Who Were NASCAR's All-Time Biggest One- or Two-Hit Wonders?

Jerry Bonkowski@@jerrybonkowskiFeatured ColumnistOctober 2, 2012

Who Were NASCAR's All-Time Biggest One- or Two-Hit Wonders?

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    When my book, "Trading Paint: 101 Great NASCAR Debates" (Wiley & Co.), came out in 2010, I received a great number of e-mails from readers who wanted to, well, debate some of my debate findings.

    Of course, I welcomed everyone's opinions.

    But there was one topic that, to this day, has never received any quibbling, second-guessing or even the slightest hint of disagreement, and that was who I considered to be NASCAR's all-time, one-hit wonders.

    By that, I meant drivers who enjoyed the spotlight, if ever so briefly, for one (or sometimes two) accomplishment that essentially defined their racing career in NASCAR, particularly on the Sprint Cup level.

    I recently received another e-mail from a long-time reader who asked if I plan on writing additional books (I'm in the process of doing so right now), because he enjoyed my book, especially the chapter on one-hit wonders.

    Given how Bleacher Report readers love slideshows and reading and commenting on hot-button topics, we've decided to reprise some chapters from the book in the coming weeks, starting with the sport's all-time one- or two-hit wonders (you have to give the readers what they want, right?).

    So without further adieu, we pose the question once more:

    Who were NASCAR's all-time biggest one- or two-hit wonders?

No. 5: Michael Waltrip

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    The younger brother of Darrell Waltrip, Michael was a one-hit wonder who accomplished the same feat twice, having won the prestigious Daytona 500 in 2001, the same race in which Dale Earnhardt was killed, as well as in 2003.

    Some believed Waltrip never got the respect he deserved in winning the 2001 race because of the last-lap crash that resulted in Earnhardt's death.

    So, bound and determined, Waltrip came back two years later and proved that his 2001 win at Daytona was not a fluke.

    Since then, the head of Michael Waltrip Racing has gone on to become more successful as a team owner—MWR has two drivers, Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer in this year's Chase for the Sprint Cup—than he was as a full-time driver.

    As much as we love MW, the numbers don't lie: just four total wins in 769 career starts, all on restrictor plate tracks (three at Daytona, one at Talladega).

No. 4: Jimmy Spencer

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    The pride and joy of Berwick, Pa., Spencer picked up the nickname of "Mr. Excitement" in his early, pre-NASCAR racing days.

    But when he got to the big time, Spencer left something to be desired in terms of excitement, especially when it came to winning on the Cup circuit.

    In 478 career starts on the Cup level, Spencer won—count 'em—just two races (Pepsi 400 at Daytona and DieHard 500 at Talladega a few weeks later), both in the 1994 season.

    That was also the best season of his career for finishes, with Spencer finishing 12th in the final standings.

    While Spencer has gone on to a great career as a TV analyst, his driving career actually may be marked more by something other than those two wins: when he punched Kurt Busch in the nose in 2003 at Michigan.

    Now, THAT was exciting.

No. 3: Sterling Marlin

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    Sterling Marlin had a good, long career in Cup racing that was primarily defined by being only the third driver in NASCAR history to win back-to-back Daytona 500 titles in 1994 and 1995 (the other two were Richard Petty and Cale Yarborough).

    But one other thing will always haunt Marlin fans: what might have been in 2002.

    Backed by two wins, Marlin had led the points for 24 consecutive races, and while he had slipped to fourth heading into the fall race at Kansas, he was still very much in contention to earn his first Cup title.

    Those championship hopes were permanently dashed, however, with a frightening wreck at Kansas, resulting in a cracked vertebra in his neck that forced him to miss the season's final seven races and miss out on his best shot ever at the Cup title.

    Marlin was never the same after that fateful wreck at Kansas, earning just four top-5 finishes (and no wins) in his final 180 Cup career starts before retiring in 2009.

No. 2: Ward Burton

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    The older brother of Jeff, Ward Burton unquestionably had great talent, but his performances didn't always match up in the final standings.

    Burton, who turns 51 later this month, won just five races in 375 career Cup starts, but none bigger than the 2002 Daytona 500.

    But to show how fleeting fame can be in NASCAR, just over a year and a half after his triumph at Daytona, he was released from the team by owner Bill Davis. Sadly, the following season, 2004, would be Burton's last full-time campaign.

    But don't feel too bad for the Virginia native. He's gone to become a high-profile advocate for wildlife conservation and is shepherding the budding racing career of son Jeb.

    After several attempts were made to lure him back to racing, Ward finally conceded and competed in this year's season-opening Trucks Race at Daytona.

    Even without having raced since 2007, Burton proved he still has it behind the wheel, finishing eighth.

    And he'll forever be known in NASCAR annals as a Daytona 500 champion, something that very few individuals can lay claim to.

No. 1: Derrike Cope

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    Derrike Cope is the quintessential one-hit wonder in NASCAR, capturing the 1990 Daytona 500 and one other race that same season, and then essentially dropping off the map, performance-wise, for the remainder of his career.

    People are oftentimes surprised to learn Cope actually made 409 career starts on the Cup level, but he never finished higher than 15th (1995) in any single season.

    He continues to compete, on occasion, in the Nationwide Series (199 career starts, just one win), having raced a full-time operation last season, but the soon-to-be 54-year-old Cope has made just two starts in NASCAR's junior circuit this season.

    He's become almost as well-known of late in his efforts to help nieces Amber and Angela Cope stake their own claim in the racing world (efforts that haven't gotten much traction, by the way).

    Still, like Ward Burton, Sterling Marlin and Michael Waltrip, there's one thing you will never be able to take away from Cope and his legacy: that of Daytona 500 champion.

    If you can't win a season championship, that's the next best thing—even if was just a one-time wonder situation.