Richard Petty. When TV came to NASCAR, Petty became the sports biggest star. He is NASCAR’s Babe Ruth, both in terms of accomplishment and legendary status. Petty, who raced from 1959-1992, owns almost every NASCAR record, including most starts (1,185), most wins (200), most poles (123), most Top 5 finishes (555), most Top 10s (712), most championships (seven) and most autographs signed (countless). His 200 career victories are a record that likely will never be broken. Likewise, his 27 wins in 1967, including 10 in a row, rival Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hit streak as one of the most remarkable records in sports history.
As dominant as Petty was on the track, he has been even greater off of it, becoming NASCAR’s chief ambassador and an iconic figure who is still a fixture in the sport today. Wearing his trademark cowboy hat and sunglasses, he set the standard for fan interaction and sponsor relations, becoming perhaps the most popular driver and personality in NASCAR history. The only knock against Petty – and the only caveat that keeps him from being No. 1 on this list — is that he accumulated most of his wins and championships in the 1960s and 70s, when NASCAR’s top stars ran 40 to 50 races a year, often against inferior competition at small-town short tracks across the country. Of Petty’s 200 career wins, 140 came prior to the modern era (1972), when he averaged 44 races per season.