Since its inception in 1949, stock car racing has been a fan favorite throughout a large portion of the Southeast. As the sport came of age with television contracts in the 1980s, the fan base expanded into much of the rest of the country.
Millions of Americans show up at race tracks on a weekly basis between February and November to watch 43 of the best drivers in the world. The races are often close and the chase for the championship usually comes down to the final race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Here is a list the looks at ten of the top NASCAR drivers of all time.
10. Rusty WallaceNumber 10 on this list of the top NASCAR drivers ever is best known as #2. Rusty Wallace drove the Miller Ford/Dodge for much of his last 15 years on the circuit. While there are drivers not on this list that won more titles, none won more races.
Wallace won the 1989 title while driving for Blue Max Racing, but it could be argued that his best seasons were 1993 and 1994. In these two seasons, Wallace won 10 and 8 races, respectively and finished second and third in the standings. Overall, Rusty won five or more races in five seasons. His last win came in 2004, and he finished up his career in 2005 when he finished 8th in the final season standings.
9. Tony StewartNumber nine on the list of the best NASCAR drivers of all time is three-time champ Tony Stewart. The driver of the #14 Chevy had a secure spot among the all-time elite drivers on the circuit before winning a third title in 2011.
Stewart began his career in style in 1999 by winning the outside pole for the Daytona 500 in his first race. He set a rookie record for wins with three that year. His first title came in 2002 in the Home Depot Pontiac. He then followed this up with his second title in 2005 with the Home Depot Chevy.
His greatest achievement was probably his third title in 2011, in which he entered the Chase for the Championship without a win, yet proceeded to win five of the next ten races to win a tiebreaker over Carl Edwards. To add to the impressive nature of this title, Stewart was the first owner-driver to win the title since Alan Kulwicki in 1992.
8. Darrell WaltripThree-time champ Darrell Waltrip ranks number eight on this list of the greatest drivers ever. Waltrip won his three titles over a five-year period in 1981, 1982, and 1985. During his first two championship seasons, Waltrip won 12 races in each season.
Waltrip is currently tied for fourth on the all-time wins list with 84. He is probably better known by current fans as an announcer, and kids remember Waltrip as the voice of Darrell Cartrip in the popular Cars movies.
7. Cale YarboroughCale Yarborough won three straight Winston Cup titles between 1976 and 1978. He is currently number six on the all-time wins list with 83. His record might be even more impressive if he had had more full-time seasons on the circuit. Yarborough drove every race in only seven of the 31 season in which he competed at the top level of NASCAR.
Yarborough twice won 10 races in a season, and battled David Pearson and Richard Petty during the 1960s and 1970s. He retired from competitive racing in 1988. Yarborough was quite the talented driver and competed in the Indy 500 on a few occasions in the 1960s and 1970s.
6. Bobby AllisonThe sixth-best driver listed on this discussion of the top ten NASCAR drivers ever is Bobby Allison. Although he won only one title in his illustrious career, Allison won 84 races. This total ties him for fourth on the all-time wins list with Darrell Waltrip.
Allison won the title at the age of 45 in 1983. He won 10 or more races in both 1971 and 1972. His final season was 1988, and his last victory came that year in the Daytona 500.
5. David PearsonSitting at number 2 in the all-time wins list, David Pearson won three titles in a four-year stretch between 1966 and 1969. Pearson won 105 races between 1960 and 1986 in spite of never competing in a full season. He missed between one and seven races in each of his title runs.
David Pearson was nicknamed the Silver Fox and won 10 or more races in five separate seasons, including each of his title seasons. His best season was 1968 with 16 wins and 36 top fives in 48 races. He finished in the top ten in his final race at Michigan in 1986.
4. Jeff GordonJeff Gordon is currently third in the number of wins all time with 87 (as of the start of 2013). He is also a four-time winner of what was then known as the Winston Cup. Throughout his career, Gordon has driven the #24 Hendrick DuPont Chevrolet.
Gordon won the title in 1995, 1997, 1998 and 2001. He had one of the best runs in history by winning 10 or more races in three straight seasons between 1996 and 1998. His best season was 1998, when he won 13 of 33 races and came home in the top 10 in 28 races.
3. Jimmie JohnsonJimmie Johnson has had a better five-season run than any driver in NASCAR history. Between 2006 and 2010, Johnson never finished lower than first in the season stats. His five titles rank him third in this category. His five consecutive titles is a record.
Johnson's best season was 2007, in which he won 10 times. He has never won fewer than 2 races in a season over his career and started the 2013 season with his 61st win at the season-opening Daytona 500.
2. Dale EarnhardtNumber 2 on this list is actually tied for number 1 when it comes to the number of career titles. Dale Earnhardt won a total of seven Winston Cups between 1980 and 1994. His ranking of number 2 is only related to the number of race wins. He won a total of 76 races, which only ranks him seventh on the all-time list.
Earnhardt was the greatest driver at Daytona International Speedway. He won more races at the track than any driver ever. His 1998 victory in the Daytona 500 was one of the most well-beloved victories in NASCAR history. Unfortunately, his connection to Daytona ended in tragedy with his death on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.
1. Richard PettyThere is no doubt that a driver known as "The King" should be the greatest NASCAR driver of all time. Richard Petty is tied with Dale Earnhardt for the most all time Grand National/Winston Cup championships with seven. He is also the all-time leader in wins with 200 in his 35-year career. This win total is considered one of the most unassailable records in all of sports because of the change in the number of races.
Petty's best season was without a doubt 1967, when he won a record 27 races. For a driver to equal this record, he or she would have to win 75 percent of the current schedule. Petty drove in 48 of 49 races in that record-setting season. He also won 21 races in 1971. He won the Daytona 500 a record seven times. His last victory was the 1984 Firecracker 400 at Daytona with President Ronald Reagan in attendance.
An interesting fact about the career of Richard Petty is the fact that his last race at Atlanta in 1992 was Jeff Gordon's first race in NASCAR's top series.