff Gordon has four championship belts under his belt, as well as 85 wins throughout his career. He also ranks third on the all-time win list alongside the great Bobby Allison and is a few wins behind David Pearson and Richard Petty.
He’s the only driver in the sport’s history to win a record of 64 short tracks, and this is in addition to his 9 road course wins and 12 victories on the restrictor plate. Gordon’s winning streak is so impressive that he has literally been victorious in all the tracks featured in the NASCAR calendar, with the exception of the Kentucky and Homestead-Miami Speedway Cups, which only came after his time. Over and above his impressive achievements, Gordon has also been credited with bringing NASCAR racing to the mainstream, which is an incredible feat for sure.
4. Jimmie Johnson
Prior to being spotted by Jeff Gordon and Rick Hendrick back in 2001, Jamie Johnson was basically an unknown driver in NASCAR circles. However, 9 seasons later JJ became the first NASCAR driver to win the championship five times running and was also the first to qualify for every Chase for the Sprint Cup thanks to holding the top five position during his first nine seasons. To top it off, JJ has had 25 pole positions and 55 wins throughout his career.
3. Dale Earnhardt
Popularly known as “The Intimidator”, Earnhardt has won seven championships and seven titles throughout his illustrious career, which was unfortunately cut short just as he was about to bag an eighth championship win in 2001. Up until then, Earnhardt had 136 starts, out of which he won 76 Cups and had 21 Busch Series victories as well. He also did well as an owner as his team Dale Earnhardt Inc. has won two truck titles and was an equipment provider during 4 NNS championships.
2. David Pearson
Pearson’s initiation into the NASCAR Hall of Fame was well earned as he boasts a career that includes 113 pole positions, three cup titles in 1966, ’68 and ‘69, and is the second all-time winner in the sport’s list, trailing behind only Petty as the driver with the most pole positions and victories. At the peak of his career, Pearson bagged 27 race wins, and was the runner-up in 30 different races in just two seasons.
1. Richard Petty
Richard Petty is known as “The King” of NASCAR racing for a reason. He’s an all-time champion and holds the top spot for having the most Cup wins (with 200 victories), the most Cup championships (seven wins), the most Cup poles (123) and the most wins in one season when he earned a record 27 victories during the 1967 season, in which he scored a record 10 consecutive victories. Also, can you believe that Petty had 1,027 starts during his career? Yep, and he won the Daytona 500 a whopping 7 times, making him the record holder for the most Daytona 500 wins of all time.
Best NASCAR Drivers FAQ:
Do NASCAR drivers wear diapers?
Usually, no. but some drivers do actually wear diapers during certain races and/or weather conditions, but it’s really up to the driver. There’s no rule saying that drivers should wear diapers, and besides, there are certain measures that drivers take to avoid having “an accident”, like taking salt tablets to keep them from needing water, to controlling the temperature levels inside the car and even going to the toilet just before they start the race.
That said, some of the more demanding races like the Coke 600 in Charlotte, the Talladega and the Daytona 500 can necessitate the use of diapers.
Are NASCAR drivers athletes?
NASCAR drivers are considered to be athletes due to the intense training that they have to undergo before they get behind the wheel. In fact, research shows that most of these training exercises can increase the heart rate by up to 80% and most NASCAR drivers take their training really seriously.
This includes cardio as well as strength training in order to better handle the extraordinary G loads that they have to face come race day. Being able to maintain an optimal heart rate during high-pressure situations is always very important.
How are NASCAR drivers paid?
NASCAR drivers get paid according to their performance as well as name recognition, and they primarily get their paychecks from team owners. However, drivers can also get paid through product endorsements and they get a huge chunk of the winnings for each race victory that they get.
Why do NASCAR drivers swerve side to side?
The cars driven by NASCAR drivers are usually fitted with specially designed tires that feature rubber compounds that work best under certain temperature conditions. Unlike your normal car tires, these tires adapt their texture to match that of the track surface so that they get a good grip on the track, no matter how high the temperatures get.
However, they don’t really adhere well to the surface during those first few laps and they take a while before they warm up, so the friction created by swerving from side to side is a great way to warm the tires for the race. As a result, race tires tend to wear out much faster than average car tires.