Race Weekend Central

NASCAR’s 75 Greatest Drivers: The Next Generation

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.

No, today isn’t about NASCAR’s future stars. We’re talking the second- or even third-generation types, the offspring of legends who became legends themselves.

Buddy Baker

Born in Florence, S.C., and son of two-time NASCAR champion Buck Baker, Buddy Baker was known as the Gentle Giant due to his tall frame, broad shoulders and jovial sense of humor.

His career spanned 33 years, going on to win 19 races in NASCAR’s top division.

Baker achieved his greatest success on the sport’s larger tracks, winning four times at Talladega Superspeedway and twice at Daytona International Speedway. He drove the famed silver-and-black No. 28 Gray Ghost for Ranier Racing to a Daytona 500 win when the race’s average speed of 177.602 mph, which remains a race record. That car was crew chiefed by NASCAR Hall of Famer Waddell Wilson.

His 1,099 laps led at Talladega also remain a record for Baker, who got wins at the mammoth Alabama track for two storied car owners: Bud Moore from 1975 to 1976 and Ranier in 1980.

Baker is one of nine drivers to, over the course of his career, win a Daytona 500, the Coca-Cola 600, the Talladega spring race and the Southern 500.

He joined the ranks of driver-owner in the latter part of his career behind the wheel, which came to a close in 1992.

Perhaps most impressive for Baker? His 19 wins at 10 tracks came despite only running every race in a season three times.

Baker remained a fan favorite following his driving career, moving into the broadcast booth for multiple networks and later to SiriusXM. He died in 2015. -Brad Harrison

See also
NASCAR's 75 Greatest Drivers: Champions of the 2010s & Beyond

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

As a son of the NASCAR Cup Series seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt, Dale Earnhardt Jr. had great expectations thrust upon him when he began his NASCAR career.

Regardless, the young Earnhardt impressed early on in his young NASCAR profession when he won back-to-back NASCAR Xfinity Series titles in his first two full-time seasons in 1998 and 1999.

In 2000, he began racing full time in the Cup Series for his father’s race team, Dale Earnhardt, Inc., in what is now an iconic No. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet, earning two wins in his rookie season.

He did not win another race until the sport made its first return to Daytona International Speedway since the tragic death of his father that occurred there in February 2001, making his emotional victory one of the most iconic in NASCAR history.

The North Carolinian went on to earn a combined 26 Cup victories for both his father’s race team and Hendrick Motorsports in his 19-year series career, including two Daytona 500 triumphs. While he never won a Cup title, he placed in the top five in series standings four times, with a highest of third in 2003.

However, what made Earnhardt’s Hall-of-Fame career legendary weren’t just his escapades on the track but also off it. The third-generation racer won NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver Award for 15 consecutive seasons from 2003 until the year he retired in 2017. All the while, Earnhardt’s fame transcended the sport of NASCAR as
he appeared in numerous movies, television shows and music videos.

Today, he remains involved in the sport by co-owning JR Motorsports, a three-time Xfinity championship team and is a broadcast commentator for NBC Sports’ NASCAR coverage, all the while making the occasional Xfinity start. -Dalton Hopkins

Chase Elliott

After the 2015 Cup season, Jeff Gordon retired. An institution in Hendrick Motorsports’ flagship No. 24, Gordon occupied the seat from 1992 to 2015. Whoever was selected to replace the aging legend had enormous shoes to fill.

Rick Hendrick picked the kid who knew a lot about shadows cast and shoes needing filled. His father, Bill Elliott, was a champion of the sport, beloved by hordes of adoring fans, none more so than his hometown of Dawsonville, Ga.

Yet somehow, the son of Awesome Bill would fill those shoes and do so much more in such a short time.

Chase Elliott ran his first full season in NASCAR’s premier series in the famous No. 24. Gone were the colors of Axalta, Gordon’s longtime sponsor, and in its place
was auto parts giant NAPA.

Elliott had won in every seat he had sat in to that point. He was victorious in Bandoleros as a young boy, late models as a teen and, in 2011, he signed the biggest contract of his life.: a developmental deal with Hendrick at the age of 15. He won his very first NASCAR sanctioned race at Iowa Speedway in 2012 in the K&N Pro Series East. An ARCA Menards Series race the next year at Pocono Raceway. Punted Ty Dillon out of the way in dramatic fashion at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park to win in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series in 2013. He won his first Xfinity championship the next season.

Chase was competitive in his first season in Cup in 2016 but failed to notch a win. A pair of heartbreaking losses were highlights of his 2017 season, as he lost the
lead with three to go in that year’s Daytona 500 and was spun late at Martinsville Speedway in the fall while leading.

2018 brought with it a new look for Elliott, as he adopted his father’s famous No. 9, and he notched not just his first career win but also added two more soon after.

2020 is when Elliott truly wrote himself into the history books, though. He was the one driver not named Denny Hamlin or Kevin Harvick to really compete for wins
all season. He triumphed in a must-win situation at Martinsville in clutch fashion, advancing to his first Championship 4 — and once there, carrying Jimmie Johnson’s neon yellow on his No. 9, he won at Phoenix Raceway and clinched the

He’s followed that up with two straight Championship 4 appearances, and unlike the beginning of his Cup career, he’s a threat to win every single week.

Many would argue that Chase hasn’t even reached his prime yet, as he is only 27 years old entering the 2023 season. -Garrett Cook

See also
NASCAR's 75 Greatest Drivers: Generation X

Dale Jarrett

Son of two-time NASCAR champion Ned Jarrett, Dale Jarrett’s Cup career spanned 24 seasons, half of them with Robert Yates Racing.

He cut his teeth in racing at Hickory Motor Speedway and started his first Cup race in 1984. In 1988, he caught his first big break, driving Cale Yarborough’s No. 29 Hardees car.

Following the 1989 season, Jarrett’s sponsorship ran out and he planned to return to the Xfinity Series, driving for his own team. But an injury to Neil Bonnett opened up an opportunity to drive for Wood Brothers Racing in 1990.

In 1991, still driving for the Woods, he scored his first Cup victory, and in 1992 he joined the upstart Joe Gibbs Racing. The following year, Jarrett began to see a new level of success, starting with a Daytona 500 victory over Dale Earnhardt that
became known as the Dale and Dale Show.

A successful 12-year run with Yates began in 1995. He scored a career-high seven wins in 1996. 1999 was a remarkable year for Jarrett, with 29 top 10s in 34 races, an average finish of 6.8, and a series championship.

Following his championship season, Jarrett posted five more seasons
with at least one win, all with Yates.

Jarrett retired following the 2008 season, amassing one title, 32 wins, 163 top fives and 260 top 10s. He is 27th on the all-time Cup wins list.

Following his driving career, he became a mainstay covering races on television, just like his father Ned. In 2014, he was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. -Steve Leffew

Frontstretch‘s 75 Greatest NASCAR Drivers

Dale Earnhardt
Jeff Gordon
Jimmie Johnson
David Pearson
Richard Petty

The Legends
Bobby Allison
Ned Jarrett
Rusty Wallace
Darrell Waltrip
Cale Yarborough

Generation X
Greg Biffle
Carl Edwards
Denny Hamlin
Kasey Kahne
Ryan Newman

Champions of the 2010s & Beyond
Brad Keselowski
Kyle Larson
Joey Logano
Martin Truex Jr.

The Next Generation
Buddy Baker
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Chase Elliott
Dale Jarrett

The Pioneers
Buck Baker
Red Byron
Lee Petty
Herb Thomas
Curtis Turner

Brotherly Love
Kurt Busch
Kyle Busch
Fonty Flock
Tim Flock
Bobby Labonte
Terry Labonte

Masters of the Modifieds
Jerry Cook
Richie Evans
Ray Hendrick
Mike Stefanik

Lower-Series Lifers
Sam Ard
Matt Crafton
Red Farmer
Ron Hornaday Jr.
Jack Ingram
Jack Sprague

Exceptional Longevity
Bill Elliott
Harry Gant
Kevin Harvick
Matt Kenseth
Mark Martin
Ricky Rudd

Gone Too Soon
Davey Allison
Neil Bonnett
Alan Kulwicki
Tiny Lund
Tim Richmond
Fireball Roberts
Joe Weatherly

Stars of the ’60s & ’70s
Bobby Isaac
Fred Lorenzen
Benny Parsons
Jim Paschal
LeeRoy Yarbrough

Stars of the ’80s & ’90s
Geoff Bodine
Jeff Burton
Ernie Irvan
Sterling Marlin

Stars From 1949-1960
??? (Feb. 9)

Jacks of All Trades
??? (Feb. 10)

About the author

Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021. Currently, he is the lead writer for the weekly Thinkin' Out Loud column and one of our lead reporters. Beforehand, he wrote for IMSA shortly after graduating from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.

Follow Dalton on Twitter @PitLaneLT

Garrett joined Frontstretch as a news writer in 2023, and became a fantasy racing and betting writer in 2024. Hailing from the heart of coal country in southern West Virginia,  he's a married father of three and currently enrolled in the Physical Therapy Assistant Program at New River Community Technical College in Beaver, WV. He has been a racing fan since 1998, primarily watching NASCAR, but branching out to F1 and IndyCar as his love for motorsports has grown.

Follow on X @Cook_g9

Steve Leffew joined Frontstretch in 2023, and covers the Xfinity Series. He resides in Wisconsin and has been a NASCAR fan as long as he can remember. He has served honorably in the United States Air Force and works during the week as a Real Estate Lender.

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