Picking the top five in any sport is never easy. There are usually a couple of no-brainers and then there is a long list where a case can be made for several contenders. Personal allegiances and era bias can sometimes influence decision our choices making it tough to curate a definitive list. However, we gave it our best shot and came up with the top-five NASCAR drivers of all time. Here are the results.
In an era dominated by Richard Petty, David Pearson proved his worth as a formidable adversary. Pearson recorded 105 wins in 574 races including 63 victories where Petty was in second place. He notched an incredible 113 pole positions and finished in the top five on 301 occasions. Only a record of just three championships prevented him from finishing higher up the list. The man they called the “Silver Fox” passed away in 2018 aged 83.
Jimmie Johnson is not quite finished yet but as he heads into the final race season of his career, he has already earned his spot among the greats of NASCAR. In his 20 years of racing at the top level, he won seven championships with 83 race wins from a total of 660 races plus another 229 top-five finishes. There won’t be many backing him at the price of +1400 listed on June 3 with Betway to win the current NASCAR Cup Series championship but his record of one Cup Series title every 2.5 seasons, including five in a row between 2006 and 2010, has earned him well over $150 million and a place in our top five.
Jeff Gordon burst onto the Sprint Cup scene in 1992 and was champion by 1995. He was runner-up the following year then landed back-to-back titles in 1997 and 1998. A fourth title came in 2001 and he only finished outside of the championship top 10 four times in 25 seasons. His 805 races yielded 93 wins and 325 top-five finishes. A pioneer in many ways, Gordon became the first NASCAR driver to break the $100 million career winnings barrier and helped the sport to appeal to a whole new audience with his movie-star looks and magazine appeal. He has made cameo appearances in six Hollywood movies and appeared in countless TV shows, video games and advertising campaigns for global brands such as Chevrolet and Coca-Cola - a true Hall of Famer if ever there was one.
Our No. 2 pick was still competing at the top level when he passed away on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. He had already won a joint-record seven championships and had finished second in 2000 at the age of 49 - a full 20 years after his first championship win. His revival the previous year had been attributed to a surgical procedure which corrected a problem with his neck. Who knows what he could have achieved if he had continued in the sport. His seven championships were achieved throughout 676 races in which he managed 76 wins. His death shocked the sport and prompted many rigorous safety improvements including the HANS device. Dale’s son is also a successful NASCAR driver and has recently been championing females in the sport.
As great as Earnhardt was, he achieves still fell short of Richard Petty’s. The North Carolina racer nicknamed simply “The King” dominated the sport like no other. He notched up an incredible 200 race wins from 1,184 races and secured a record-breaking 555 top-five finishes. No driver has won as many races or claimed as many pole positions (123) in the history of the sport and none have even come close the breaking his records. He won seven championships across 35 seasons and in 1992, became the first motorsport drive ever to be awarded the Medal of Freedom. He is still known for his involvement in motorsport and his charity work.
In most sports, you can argue about who is the greatest ever but in NASCAR, the verdict in unanimous - there can be only one King!