10 of the Biggest Badasses in Modern-Day NASCAR

Jerry Bonkowski@@jerrybonkowskiFeatured ColumnistJanuary 13, 2013

10 of the Biggest Badasses in Modern-Day NASCAR

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    The word "badass" can have a number of different meanings to different people. Some use the word in a good way, others think of it in a derogatory manner.

    For the purpose of this exercise, we will use badass as an adjective, meaning someone who is cool, tough, aggressive and uncharacteristically successful or has some other intangible that makes him or her stand out in a crowd. These drivers thrive under pressure, never give up, are relentless when they want something and rarely fold or show fear.

    Above all else, they're leaders, not followers. They blaze trails where others are too fearful to go.

    We chose our list of 10 from the best of the best in modern-day NASCAR, the acknowledged era from 1972 to the present. There is no ranking system—no one on this list is a bigger badass than another.

    By no means is this list complete, so if you want to add your thoughts in the comments about others that should also be on this list, feel free to do so.

Dale Earnhardt

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    They didn't call Dale Earnhardt "The Intimidator" for nothing.

    He was, is and always will be the epitome of the word "badass." Cross him, and you'd feel his wrath for sure, particularly his penchant for using the so-called Chrome Horn to push someone he wanted to get past out of the way.

    More precisely, Earnhardt is the standard against which all other badasses are measured.

    Be it his dark and cool-looking wraparound shades, his Snidely Whiplash cookie duster mustache or his penchant for folding his arms in front of him to let you know he's ticked, there likely will never be another intimidating badass driver like Big E.

Kyle Busch

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    Kyle Busch has embraced the role of villain and spoiler since his arrival in NASCAR. He's accumulated 105 wins faster than any driver in history—24 triumphs in the Cup series, 51 in Nationwide and 30 in Trucks.

    Busch does things with a car that few can do. He has incredible car control, has a keen sense of place on the race track and races like a chess grand master, always thinking three or four moves—or, in Busch's case, three or four laps—ahead when it comes to plotting strategy.

    What infuriates fans even more in many cases is how Busch seemingly doesn't care if he is a badass. He does what he needs to do to win.

    When he puts his sunglasses on, dons his helmet and climbs into a race car, Busch is nothing but all business and "all badass."

    And perhaps the most badass move of all: when he climbs from his car or truck after winning a race and does a full bend over bow, as if he was an opera tenor responding to the acclaim from the crowd. Only with Busch, he'll bow even if the majority of the things he hears are boos rather than cheers -- and he doesn't care.

    Now that's badass.

Kurt Busch

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    Kurt Busch is either one of the biggest badasses or one of the least understandable drivers in NASCAR today. While he's a former past champion (2004), Busch has had a tendency to get into too much trouble and to do so too many times.

    He brazenly told an Arizona sheriff's deputy on a traffic stop, "Don't you know who I am?" That behavior got him fired from Roush Racing two races before he would have left anyway at the end of the 2005 season.

    And then there was the infamous expletive-filled barrage at ESPN announcer Dr. Jerry Punch in the 2011 season finale at Homestead that ultimately cost Busch his ride with Penske Racing.

    Busch has had run-ins with a number of other folks as well, both in the media and on the racetrack. In fact, he helped make Jimmy Spencer famous and revered in 2002 when Spencer punched Busch in the nose after a race.

    Come to think of it, Spencer was pretty badass for cold-cocking Busch too.

Tony Stewart

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    Tony Stewart is one of the most aggressive drivers NASCAR has ever seen. He starts every race with a confidence that he can win, no matter how bad the prospects look.

    He is the kind of badass that you want behind you if you're heading into a dark alley or getting ready for a fight. He will always have your back. He even drove in a Nationwide Series car once that was sponsored by Kid Rock of "I am an American badass" fame.

    Sure, some of his famous temper sometimes gets the best of him, like knocking a camera out of a photographer's hands, a tape recorder out of a reporter's hands or almost causing an international incident when he got into a scuffle with a track promoter at a race track in Australia a few years back.

    But Stewart has toned down considerably during his four-year run as co-owner of Stewart Haas Racing. Still, when it comes to being on a racetrack today, few are as badass and as much of a threat as the driver of the No. 14.

Tim Richmond

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    Tim Richmond was one cool cat. He lived life to its fullest, was a heck of a race car driver and took chances that even some of the biggest risk takers at the time questioned whether Richmond was that good or that crazy. He definitely lived up to his nickname of "Hollywood."

    Unfortunately, taking chances ultimately cost Richmond his life, passing away from complications of AIDS in 1989.

    Still, Richmond will always be remembered as a wealthy, flashy, debonair playboy who could also wheel a mean race car. Put all that together and you get badass supreme.

Bill France Jr.

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    Bill France Jr. was a combination of good ol' boy and drill sergeant. He would give you the shirt off his back, but only if it was on his terms and it was for the betterment of NASCAR and the sport.

    In his reign from 1972 to 2000, France made everyone know he ran a tight ship.

    Bringing Winston into the fold shortly after he took office as chairman was nothing short of brilliant, building a partnership that lasted 31 years.

    France stepped down as president in 2000, ceding that role to Mike Helton. Three years later, he gave up the rest of the reins by handing the chairmanship to son Brian, who continues in that role today.

    If you don't know the significance "Little Bill" (NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. was known as "Big Bill") had on the development of the sport to a national powerhouse, his biography at the International Motorsports Hall of Fame says it all: "Other than the founding of NASCAR itself, Bill Jr.’s appointment to leadership is probably the most significant event in the history of the sanctioning body."

Richard Petty

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    Richard Petty made being a badass an art form. While many fans today picture Petty as the always smiling, always friendly, always doting NASCAR legend, the truth is, he was the man back in the day.

    He didn't get his nickname of "The King" for nothing. He was the king of the race track and was the king of badasses in his era.

    Petty used to have a touch of cockiness back in the day, but it was warranted because he really was the best of the best. You don't win 200 races in an era or 27-race seasons without being a bona fide, true badass.

Mike Helton

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    NASCAR president Mike Helton is known for a lot of things, from his supreme business acumen to an intense loyalty to the sport and almost everyone in it.

    But Helton's calling card, the thing that makes him one of the sport's biggest badasses, is what has come to be known as "the stare."

    With his intimidating, Earnhardt-like mustache and husky frame, Helton means business. There have been more than a few instances where an obviously displeased Helton just had to look at the subject of his ire, and disorder was quickly restored.

    Helton doesn't get enough credit for helping build the sport into what it is today, and where it is going in the future. We hate to think of the day he'll retire because it will be extremely hard to find someone who has the control, demeanor and leadership that Helton brings.

    And the 'stache and stare too.

David Pearson

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    Like Richard Petty, David Pearson somewhat predates the modern era of NASCAR, having started his racing career in the 1950s. But he continued to be a force even into the early 1980s.

    Pearson was among the toughest competitors on the track. He even struck fear at times into Richard Petty, who has called Pearson the toughest rival he ever faced in his storied career.

    With the badass nickname of the Silver Fox for his wily ways of getting around his competition, Pearson never gave an inch, pressed opponents until they had no choice but to back off or wreck (most took the former rather than the latter) and went on to win 105 races in his career—second-most in NASCAR history to Richard Petty's 200.

    Just like there will never be another badass like Petty, there also will never be a badass like Pearson either.

Junior Johnson

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    Junior Johnson's early life could have been part of an old Johnny Cash tune.

    A bootlegger who outran the revenuers time after time, never to be caught. But one unfortunate day, a revenue agent caught him with an illegal still, and he was sentenced to a year in prison.  

    Badass proof No. 1.

    Then, Johnson got out of prison, went on the straight and narrow, transferred his moonshining talents behind the wheel to that of a stock car and became one of the greatest drivers—and then team owners, as well.

    Badass proof No. 2.

    In Dec. 26, 1986, President Ronald Reagan, an admitted Junior fan, gave Johnson a late Christmas present and granted him a pardon for his moonshining ways.

    Badass proof No. 3.

    Last, but not least, not only did they make a major motion picture about him in 1973 (The Last American Hero), but Johnson wound up earning the sport's highest honor: an induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2010.

    You just can't get more badass than Junior Johnson, for sure. They broke the mold of badassness when they made JJ.


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