NASCAR is celebrating its 75th anniversary all throughout the 2023 season.
In 1998, NASCAR had a panel select a list of its 50 greatest drivers for its golden anniversary.
Likewise, we at Frontstretch decided to put together our own list of the 75 greatest NASCAR drivers in honor of this year’s milestone. Seventeen of our writers weighed in to pick the final 75, and we’ll be releasing four to seven drivers from that list every weekday for the next three weeks.
Similar to the one in 1998, this list is not a ranking of the top-75 drivers. Instead, we’ve broken the list down into categories, with a new category released each day (see the full list below). Within those categories, the drivers are listed in alphabetical order.
Today, we tackle the Legends.
Three-time Daytona 500 winner, 1983 NASCAR Cup Series champion and founding member of the Alabama Gang, Bobby Allison is a shoo-in for any list of NASCAR’s greatest drivers. His Hall-of-Fame career is an example of the success, longevity, and determination of one of NASCAR’s greatest drivers.
As a young man, Allison’s mom forbade him from racing, so he assumed the name Bob Sunderman at the track. That alias lasted only one race; after finishing well enough to make the local paper, his father told him to change it. If Allison was going to race, he said, he should do it with honor under his own.
By 1965 Allison was in the Cup Series, and by 1966 he’d scored his first victory. He spent much of the decade campaigning for independent owners, driving Chevrolets to occasional wins in seasons dominated by factory-backed Ford and Chrysler teams.
In 1972, Allison won 10 races and 11 poles and led 4,343 laps, Petty was only good enough for eight, three and 2,093 respectively, but claimed the title anyway. The most iconic moment, of both the season and the two legends’ rivalry, was a fender-banging duel in the Wilkes 400. Like he did in the standings, Petty came out just ahead.
But maybe Allison got the last laugh. As other greats aged into semi-retirement and irrelevance, Allison kept stealing headlines and glory well into the 1980s. He became Cup champion for the first time at age 45 and won his final Daytona 500 in 1988, holding off his son Davey to become, at 50, the oldest driver to win the Great American Race.
After suffering head injuries in a crash at Pocono Raceway later that year, he retired with 84 Cup victories.
Well, 84 victories officially, anyway. If you ask Allison, he’ll tell you 85, and for good reason. Due to a NASCAR scoring anomaly from the body’s brief experiment with multi-class racing, the 1969 Myers Brothers 250 at Bowman-Gray Stadium was awarded to Allison as a Grand American division victory while, officially speaking, nobody won the Cup race. -Jack Swansey
Maybe the most well-known story of Ned Jarrett’s racing career was how he really started out in Grand National racing: writing a bad check on Friday, sweeping a Saturday-Sunday doubleheader and then beating the check to the bank on Monday with enough winnings to cover it.
Despite his colorful start, Jarrett was the epitome of the gentleman racecar driver. A fierce competitor, Jarrett was also a fair one, renowned for his clean racing style.
Jarrett competed in only six seasons in which he drove in over 90% of the races, but he finished in the top five in points every year and won two championships. He won 50 races in just 352 starts and is one of just 14 drivers with 50 or more career Cup victories.
Although the Ford stalwart was greatly assisted by a Chrysler boycott in 1965, Jarrett’s second championship-winning season was still extremely impressive. The future NASCAR Hall-of-Famer had a 4.9 average finish and 13 wins in 54 starts, with only 10 races that season not having Jarrett as a top-10 finisher.
Jarrett hung up his helmet after a winless 1966 season and went on to a long and successful careers in promoting and broadcasting races. His tenure in the TV booth was marked as a golden era of NASCAR coverage. The gentleman driver became a gentle, well-spoken broadcaster that was still down to Earth and neighborly enough to sound like an old friend over to watch the race after church on Sunday.
Like his driving, Jarrett was calm and fair to all, with the noted exception of the 1993 Daytona 500. On the final lap, he could not hold back his emotions as he cheered on and celebrated his son Dale Jarrett’s first-ever win in the Great American race. -Michael Finley
On a Sunday afternoon in March 1980 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Rusty Wallace finished second in his Cup debut in a car owned by Roger Penske.
It was a sign of things to come.
The St. Louis native ran his first two full-time seasons for Cliff Stewart in 1984 and 1985 before joining forces with Raymond Beadle in Blue Max Racing’s No. 27 car. The move paid off immediately, as Wallace scored his first two Cup wins in 1986. In five seasons with the team, Wallace scored 18 wins — a number that included the 1990 Coca-Cola 600 — and defeated Dale Earnhardt by 12 points to win the 1989 championship.
Beadle’s team suspended operations after the 1990 season, and the team’s equipment was acquired by none other than Penske for 1991.
Wallace scored 37 wins in the team’s No. 2 car in a 15-year tenure between 1991 and 2005 before retiring; that win total included a 10-victory season in 1993 and an eight-triumph season in 1994. Although Wallace was unable to add to his championship total (with a runner-up finish to Earnhardt in 1993 as his best result), he spent the ’90s as one of Earnhardt’s most formidable rivals and crafted his own legacy as an all-time great driver.
Wallace has the 11th-most wins all time, and much of his legacy was built on NASCAR’s shortest circuits. He scored 25 of his 55 victories on tracks shorter than 1 mile, with nine at Bristol Motor Speedway, seven at Martinsville Speedway, six at Richmond Raceway and three at North Wilkesboro Speedway. In addition to his short-track prowess, Wallace scored six wins on road courses, a number that is tied for the fourth most all time.
Wallace, his performance and his cars have become an instrumental part of NASCAR lore, as Wallace’s 1991-1995 Miller Genuine Draft paint scheme is one of the most famous and recognizable NASCAR liveries of all time. He was a prominent figure in one of NASCAR’s most recognizable eras, and he continued his involvement with the sport after retirement as an announcer and team owner.
Wallace was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame as a driver in 2013. -Stephen Stumpf
Darrell Waltrip started his Cup career in 1972 and ended it in 2000 after just
over 800 starts. He drove for DiGard Racing, Junior Johnson & Associates and Hendrick Motorsports before setting out on his own in 1991. His first victory came at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway in 1975, a fitting place for the Tennessee native.
Waltrip won multiple races and finished in the top five in points each year from 1977-1980 for DiGard, but his switch to Junior Johnson’s team saw him claim his first title in 1981. He won 12 races that season and added on 21 top fives, 25 top 10s and 11 poles. The following year he duplicated the win column on the way to his second-straight championship. Then in 1985, Jaws – a nickname given to him by Cale Yarborough – claimed his third title after three wins, 18 top fives and 21 top 10s.
Waltrip had a knack for short tracks, as he won six times at Richmond Raceway, 10 at North Wilkesboro Speedway, 11 at Martinsville Speedway and 12 at Bristol Motor Speedway. His dominance was displayed in his first several years with Johnson, taking five straight checkered flags at North Wilkesboro and seven consecutive at Bristol.
But one of his biggest achievements was his Daytona 500 victory in 1989 for Hendrick. Waltrip led just 25 laps, but it was all he needed to claim his first and only win at the World Center of Racing.
After his tenure in Cup, Waltrip joined the FOX Sports booth in 2001 and announced his retirement from broadcasting in 2019. He then rejoined the booth in 2022 for one (to-date) last “Boogity, boogity, boogity” at Bristol.
His 84 Cup wins and 13 in the NASCAR Xfinity Series are part of a very successful career for the 2012 Hall of Fame inductee. Yet Waltrip will equally be known for his time in broadcasting – not just for the catchphrase, but also for his knowledge and style after nearly 20 years in the booth. -Joy Tomlinson
1970s NASCAR is a story that can’t be told without three names: Richard Petty, David Pearson and Cale Yarborough.
Hailing from Timmonsville, S.C., Yarborough didn’t have an easy climb to the upper echelon of NASCAR at first, as he made part-time starts with over a dozen teams between 1957 and 1966 before scoring his first Cup win in 1965. He then caught his big break with Wood Brothers Racing, and he scored 13 wins for the team between 1967 and 1970.
After relatively quiet 1971 and 1972 seasons, Yarbrough joined forces with Richard Howard and his No. 11 car in 1973. The team was transferred to Junior Johnson in the middle of 1974, and Yarborough’s results in the No. 11 car were nothing short of legendary. He scored 55 wins between 1973 and 1980, and he finished first or second in points in all but two seasons.
Yarborough reached his peak between 1976 and 1978, as he scored 28 wins and three consecutive Cup championships, a record that stood until Jimmie Johnson won five straight between 2006 and 2010.
Yarborough then concluded his career by running part time for MC Anderson, Harry Rainier and himself in the 1980s. He scored another 14 wins between 1980 and 1985 before retiring after the 1988 season finale at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
In 560 starts, Yarborough scored 83 wins (tied for sixth all time), 255 top fives, 319 top 10s and 69 poles. He had a career winning percentage of 14.8% and was a dominant driver throughout his career, as his 31,556 career laps led is second only to Petty. He also had a decorated history in NASCAR’s most prestigious races with the second-most Daytona 500 victories (four) and the second-most Southern 500 wins (five) of all time.
Without a doubt, Yarborough is one of NASCAR’s 10 greatest drivers, and he set all of these accomplishments despite only running full time for eight seasons. If he had found full-time team stability earlier in the ’60s, there’s no telling how much more he would’ve accomplished on the racetrack. -SS
Frontstretch‘s 75 Greatest NASCAR Drivers
Champions of the 2010s & Beyond
Martin Truex Jr.
The Next Generation
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Masters of the Modifieds
Ron Hornaday Jr.
Gone Too Soon
Stars of the ’60s & ’70s
Stars of the ’80s & ’90s
Stars From 1949-1960
??? (Feb. 9)
Jacks of All Trades
??? (Feb. 10)
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