Race Weekend Central

NASCAR’s 75 Greatest Drivers: Lower-Series Lifers

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 show legends of NASCAR’s circuits not named the Cup Series some love.

Sam Ard

Sam Ard started driving in the Late Model Sportsman Division before it transitioned to the Budweiser Late Model Sportsman Series in 1982-1983 and the NASCAR Busch Grand National Series (now NASCAR Xfinity Series) in 1984. Ard had a short career there, making just 92 starts in 1982-’84 while in his mid-40s.

But though he had a limited driving career, Ard amassed 22 victories, 67 top fives, 79 top 10s and 24 poles piloting the No. 00 for Howard Thomas. He finished on average in about sixth.

Ard’s also just one of two drivers to earn 10 or more wins in a season in Xfinity, the other being Kyle Busch (achieving the feat four times). Ard’s 10 victories came in 1983 en route to his first of two Xfinity championships.

His specialty was short tracks, as he won five times at Martinsville Speedway, once at Bristol Motor Speedway and twice at both Richmond Raceway and North Wilkesboro Speedway. Additionally, at Hickory Motor Speedway, he earned one win as well as top fives in all but one race there.

One of Ard’s most significant accomplishments was his four-race win streak in ‘83, taking the checkered flags at South Boston Speedway, Martinsville, Orange County Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway. In September 2022, Noah Gragson swept the month, tying Ard’s record of most-consecutive Xfinity victories.

At Rockingham Speedway in 1984, Ard suffered significant head injuries when his car slid in fluid and hit the outside wall. He had to relearn how to walk after the crash.

A few years after the accident, Ard ventured into team ownership in the Xfinity Series, starting in 1987. Jimmy Hensley drove the No. 5 for him the first two years, earning a victory each season. Multiple others competed for Ard, including Jeff Burton and Ward Burton. The former earned his first Xfinity win in the No. 12.

Ard’s final season as an owner was 1992, with Richard Lasater running 27 events.

Ard was eventually diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease; he died in April 2017 at age 78. -Joy Tomlinson

See also
NASCAR's 75 Greatest Drivers: Masters of the Modifieds

Matt Crafton

One of the few remaining lower-series legends these days, Matt Crafton has been around the sport since the turn of the century, running 523 races over 23 seasons in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.

During that span, he’s almost exclusively competed for another Truck staple in ThorSport Racing, aside from a single season, 2004, with Kevin Harvick, Inc.

Crafton is a 15-time winner in Truck Series and has hoisted three championship trophies in his career, winning back-to-back titles in 2013 and 2014, plus his third five years later in 2019.

Despite his multiple season-long triumphs, Crafton has never been one to win a ton of races, averaging less than one win per season over his career. Aside from 2015, when he visited victory lane six times, Crafton has never won more than two races in a single season in his career. In fact, it took him until his
eighth full-time season, 2008, to notch his first victory, doing so by taking the checkered flag at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Rather, consistency has always been the name of the game for Crafton, with a career average finish of 11.3. That consistency aided him in all three of his championship seasons, averaging a top-10 finish in each season he won the title, including 7.7 in 2014 and 7.3 in 2019.

While most with Crafton’s success would attempt to climb NASCAR’s divisional ladder, Crafton has stayed true to the Truck Series, only attempting eight races above it: three NASCAR Cup Series events and five Xfinity two of which came as a replacement driver. Perhaps the most famous of those was the 2015 Daytona 500, filling in for an injured Kyle Busch.

Crafton is back again for 2023, still driving his familiar No. 88. -Josh Calloni

Red Farmer

One of the original members of the Alabama Gang, although not quite as famous as the Allisons or Neil Bonnett, Red Farmer is the most successful member
of the entire group. After all, it sounds like the stuff of myth, but Farmer has won in excess of 700 races during his storied, lengthy career.

A little-publicized record that Farmer will most likely hold forever is for the longevity of NASCAR licensing. Farmer has held a NASCAR license for over 70
consecutive years.

Farmer is a four-time NASCAR champion. His career started in the 1940s, before NASCAR was formed. His first title was in 1956, in the Modified Division, now the Whelen Modified Tour.

Thirteen years later, he started a run of three straight titles in the NASCAR
Late Model Sportsman Division. During those title runs, Farmer won the Most Popular Driver award in each division twice.

Farmer is notoriously known as one tough individual. In the ’60s, he was air boating in the Everglades when he had the tips of three of his fingers chopped off. He was alone, so he started the boat, piloted it to the dock and drove to the hospital with blood spurting from his hand.

Recently, at 88 years old, Farmer survived a difficult battle with COVID-19. He is healthy again and looking forward to another season of racing at the
Talladega Short Track, where he is still winning races. -Mike Neff

Ron Hornaday Jr.

Before the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series dominance by Kyle Busch, Ron Hornaday Jr. reigned supreme.

A veteran of the Truck Series from its inception in 1995, Hornaday’s Hall-of-Fame NASCAR career is based mostly on his legendary accomplishments within the division. With the series record of four championships, Hornaday is one of the greatest Truck drivers in the sport’s history.

His Truck career began with immediate success, as the then-37-year-old won
six races for Dale Earnhardt, Inc. in the inaugural season and came up just short of the title by finishing third in the standings. In 1996, he became the series’ second champion.

The Californian continued his success in the division by winning a second title in
1998 before trading his truck for an Xfinity ride with DEI in 2000. In 2001, he drove for AJ Foyt Racing in his only full-time NASCAR Cup Series season. He returned to the Xfinity Series the following year and earned a combined two wins with Richard
Childress Racing in 2003 and 2004.

It was in 2005 that Hornaday returned to his bread-and-butter Truck Series — this time with Kevin Harvick Inc. He quickly returned to form, earning his third title in 2007 and his fourth in 2009. The latter year, at 51 years old, Hornaday won a remarkable five consecutive races against young racers less than half his age.

He went on to six more races before KHI’s shutdown in 2011.

When Hornaday retired at the end of 2014, he had amassed a total 51 Truck wins – an amount surpassed only by Busch. -Dalton Hopkins

Jack Ingram

Jack Ingram was born in the midst of the Great Depression in 1936 in Asheville, N.C. Perhaps that’s where Ingram’s trademark grit came from.

His career began in 1965 with select starts in NASCAR-sanctioned events at short tracks around Tennessee, Virginia and North Carolina. Ingram broke out in 1972 with his first Sportsman championship. He then rattled off two more in 1973 and ‘74.

In 1982, NASCAR decided to take the Sportsman Series and organize it into the 29-race circuit now known as the Xfinity Series. That inaugural season, Ingram and Sam Ard dueled all season long, with Ingram winning it all. He had seven wins and 23 top-five finishes and 24 top 10s.

Ingram collected his second and final championship in 1985. He might’ve gotten a third in 1986 but was suspended for two races after an incident at New Asheville Speedway involving Ronnie Pressley after Ingram, it was deemed purposefully, crashed into Pressley’s car head on.

The Iron Man retired from racing in 1991. Along with his three titles, he won 31 times in 275 starts in the Xfinity Series.

His overall win total is unknown, though, due to the shoddy record keeping of the Sportsman Series. Historians estimate it to be around 280-300.

Ingram was named to NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers list in 1998 and was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2014. He passed away in 2021 at age 84. -Garrett Cook

See also
NASCAR's 75 Greatest Drivers: Brotherly Love

Jack Sprague

Jack Sprague won three NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series titles before the division’s eventual renaming, and in the weird, cyclical nature of things in this world, NASCAR’s tertiary division is back to being called by its original name.

None of that would’ve mattered to Sprague had it even happened during his nearly 25 years around the sport. He was nothing if not one of the most consistent drivers in any of the three series during his prime, winning Truck titles every other year in 1997, 1999 and 2001, and scoring victory at least three races in each of six straight seasons (with a high of five in two of those).

His points results in his first seven seasons are pretty hard to beat: fifth, second, champion, second, champion, fifth, champion. His five-win 1996 effort also concluded with an insane average finish of 5.3, and a year later he finished in the top 10 in 23 of 26 races – nearly 90% of the time.

It also took him until race nine of 1997 at Texas Motor Speedway – his 53rd career series start – for Sprague to record a DNF.

Sprague eventually made the leap to the Xfinity Series for one full-time season, winning one race and finishing fifth in points. Trying Cup afterward didn’t work out great, but once he went back to trucks it was like he hadn’t missed a beat; Sprague won at least once in each of the next four campaigns.

Sprague came home in the top 10 in more than 64% of his Truck starts, winning 28 of 297 races, averaging a finish of 10.5 and qualifying on the pole 32 times. An insane seven of those came in the 24-race 2001 season, which means Sprague sat on pole almost 30% of the time that year.

He won races up until he was 42 years old, never finishing worse than ninth in points during his full-time Truck years. More impressive, his first full-time season in the series he exceled the most didn’t come until age 30, when most contemporary drivers have been in the Cup Series for five, seven, maybe even 10 or more seasons. -Adam Cheek

Frontstretch‘s 75 Greatest NASCAR Drivers

The GOATs
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

Joy joined Frontstretch in 2019 as a NASCAR DraftKings writer, expanding to news and iRacing coverage in 2020. She's currently an assistant editor and involved with photos, social media and news editing. A California native, Joy was raised as a motorsports fan and started watching NASCAR extensively in 2001. She earned her B.A. degree in Liberal Studies at California State University Bakersfield in 2010.

Josh joined Frontstretch in 2023 and currently covers the ARCA Menards Series. Born and raised in Missouri, Josh has been watching motorsports since 2005. He currently is studying for a Mass Communication degree at Lindenwood University

What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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

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

Adam Cheek joined Frontstretch as a contributing writer in January 2019. A 2020 graduate of VCU, he works as a producer and talent for Audacy Richmond's radio stations. In addition to motorsports journalism, Adam also covered and broadcasted numerous VCU athletics for the campus newspaper and radio station during his four years there. He's been a racing fan since the age of three, inheriting the passion from his grandfather, who raced in amateur events up and down the East Coast in the 1950s.

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