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The Greatest Drivers in NASCAR History

When it comes to the greatest drivers in NASCAR history, drivers such as Richard Petty and Jeff Gordon immediately spring to mind.

Although many excellent drivers have visited Victory Lane in the past, there are a select number of racing icons that deserve to make this list.

It’s an exclusive club for the men that have carved out resumes that stand the test of time.

Below, you will find a list of the very best NASCAR drivers there have ever been. We are going to give you brief descriptions of their illustrious careers, along with talk about their most highlighted moments on the track.

Get ready for a ride through NASCAR’s legends.

Richard Petty

NASCAR driver Richard Petty
  • Born: July 2, 1937
  • Birthplace: Level Cross, Randolph County, North Carolina
  • NASCAR Career: 1958-1992
  • Cup Series Races Won: 200
  • Cup Series Poles Won: 123

The greatest NASCAR driver of all time, “The King” dominated the sport.

And by dominate, we mean complete governance.

Between 1960 and 1984, Petty won 200 races in the Grand National/Cup Series. This is still a record and is unlikely to be beaten. For the purposes of comparison, David Pearson, next to Petty in all-time wins, has 105.

The same goes for Petty’s 123 poles. That’s an all-time high, too. As is his triumphant 27 wins in the 1967 season, which beats off the competition of 21 wins in 1971. And guess who achieved that? Yup.

When it comes to NASCAR’s greatest drivers, you can see why this man of pure racing stock comes first. In the pantheon of all-time greats, Petty has his own corridor.

Is Richard Petty the greatest? Well, just take a look at the different number of tracks he managed to win at compared to other top NASCAR drivers.

Driver Tracks Raced At Tracks Won At
Richard Petty 60+ 54
David Pearson 60+ 38
Bobby Allison 60+ 28
Jeff Gordon 26 25
Kyle Busch 25 23
Kevin Harvick 26 22
Tony Stewart 24 21
Mark Martin 27 20
Jimmie Johnson 26 20
Matt Kenseth 26 19
Kurt Busch 26 18
Cale Yarborough 50+ 18
Denny Hamlin 25 17
Brad Keselowski 25 17
Dale Earnhardt 26 17
Rusty Wallace 25 17
Dale Jarrett 25 16
Darrell Waltrip 26 16
Joey Logano 25 15
Bill Elliott 26 15
Martin Truex Jr. 25 14

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That’s a truly remarkable feat. Petty’s career stats are just downright ridiculous.

Who else could put together ten consecutive wins in a season? No one. Could any driver today win seven Daytona 500 races? It’s not likely.

Petty was the first driver to win seven Cup Series championships. Dale Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson went on to equal this record, of course, but even those legends recognized Petty as the GOAT of NASCAR.

The King is the best to ever do it. Not just ONE of the greatest NASCAR drivers, THE greatest NASCAR driver.

David Pearson

David Pearson NASCAR driver
  • Born: December 22, 1934
  • Birthplace: Spartanburg, South Carolina
  • NASCAR Career: 1960-1986
  • Cup Series Races Won: 105
  • Cup Series Poles Won: 113

David Pearson was destined to drive.

In fact, he desired to race cars for a living from the time he was a young boy. When he got a little older, he got a job at a local auto body repair shop and bought his first car.

The 1960 NASCAR Rookie of the Year, Pearson started off with huge potential. He would eventually prove himself to be one of the greats.

Alongside Petty, he is the only man to have eclipsed the sacred “100-win” mark in the history of the Cup Series. His 105 wins rank him second behind The King, with his 113 poles won also the second-highest total in the history of the sport.

A consistent driver, Pearson is one of only eight men to have completed the NASCAR Triple Crown.

What’s hard to imagine is what David Pearson’s career would have looked like had it not been for the untouchable Petty. Pearson spent his career battling the all-time great of NASCAR and still came away with several, shining achievements.

Nicknamed the “Fox” for his clever and methodical approach to the track, Pearson was a master at maneuvering his car, regardless of the track.

For example, his 105 wins are spread across multiple venues. He took 23 dirt track wins, 54 wins on short tracks, and 48 wins on superspeedways.

The fact that Pearson could win under all types of conditions displays his prowess for handling a racecar.

He won the season-long points race three times (1966, 1968, 1969) and will forever be known as one of the best NASCAR drivers to ever zip up a racing suit.

Bobby Allison

Bobby Allison of NASCAR
  • Born: December 3, 1937
  • Birthplace: Miami, Florida
  • NASCAR Career: 1961-1988
  • Cup Series Races Won: 84
  • Cup Series Poles Won: 58

Bobby Allison enjoyed an awesome racing career.

That’s quite the achievement, considering he had to try and outrace the likes of Richard Petty, David Pearson, and Cale Yarborough throughout his time in NASCAR.

With 84 wins, Alison is tied with Darrell Waltrip at fourth on the all-time list Cup Series wins list.

This Miami-born star has three Daytona 500 victories in his storied career. Especially as he became the first to win the race both with and without restrictor plates.

The last of these wins came in 1988 by just a single-car length over his son, Davey Allison.

One of eight drivers to win all four of the “Major” races (Daytona 500, Coca-Cola 600, Southern 500, and the GEICO 500), Allison’s determination as a driver was never in question.

Unfortunately, Allison’s career will forever be linked with tragedy.

The Miami-born legend miraculously survived a horrific accident in 1988. Doctors declared him dead upon his arrival at the hospital, but somehow Allison pulled through.

Allison’s 27-year-old son, Clifford, died in a crash at the Michigan International Speedway in 1992. The following year, Davey Allison lost his life in a helicopter accident at age 32.

Bobby spent his career tangling with some of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history, and his name will forever be synonymous with the sport.

Cale Yarborough

NASCAR's Cale Yarborough
  • Born: March 27, 1939
  • Birthplace: Timmonsville, South Carolina
  • NASCAR Career: 1957-1988
  • Cup Series Cup Races Won: 83
  • Cup Series Poles: Won 69

With 83 wins and 319 top-10s, Cale Yarborough’s numbers speak volumes for his talent on the track.

Considering he only raced in 560 races, Cale was pretty much a stud. His four Daytona 500 victories are only surpassed by the great Petty. His winning percentage of 14.82% is also the third-highest percentage for drivers who have completed 500 or more races.

Not bad for a guy who unlike some of the other greats, wasn’t always destined to become a NASCAR Driver.

Yarborough spent his high-school years focusing on football and boxing, even playing semi-professional football for four years.

After dipping his feet into the waters of racecars in 1957, it took Cale some time to get acclimated.

Yarborough had to wait until 1965 for his first win, but he didn’t really hit his peak until 1976-1978. He won the Cup Series for those three seasons, cementing himself as one of NASCAR’s greatest drivers.

Ironically, those are the only three seasons in Cale’s entire career that he chose to race the entire schedule without skipping a Series’ race. It’s scary to think how much this man would have won had he raced a fuller schedule, huh?

Yarborough was once invited to try out for the Washington Redskins. Thankfully, he didn’t accept the offer and eventually found his way into stock car racing, where his career makes him one of the all-time greats of NASCAR.

Darrell Waltrip

NASCAR driver Darrell Waltrip
  • Born: February 5, 1947
  • Birthplace: Owensboro, Kentucky
  • NASCAR Career: 1972-2000
  • Cup Series Races Won: 84
  • Cup Series Poles Won: 59

Darrell Waltrip may have retired from racing cars in 2000 but would carry on as a commentator and analyst for almost 20 years after he left NASCAR.

On the track, Waltrip was a beast. He put together a run of 84 wins, which sees him tied with Bobby Allison for fourth most of all-time.

Waltrip’s five victories at the Coca-Cola 600 are more than any other driver in NASCAR history.

NASCAR’s 1989 and 1990 Most Popular Driver also has a Daytona 500 on his resume, which he won in very interesting fashion.

In a nutshell, Waltrip conserved his fuel so he was able to make his final pit stop with 53 laps to go. From there, his command of the throttle and steering wheel guided him to the title of Daytona 500 champ after 17 years of trying.

Waltrip is just one of eight men who can say they’ve won the Grand Slam of NASCAR.

Dale Earnhardt

Dale Earnhardt NASCAR driver
  • Born: April 29, 1951
  • Birthplace: Kannapolis, North Carolina
  • NASCAR Career: 1975-2001
  • Cup Series Races Won: 76
  • Cup Series Poles Won: 22

Dale Earnhardt’s legacy was cemented in the sport of NASCAR well before his fatal crash during the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.

To say that racing was in Dale’s blood would be an understatement. His father Ralph was a professional driver and his son, Dale Jr., won 26 Cup Series races, which included two triumphs at the Daytona 500.

With that being said, neither his father nor his son was as skilled behind the wheel as Dale was. Known as “The Intimidator” due to his aggressive driving style, Earnhardt is simply one of NASCAR’s best drivers of all time.

That’s not opinion, of course. Earnhardt’s list of accomplishments and awards is what landed him on our list of the greatest NASCAR drivers of all-time. Sure, there have been plenty of hostile drivers, but not all of them won 76 races and finished in the top-10 428 times.

One of the five men inducted into the inaugural NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2010, Earnhardt is one of eight drivers to have won the Grand Slam of NASCAR Majors.

When he won a record-tying seventh Cup Series in 1994, Dale Earnhardt proved himself to be one of the greatest NASCAR drivers in history.

Unfortunately, Earnhardt would lose his life in a crash at the 2001 Daytona 500.

Rusty Wallace

Rusty Wallace of NASCAR
  • Born: August 14, 1956
  • Birthplace: Arnold, Missouri
  • NASCAR Career: 1980-2005
  • Cup Series Races Won: 55
  • Cup Series Poles Won: 36

Rusty Wallace is one of the most recognizable names in NASCAR history.

After he hung up his racing helmet for good in 2005, Rusty embarked on a successful career as an analyst and commentator.

His magnetic personality and ability to relate to the average viewer are what many fans appreciated the most about Wallace.

But he was also one heck of a driver.

Wallace collected 55 wins from 1986-2004. A man who crossed the finish line in the top-10 349 times is certainly qualified enough to discuss racing on television, and viewers hung on his every word.

Wallace was fortunate to survive the crashes he endured through his racing years. While attempting to qualify for the 1983 Daytona 500, his car flipped numerous times, sending him to the hospital.

He suffered a near-fatal crash at Bristol Motor Speedway in 1988, too, and was very lucky to make it off the track in one piece.

This all-time great of racing competed relatively unscathed for a short time before testing fate again (twice) in 1993. First, his car barrel-rolled into the grass at the Daytona 500. Then, he suffered a similar accident on the final lap at Talladega later in the season.

No matter what heartache and destruction the 1984 Cup Series Rookie of the Year experienced, he always came back to the sport he loved.

A true legend of NASCAR and definitely one of the greatest drivers.

Mark Martin

NASCAR driver Mark Martin
  • Born: January 9, 1959
  • Birthplace: Batesville, Arkansas
  • NASCAR Career: 1981-2013
  • Cup Series Races Won: 40
  • Cup Series Poles Won: 56

NASCAR all-time great Mark Martin is the true definition of a grinder.

This is a guy that had to work hard and earn for everything in racing, and it never came easy.

We guess you could describe his journey through the circuit as a game of “Musical Chairs.” He raced for several different owners and employers, as he was constantly searching for the right fit.

Starting his professional career in 1981, Martin waited eight long years to finally taste victory for the first time. He had more DNF’s than top-10s in his first full-year driving and must have wondered if this was the best career path for him.

Thankfully, Martin continued to plug away and eventually got into a winning groove in the 1990s.

Martin’s five International Race of Champions’ (IROC) Championships are more than any other driver in history.

Martin has proven his skills on a variety of tracks and venues. He tacked on 7 wins in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series to go along with his 40 wins in the Cup Series, and 49 in the Xfinity Series. So, it’s no wonder he was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2017.

One of the best Cup Series drivers of all time, and certainly a man who knew how NASCAR races work.

Jeff Gordon

NASCAR's Jeff Gordon
  • Born: August 4, 1971
  • Birthplace: Vallejo, California
  • NASCAR Career: 1992-2016
  • Cup Series Races Won: 93
  • Cup Series Poles Won: 81

Jeff Gordon may have hung up his racing suit and helmet in 2016, but that hasn’t stopped his name from being brought up in racing conversations today.

As one of the greatest NASCAR drivers in the history of the sport, you would expect that. His 93 races won are the third-highest total ever and the most in the modern era (1972 and later).

If you’re looking for pure artistry, consistency, and longevity, Jeff Gordon is your guy.

He won at least one pole in 23 consecutive years and is a four-time Cup Series Champion. Included in these are three Daytona 500 triumphs from an astonishing 797 races. Gordon never missed one race in that time.

Perhaps the most impressive stat Gordon accumulated in his career was his number of total wins. He sits in third place, just behind NASCAR GOAT Richard Petty, and the consensus second-best of all time, David Pearson.

Total NASCAR Wins
Rank Driver Total
1 Richard Petty 200
2 David Pearson 105
3 Jeff Gordon 93
4 Bobby Allison 84
5 Darrell Waltrip 84
6 Jimmie Johnson 83
7 Cale Yarborough 83
8 Dale Earnhardt 76
9 Kevin Harvick 58
10 Kyle Busch 57

In a sport filled with accidents, injuries, and immense physical tolls, it’s crazy to think that this NASCAR icon never missed a beat during his 25-year run on the track.

477 of his 805 races resulted in a top-10 finish, and his 81 poles won trail only Richard Petty and David Pearson.

While Gordon’s proficiency on the track was announced from an early age. Jeff’s mother remarried John Bickford when Jeff was a young boy and Bickford immediately persuaded Gordon into motorsports. It’s fairly safe to say that little Jeff got the hang of things quickly.

Jeff started winning just about every junior BMX bike racing competition in sight from the time he was five years old, graduating into racing “quarter midgets” (smaller versions of racecars) soon after.

His skills in operating a motor vehicle did not go unnoticed. He was awarded a United States Auto Club license when he was just 16 years old, becoming the youngest person to ever be part of the organization.

The 1993 Cup Series Rookie of the Year winner won six times Pocono Raceway, five times at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and five times at Sonoma Raceway — records for all three tracks. 

One of the very best NASCAR drivers to ever race.

Jimmie Johnson

Jimmie Johnson NASCAR driver
  • Born: September 17, 1975
  • Birthplace: El Cajon, California
  • NASCAR Career: 2001- Current
  • Cup Series Races Won: 83
  • Cup Series Poles Won: 36

Jimmie Johnson did a lot of damage with the #48 car over the years.

His seven Cup Series championships are matched by Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt, however, nobody won five in a row like Jimmie did from 2006-2010.

Johnson’s legacy consists of taking 83 wins which are tied for the 6th most of all time. He registered 232 top-5s in 686 races over 20 years. The true epitome of a class act and a consummate professional, the California native’s decorated NASCAR career was simply incredible.

Where Johnson rates among NASCAR’s greatest drivers is a matter of opinion. But we believe he is up there with the very best to take to the track.

Johnson holds the record for the most Cup Series wins at Dover.

Kevin Harvick

Kevin Harvick of NASCAR
  • Born: December 8, 1975
  • Birthplace: Bakersfield, California
  • NASCAR Career: 2001- Current
  • Cup Series Races Won: 37
  • Cup Series Poles Won: 21

Harvick is one of the greatest modern NASCAR drivers.

It’s not because he has much left to prove as his achievements, thus far, is enough to warrant him a spot on this list.

The 2015 ESPY Award winner for the Best Driver of the Year is a focal point for the Stewart-Haas Racing team and one of the most feared competitors in the sport.

Harvick chased down the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship in 2014 to go along with two championships at the Xfinity Cup level as well. Ergo, he is one of only four men who can claim both Cup championships.

Throw in his numerous wins and top-10s in the Camping World Truck Series and you get the idea of the all-around type of driver that Harvick is.

Kevin has been called “The Closer,” on account of the late-race heroics he has pulled off time and time again. The 2001 NASCAR Rookie of the Year captured the 2007 Daytona 500 by 0.02 seconds over Mark Martin in one of the most exhilarating ends to a race in history.

That race, more than anything, sums up Harvick’s unmatched persistence behind the wheel.

Kyle Busch

NASCAR driver Kyle Busch
  • Born: May 2, 1985
  • Birthplace: Las Vegas, Nevada
  • NASCAR Career: 2004- Current
  • Cup Series Races Won: 43
  • Cup Series Poles Won: 27

A NASCAR all-time great, Kyle Busch is another driver that was simply destined for the big time.

His resume on the racetrack resembles a driver with a 25+ year career on the speedway. Kyle achieved more than most other drivers could ever dream of.

The road to stardom started early for Kyle in his hometown of Las Vegas, Nevada.

From driving go-karts and working in a garage at an early age, Busch had a knack for driving cars. His older brother, Kurt (also a NASCAR legend), was there to look up to and emulate. It didn’t take him long to figure out what his big brother was doing and find a way to do it even better.

Busch won the Cup Series Championship in 2015 and 2019, but competing in that division wasn’t enough for a guy who was as engrossed in NASCAR as Kyle Busch. He won multiple races across the 3 major NASCAR organizations (Cup Series, Xfinity Series, and Camping World Truck Series) in 2010.

His 97 NASCAR Xfinity Series wins are the most by any driver. In the Camping World Truck Series, he has 59 wins, too.

Busch will go down as one of the greatest NASCAR drivers of all time when it’s all said and done. But how will he rank when he has taken off the race suit for good?

Comparing the Best NASCAR Drivers of All Time

The table below is a list of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history on particular tracks.

How many of the names above can you pick out?

Track Driver Wins
Atlanta Dale Earnhardt 9
Auto Club Jimmie Johnson 6
Bristol Darrell Waltrip 12
Charlotte Speedway Jimmie Johnson 8
Charlotte Roval Chase Elliott 2
Chicagoland Tony Stewart 3
Darlington David Pearson 10
Daytona Speedway Richard Petty 10
Daytona Road course Chase Elliott 1
Dover Jimmie Johnson 11
Homestead Greg Biffle/Tony Stewart/Denny Hamlin 3
Indianapolis Jeff Gordon 5
Kansas Jeff Gordon/Jimmie Johnson/Kevin Harvick/Denny Hamlin/Joey Logano 3
Kentucky Brad Keselowski 3
Las Vegas Jimmie Johnson 4
Martinsville Richard Petty 15
Michigan David Pearson 9
New Hampshire Jeff Burton/Kevin Harvick 4
Phoenix Kevin Harvick 9
Pocono Jeff Gordon/Denny Hamlin 6
Richmond Richard Petty 13
Sonoma Jeff Gordon 5
Talladega Dale Earnhardt 10
Texas Jimmie Johnson 7
Watkins Glen Tony Stewart 5

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We anticipate adding to this page of the all-time NASCAR greats at some point, but it’s hard to believe that will be any time soon.

The drivers above have carved out iconic careers that, when compared with most of their peers, stand amole. Essentially, this list of NASCAR’s greatest drivers is full of men who were simply special. And special doesn’t happen often.

The men above are NASCAR legends. The likes of Richard Petty, Bobby Alison, Cale Yarborough, and Jeff Gordon are the luminaries of this sport that have all contributed to making it better than it was when they got there.

And they certainly achieved that.

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