Hall of Famer Bill Elliot was voted the sport’s most popular driver 16 times throughout his 37 years of racing. Tallying 44 wins and one championship over his career, he also scored victories at many of NASCAR’s premier tracks. He was known as “Awesome Bill from Dawsonville” for a reason, and has now passed the torch off to his son Chase, who races in the Cup Series today.
Even though he went winless in 2018, Denny Hamlin has already surpassed 30 wins in his career at under 40 years of age. With indisputable talent, Hamlin continues to search for his first NASCAR Championship, but so far he's won two Daytona 500s, including the most recent running of the sport’s Super Bowl in 2019. Hamlin has impressively qualified for every NASCAR playoffs since joining the top series in 2006, making him one of the sport’s most dominant drivers of the past two decades.
Tim Richmond got his professional racing career started in the IndyCar series, and is widely known for being one of the first to make the transition from open wheel racing to NASCAR. He accumulated 13 wins over his eight-year career before his life was tragically cut short due to complications with AIDS. Richmond earned the nickname “Hollywood” due to his character and good looks, and is said to be the main influence for the Days of Thunder character Cole Trickle.
Martin Truex Jr.
Martin Truex Jr. made his way all the way up through the NASCAR series ranks before winning both his and the now-defunct team Furniture Row Racing’s only championship. He’s won 23 times throughout his six-year career, which also includes two Coca Cola 600 victories. With his latest transition to Joe Gibbs Racing, Truex certainly has the equipment to challenge for another title.
Alan Kulwicky is another driver who sadly left us too soon, and was part of the most recent class of Hall of Fame inductees. He was very self-determined and insisted on driving for his own race team for much of his career. His most popular contribution to the sport was his “Polish victory lap,” in which he celebrated winning by driving backwards around the track. Kulwicky’s 1992 championship was the closest margin of victory in NASCAR history, and came just before the tragic plane crash that took his life in 1993.
Davey Allison’s electric nine-year career in NASCAR, which also notably included famed crew chief Larry McReynolds, was packed with a staggering 92 top 10 finishes—which featured 19 wins. Allison nearly won the 1992 Championship, but unfortunately fell victim to a wreck that allowed Alan Kulwicky to barely surpass him. Unbelievably, he too died in 1993 after a helicopter crash went awry. He was recently inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2019.
Kurt Busch accumulated 31 wins and nearly 300 top 10's over 20 years of racing in NASCAR’s top series. He also took home a championship early in his career in 2004. Although he may not have had as good of a career as little brother Kyle already has, he is a Daytona 500 winner and is one of the few drivers to win in the truck, Xfinity, and Cup series. The Buschs come from a racing family, as their father Tom won some NASCAR sanctioned events himself.
Elzie Wylie Baker, more commonly known as “Buck,” is one of the oldest members on this list, and definitely one of the most iconic. Baker became the first back-to-back Cup series champion in NASCAR history, taking home his only two titles in 1956 and 1957. Over 27 years, which spanned from 1949 through 1976, Buck Baker won 46 times and finished in the top 10 a mighty 376 times. A surefire Hall of Fame inductee in 2013, Baker’s contributions stretched beyond his career, as he started his own racing school where Jeff Gordon would drive his first race car.
Many know him as the best driver never to win a championship, but Mark Martin’s career numbers are still something to behold. He won 40 races in the Cup series, but also has the second-most Xfinity wins at 49 and the most IROC championships with 5. Martin raced for 7 different teams in 31 years of racing, and became widely known as one of the sport’s friendliest faces. He’s also credited as one of the first to develop a comprehensive fitness routine to lengthen his career.
Bursting onto the scene with the nickname “best thing since sliced bread,” Joey Logano had high expectations from the start. He also filled that role by becoming the youngest driver to win at the highest level at just 19 years old. Now, at only 29, Logano has already been racing in the top series for more than a decade and has racked up 23 wins and the 2018 championship along the way. Currently racing for team Penske, Logano still has a long time to pad his already-illustrious career—which includes a Daytona 500 victory as well.
1989 Cup series champion Rusty Wallace was always a riot to watch out on the track. His 55 wins featured, 34 of which came on short tracks, making him the winningest driver on those under a mile long. He won at all three of the series’ road courses as well. Wallace also made a name for himself for being known as one of Dale Earnhardt’s biggest rivals. Upon retirement in 2005, he transitioned into a brief career of broadcasting.
Being one of NASCAR’s most charismatic individuals, Joe Weatherly got the nickname the “Clown Prince of Racing” by behaving like a party animal, once even practicing in a Peter Pan suit. Weatherly transitioned from a background in motorcycle racing, but fit in with stock cars well. He picked up 25 wins and two championships in just 12 years on the circuit. Sadly, Weatherly lost his life during a crash in the 1964 season, the year after trying to defend his back-to-back titles. The incident caused NASCAR to make monumental safety changes as a result.
“Mr. Where Did He Come From” is one of the most dominant drivers of the modern NASCAR era. Notably taking over for Dale Earnhardt after his passing in 2001, Harvick won in his third career race three weeks later and never looked back. He’s tallied 47 wins and more than 350 top 10's all time, and took home a championship in 2014. He also has two Xfinity championships, making him one of only five drivers to have titles in the sport’s top two series. He also was the owner of a truck series team that took home two championships as well.
Younger and just a bit more fiery than Kurt, Kyle Busch is the highest of NASCAR’s most recent generation on this list. “Rowdy” has flat-out dominated basically every series he’s ever run, earning a totally mind-boggling 206 wins across all three NASCAR touring series. He’s the only driver in history with 50+ wins in each, and he also has the most all-time wins in Xfinity racing with 95, and in the truck series with 56. At only 34, Busch already has 55 wins and nearly 300 top 10's, not to mention championships in both the Xfinity and Cup series too. With plenty of gas left in the tank, Kyle Busch has the ability to continue flying up the all-time rankings.
One of the 1950s' most successful drivers, Herb Thomas, was a legend to say the least. He won 21% of all races he ever competed in, giving him the highest winning percentage in NASCAR history of drivers with more than 100 starts. The sport’s first two-time champion could have been even more dominant if a wreck hadn’t prematurely ended his career after 10 years. Herb Thomas is also notably the influence for Doc in the animated racing movie Cars.
No doubt “Smoke” ends up on the back half of a top 30 list, as the three-time champion not only took home the first two with Joe Gibbs Racing, but his third as a driver-owner for his own team in 2011 to end Jimmy Johnson’s five-peat, and became the first to do so since Alan Kulwicky. Though he began in the IndyCar series, he won 49 times in Cup racing and had 308 top 10's. He continues to operate from the owner's chair today, where he fields four cars comprised of drivers Kevin Harvick, Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer, and Daniel Suarez.
Tim Flock and his legendary Hudson Hornet race car are without a doubt one of the most recognizable pairings from NASCAR’s early years. His 39 wins and two championships over 13 years was outstanding at the time, and if not for his ugly dispute with NASCAR, he could’ve had much more success. Flock was subsequently banned from the sport after violating equipment rules and favoring a driver’s union, which was considered public retaliation from the sanctioning body. He was also the brother of Ethel Mobley, NASCAR’s second-ever female driver.
Terry Labonte is a sleeper in the all-time rankings, as his 37-year career included two championships that spanned two separate decades in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and the 361 top 10's are mighty solid too. In 17 of those seasons Labonte managed to finish in the top 10 in the standings, and he finished in the top five and top 10 an impressive 25 and 50 percent of times he was on the track respectively. He came from a racing family too, which featured father Justin and younger brother and fellow NASCAR champion Bobby.
A pioneer in NASCAR, father of the great one, and probably the sport’s first superstar, Lee Petty is a giant who needs no introduction. Lee made Petty a household name long before Richard came along, taking home 3 championships in his racing days while cruising to 54 total wins in 16 seasons. He also notably won the very first running of the Daytona 500 in 1959. Lee went on to found Petty Enterprises, which would become the most successful team in all of racing. The team continues to operate today under the King.
Two-time champion “Gentlemen Ned” was another early NASCAR era driver who put up respectable numbers in a short amount of time. The loyal Ford driver raced for 13 seasons and notched 50 wins and 239 top 10's, all after getting his start by buying a $2,000 car from owner Junior Johnson and winning his first two races to pay it off. He then retired when Ford initially left the sport for the first time, transitioning his career to the booth where he would then announce races. He’s also the father of 1999 Cup champion Dale Jarrett.
Cale Yarborough is one of the most prolific drivers in NASCAR history. He made a name for himself by dominating in the 1970s, where he became the first driver in history to win three championships in a row. His 83 wins tie him for sixth-most all time, and his four Daytona 500 victories made him one of NASCAR’s best performers in big races. He won nearly 15% of all races he participated in, and his success notably landed him as only the second driver ever to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated. He also earned himself the Driver of the Year award three times.
Father of Davey, three-time Daytona 500 champion Bobby Allison was the figurehead in a racing family. Not only did he have a championship of his own in 1983 and an impressive 84 wins, but he also participated in arguably NASCAR’s most prominent fight, where he tussled with the aforementioned Cale Yarborough after a wreck in the 1979 Daytona 500. Sadly in 1988, Allison suffered life-threatening injuries and retired from the sport, but his legacy is not lost on anyone, as he was easily named to the sport’s Hall of Fame.
Boogity, boogity, boogity. Tied all time with Bobby Allison, Waltrip’s 84 career wins also came with three championships in the ‘80s, as he became one of the most decorated drivers in the sport’s history. He won most of NASCAR’s crown jewel races, including a record five Coca Cola 600s and a Daytona and Southern 500 as well. The older brother of Michael, Darrell Waltrip also made a name for himself in the broadcast booth, commentating for FOX up until NASCAR’s most recent season in 2019. He’ll always be one of the sport’s most memorable personalities.
Glen "Fireball" Roberts
Fireball Roberts was a dominant figure during NASCAR’s first major transition, as the Florida native and dirt racer was along for the ride as the sport ditched its dirt tacks for paved speedways. He won 33 times in his 15-year stint before becoming head of the driver’s union in 1961. Tragically, Roberts passed away after his car caught fire in the middle of a race in 1964 and he never recovered. Consequently, the event forced NASCAR to instill many safety changes as a result.
Simultaneously the most notorious and well-liked driver in the history of NASCAR, “The Intimidator” and his #3 are forever ingrained in NASCAR history. Amassing 76 wins and a whopping seven championships over the course of his career, Earnhardt gained a following for being one of the most aggressive and unapologetic drivers in the sport’s history. While he intimidated opponents on the track, he was a charismatic individual and will always have one of the strongest legacies of any competitor. Although he tragically lost his life in the 2001 Daytona 500, we saw the racing community live vicariously through his son, Dale Jr., certifying his influence among fans and racers alike.
A humongous influence for decades, Junior Johnson became arguably the sport's most iconic driver-turned-owner in NASCAR history. He won 50 times in 14 years as a driver, but then went on to own teams that included drivers like Cale Yarborough and Darrell Waltrip (who both made this list), and his teams have won the third most races all time. He’s known for popularizing the drafting method as well, but is also the winningest driver without a championship while at the wheel. Today he owns his own line of fried pork skins and country hams.
With 93 wins, 477 top 10's, and four championships over a 25-year career, Jeff Gordon is probably the most well-known personality of 21st century stock car racing. He raced for 23 years in the iconic #24 car for Rick Hendrick, and constantly qualified at the pole position (he did so in 23 straight seasons) and won big races. The “Rainbow Warrior” was also the iron man of NASCAR, starting 797 races in a row up until 2015 when he retired. He's now a management partner and co-owner with Hendrick Motorsports and transitioned to commentary in the booth, where he still currently calls races with FOX.
Seven-time champion Jimmy Johnson needs no introduction. His domination, which included an unprecedented five straight titles from 2006-2010, has been unlike anything else in the modern era. He’s won numerous Daytona 500s, Coca Cola 600s, Brickyards, All-Star Races, and essentially everything else under the sun. At 43 years old and in impeccable shape, it’s not hard to imagine Johnson continuing to dominate well into the next decade. His 83 wins and 360 top 10's qualify him with the sixth most in history, and he’s been known to absolutely dominate at a variety of tracks including Dover and Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“The Silver Fox”, aka David Pearson, was a model for efficiency in the sport of NASCAR. His 105 career wins rank him second all time, but he won on every surface possible—including dirt tracks, short tracks, road courses, and superspeedways. His career may have been even more impressive had he not raced at the same time as the legendary Richard Petty; the two finished first and second an astounding 63 different times. However, Pearson has more than half of Petty’s wins in less than half the starts, making the argument that he was more consistent than the King. However, both held a great respect for each other, considering the counterpart the best competition they faced.
No one will ever argue against “The King” being the best race car driver in NASCAR History. Richard Petty was the first to win seven championships, and his 200 career wins will almost definitely never be surpassed, while his 712 top 10's are also remarkable. He’s statistically the most accomplished driver ever and was inducted into the sport’s inaugural Hall of Fame class. He holds the record for most Daytona 500 victories with seven, and once won a staggering 27 races in the single season of 1967. Son of Lee, Petty continues to own and operate the team under his family name and remains incredibly active in NASCAR today. Without a doubt, Richard Petty will always go down as the most legendary driver in the sport’s history.