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.
Our final segment discusses drivers who weren’t just known for their racing ability.
The four-time Indianapolis 500 champion and 1967 winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans is best known for his exploits outside of NASCAR, but the driver known as Super Tex made 128 NASCAR Cup Series starts over a staggering 30-year career.
AJ Foyt won seven times in the Cup Series, including the 1972 Daytona 500, despite never once competing full time for the championship.
Seven wins isn’t all that impressive on its own, but Foyt’s influence on stock car racing — and racing as a whole — ensures his spot on the list.
From the mid-1960s onward, Foyt, along with Mario Andretti, Dan Gurney and Mark Donohue, had an important role in legitimizing Cup racing as a series in which the world’s greatest drivers competed. It may be hard to imagine now, but at the time the NTT IndyCar Series was the behemoth of American motorsports, and NASCAR a regional curiosity. Having Foyt on the roster went a long way toward building the prestige of the division in its most critical era. When the Daytona 500 was first televised in 1979, Foyt was one of the big draws.
And he almost won it. As he tells it, Foyt was running third on the final lap when leaders Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough came together, but as he was more familiar with USAC rules, he lifted when he saw the yellow flag. Richard Petty and Darrell Waltrip blew right past him as they raced full throttle to the waving yellow flag.
Foyt’s final NASCAR start came in the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994, more than 30 years after he made his debut. He finished 30th, four laps down. -Jack Swansey
Using techniques learned by outrunning the revenuers, the towering 6-ft., 5-in. Johnson made his NASCAR debut in 1953, but it was not until 1955 when he found his first win.
Many victories came quickly after, with Johnson amassing a total of 50 before his retirement in 1965. His pinnacle win came in the 1960 Daytona 500 while driving a Chevrolet for John Masoni. But Johnson’s specialty was the small dirt tracks in the South.
Throughout his driving career, Johnson is credited with many innovations that have shaped the sport today, including his discovery of drafting, a technique that uses a slipstream effect to pass other cars on superspeedways.
After hanging up his helmet, Junior Johnson & Associates became one of NASCAR’s most formidable teams. As a car owner, Johnson’s stable of drivers included 11 future Hall of Famers. Their accomplishments included 132 race wins between 1965 and 1994. Cale Yarborough and Darrell Waltrip each gave Johnson three championships.
Johnson was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame as apart of its inaugural class in 2010. Johnson passed away in 2019 at age 88. -Zach Gillispie
Union, S.C.’s Cotton Owens was a member of the US Navy and toured until 1946. After that, Owens went modified racing, earning the nickname King of the Modifieds.
Owens won over 200 features, including 19 wins in 23 starts in 1949. In 1950 and 1951 Owens won 24 straight features, a feat he also repeated later in his career.
Owens would earn three modified championships in 1950, ’53 and ’54.
Owens ran his first NASCAR Cup Series in 1950 and earned his first win at the Daytona Beach road course in 1957. He finished second to Lee Petty in the championship during NASCAR’s first season in 1959.
In 1964, Owens won his final race at Richmond Raceway.
In 1971, the team known as Cotton Owens Garage fielded a Plymouth Roadrunner for Pete Hamilton. Hamilton scored a win in the 1971 Daytona 500 qualifiers.
In all, Owens would total 41 wins as a driver/owner.
Owens was inducted into the South Carolina Athletic Hall Of Fame in 2009, the International Motorsports Hall Of Fame in 2008, and in 2013, was inducted into the NASCAR Hall Of Fame. -Chris Skala
A jack of all trades when it comes to the world of motorsports, Tony Stewart is seen by many as a modern-day AJ Foyt. Whether it be dirt racing, open wheel or even sports cars, Smoke has done, and won, it all.
However, no part of his racing career has seen more success than that of his NASCAR exploits. When he first tackled NASCAR Cup Series racing in 1999, Stewart was already a USAC Triple Crown and NTT IndyCar Series champion.
His success in the lighter, faster open wheel cars of open wheel racing transferred over wonderfully into the heavier, louder V8s of stock car racing. During his rookie season with Joe Gibbs Racing, Stewart earned three wins and placed fourth in the championship standings, a prelude to what would be a Hall of Fame NASCAR career.
Smoke’s fight to the very top didn’t take long. In 2002, he earned his first career Cup championship and followed it with another title in 2005.
While both titles were with JGR, Smoke took on a whole new challenge in 2009 when he began both driver and team owner roles with his own team, Stewart-Haas Racing. Donning his hero Foyt’s iconic No. 14, Smoke went on to win a third Cup title with his own team just three years later in 2011, when he beat Carl Edwards in a nail-biting championship finale that was decided with a points tiebreaker.
In 2014, SHR earned a second championship with Kevin Harvick.
At the end of 2016, Stewart retired from NASCAR racing with a total of 49 Cup wins and three championships and began his team ownership role from outside of the car.
Today, Stewart still co-owns SHR and is the founder of the Camping World SRX Series. -Dalton Hopkins
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
Jacks of All Trades
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