Kyle Busch and the 25 Greatest Villains in NASCAR History
Webster's Dictionary defines a villain, as "a deliberate scoundrel or criminal," or "one blamed for a particular evil or difficulty." In NASCAR, fans could define a villain as a driver that wins all the time, taking victories away from their favorite drivers.
Others would consider a villain to be a driver that drives with an obvious lack of respect for his fellow competitor and uses a particularly aggressive driving style.
No matter how you define a villain, the history of NASCAR has had its fair share. Ahead, I am going to look at 25 NASCAR personalities who could be considered the greatest of all time.
The following drivers are in no particular order, and I will try to mix it up, with a current driver followed by an older era driver and vice versa.
1. Kyle Busch
Let's start with the most well-known modern day villain, Kyle Busch. Everything about Busch oozes villain. From his domination of the Truck Series and the Nationwide Series, to the sometimes arrogant and poor attitude that he displays.
The 25-year-old Busch has already put together an amazing career resume. Busch has scored 86 wins between all three of NASCAR's top three series, which makes him an easy target to dislike right there. He is well on his way to setting the new record for career wins in the Nationwide Series, currently just five wins behind Mark Martin for the all time series lead.
But, then there is his attitude that also makes him the villain of all villains. Busch is arrogant in victory and typically a poor sport in defeat. His willingness to blame other drivers for on-track incidents and his unwillingness to conduct interviews when things don't always go his way have certainly rubbed more than a fair share of NASCAR fans the wrong way.
2. Tommy Ellis
Tommy Ellis is a former Nationwide Series champion, winning the title in 1988. For his career, Ellis won 22 times in the Nationwide Series and finishing in the top six in the point standings four other times in his career.
Ellis ran sparsely in the top series for many different years but never found a whole lot of success. Ellis earns a spot on the list for his sometimes overly aggressive driving style, which earned him the nickname of "Terrible" Tommy Ellis.
Ellis has also found some trouble now that his career has ended. In 2010, Ellis and his wife plead guilty to charges of federal tax evasion. They failed to report income earnings of over $300,000 between 2003 and 2007. They were sentenced to 18 months in prison.
3. Mike Skinner
Mike Skinner is a driver who has found limited success in both the Sprint Cup and the Nationwide Series' over the course of his career. He has been quite successful in the Camping World Truck Series, however.
Skinner has won 28 races in truck series competition and is the 1995 champion of the series. In eight full-time seasons driving trucks, Skinner has finished in the top 10 in points on seven occasions.
Skinner makes the list for his sometimes aggressive nature behind the wheel and for the off-handed comment he made while driving full-time in the Sprint Cup Series. Once, when asked about how badly he wanted to win a Sprint Cup event, Skinner said, "I would wreck my grandmother to win one of these things."
4. Bobby Hamilton Jr.
Bobby Hamilton Jr. made his biggest splash in NASCAR competition in the Nationwide Series. For his career, he has scored five victories and finished in the top 10 in points three different times, with a best finish of fourth in 2003.
Hamilton has run a handful of Sprint Cup races without finding much success. In 64 career starts in the top series, he has failed to record a top-10 finish.
Hamilton makes the list for his usually overly-aggressive driving skills. Throughout his career, Hamilton has made very few friends on the track, with his take-no-prisoners approach, and similarly, his fanbase is not quite up to par with many of his contemporaries.
5. Robby Gordon
Robby Gordon is another driver who is not afraid tell you exactly what's on his mind, nor is he afraid to run through you to gain a position. It's this lethal combination that makes him the perfect NASCAR villain.
Gordon has found moderate success in the Sprint Cup Series. He is a three-time winner on the circuit, with two of them coming on his road courses, which are his specialty. But the recent years have been tough going for Gordon.
He has been an owner/driver since 2006, and while he has managed to keep his car in the top 35 in owner's points, thus assuring a starting spot in the following week's race, that's about the extent of the good news.
One of the more memorable moments from Gordon's career, was in 2008, after an incident with Michael Waltrip, Gordon climbed out of his battered car, walked back onto the track and threw his racing helmet at Waltrip's car.
6. Ray Evernham
You don't have to be a driver to be a NASCAR villain. Just ask Ray Evernham. Evernham was the crew chief for Jeff Gordon from late 1992 through 1999, while Gordon was in his prime. That alone is cause for someone to be vilified.
While working together, Gordon and Evernham won 47 races and won the championship three times. Evernham would then go on to form a new Dodge team to compete in Sprint Cup competition.
As an owner, he found some success, winning races with Kasey Kahne, Bill Elliott and Jeremy Mayfield. But problems began to arise in the 2007 season. All of his teams were struggling immensely, due to some faulty race set-ups and subpar equipment.
Then stories began to surface about a close personal relationship that had developed between Evernham, and developmental driver, Erin Crocker. A majority of the team would be bought by George Gillett later that year.
7. Chad Knaus
In keeping with the current non-driver theme, one mustn't leave out Chad Knaus. He is currently the best crew chief in the business and has been on top of the pit box for all five of Jimmie Johnson's championship runs.
As a team, Johnson and Knaus have scored 51 victories together (Johnson also scored two victories under the leadership of Darian Grubb, while Knaus was serving a six-race suspension). He is known for always making the right calls late in the race to always put his driver in a position to win the race.
If the suspension in 2006 and the numerous questions being raised about how far the No. 48 team pushes the envelope of the rules, as far as the setups of their cars are concerned, aren't enough to warrant being a NASCAR villain, just the fact that he is the only crew chief to win five consecutive championships certainly is.
8. Geoff Bodine
Geoff Bodine has had a solid Sprint Cup career. He has amassed 18 wins, and six times, he finished inside the top 10 in the points, including a career best of third in 1990.
Bodine is a former Daytona 500 winner, and he is the last driver to win a race while being the only car to finish on the lead lap, having done so at North Wilkesboro in 1994.
But Bodine makes the cut for this list, because like many in the sport, patience was not always a strength of his. If he had a faster car, and you have the spot that he wants, bumpers could certainly be used to take that spot away.
9. Kurt Busch
Kurt Busch is the winner of 22 races in the Sprint Cup Series, and he is also the first ever driver to win the Chase for the Championship, having done so in 2004.
There is no denying Busch's talent. He has won at least one race in the top series every year since 2002. In fact, the only season he failed to score a victory was his rookie year of 2001. The problem for Busch, though, has always been his temper and learning to control it.
Busch had a very well-publicized feud with Jimmy Spencer in 2003, that spanned numerous races. More recently, he has had numerous on-track run ins with Jimmie Johnson, and most notably, he intentionally wrecked Jeff Gordon in a race late in 2010, after he felt that Gordon wasn't giving him enough room as they were racing side-by-side.
In 2005, Busch was forced to sit out the final two races of the season after he was cited for reckless driving, after being pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving.
10. Donnie Allison
Donnie Allison was a 10-time winner in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series over the course of 23 years, that never saw him once attempt a full-time Sprint Cup schedule.
Allison, along with brother Bobby and Red Farmer, comprised the group "The Alabama Gang." With a villainous nickname like that, how could you expect him to not be on the list. Allison was an aggressive driver, but there is one incident he is most famous for.
While leading the 1979 Daytona 500 with one lap to go, Allison was wrecked by Cale Yarborough who was attempting to make a last lap pass. After their cars came to a stop in the infield, the two men got out of their cars to discuss what had just happened.
Allison's brother Bobby soon pulled alongside to join in the conversation, and soon thereafter, a fight broke out between the three men. To this day, this is still one of the most talked about and famous moments in NASCAR history. It was also the first nationally televised race for NASCAR.
Talk about the wrong time to pick a fight. Or maybe, it was the best time.
11. Juan Montoya
Juan Montoya came to NASCAR in 2007 with a lot of hype and fanfare. While he hasn't enjoyed quite as much success as some had predicted, he has still been very solid in his brief four-year Sprint Cup career.
Montoya has won two races, both on road courses, and has qualified for the Chase on one occasion. That culminated with an eighth place points finish in 2009.
Montoya has earned the reputation of being a very aggressive driver, and at times has put himself in situations that he might not have been in had he shown a bit more patience.
Possibly the most memorable moment of Montoya's Sprint Cup career was in 2007 at Watkins Glen, when after an incident with Kevin Harvick, the two men each got out of their cars, and had a face-to-face discussion about what just happened on the track.
Then after a brief discussion, Montoya shoved Harvick as the two men each began to grab each others' race helmets.
12. Bobby Allison
If brother Donnie makes the list for the infamous fight at the end of the1979 Daytona 500, then it is only logical that Bobby Allison also makes the list for his role in the scuffle. It is actually said that Yarborough and Donnie had it all talked about in the infield until Bobby showed up, and that is when the fight actually broke out.
As a racer though, Bobby Allison is one of the all-time greats. For his career, he scored 84 wins (85 or even 86 depending on which source you are using). He is a three-time Sprint Cup Series Champion, and also a three-time Daytona 500 champion.
Allison was also accused of purposely setting up his car's bumper to fall off in the 1982 Daytona 500. Tests were conducted, and it was found that the car would travel faster without its rear bumper. He was never penalized for the accusations, and his win in that race still stands, but the accusations earned Allison some criticism.
13. Carl Edwards
Carl Edwards became an instant fan-favorite from the day he first strapped into a Sprint Cup car. His infectious smile, bright cheery attitude and his signature backflip after winning a race earned him legions of fans.
But a lot of those fans grew increasingly frustrated with Edwards over the course of 2010. It all started at Atlanta in March. After an earlier incident with Brad Keselowski that put Edwards behind the wall for a significant part of the race, Edwards and his beat-up race car returned to the track late in the event.
With just a handful of laps remaining, Edwards intentionally spun out Keselowski and sent his car airborne into the outside wall. Keselowski would walk away, but they would soon meet again.
In a Nationwide Series race at Gateway, Keselowski bumped Edwards to take the lead on the last lap. Coming to take the checkered flag, Edwards once again intentionally turned Keselowski's car into the wall, resulting in yet another horrific crash for Keselowski.
14. Cale Yarborough
Now seems like the perfect time to introduce the third and final member of the 1979 Daytona brawl, Cale Yarborough. While no one can criticize Yarborough for racing hard on the final lap of the Daytona 500, it is clear that his aggressive driving style played the primary role in what happened that day.
But, there is also no denying Yarborough's talent. He ranks fifth all time with 83 wins. He is a four-time Daytona 500 winner, and a three-time Cup Series champion, winning them consecutively from 1976 to 1978.
He was the first driver, and currently only one of two, to win three championships in a row. But for all of his accolades, to this day, he is still most remembered for the 1979 brawl with the Allisons.
15. Kevin Harvick
Having to be the man who replaces Dale Earnhardt is no easy task. But Kevin Harvick has done an admirable job of doing so, over the course of his career.
Thus far, Harvick has scored 14 wins, including both the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 400, making him just one of seven drivers with wins in both events. But things haven't always been rosy, for the man known as "Happy."
In 2002, Harvick was fined for a post-race altercation with Greg Biffle and later was forced to sit out a race, due to a suspension for rough driving during a truck race. Harvick has also had numerous other run ins with fellow drivers including Ricky Rudd, Juan Montoya and Carl Edwards.
Possibly the most memorable interaction, at least for me, was following the race at Richmond in 2003, when Harvick walked across the hood of Rudd's car in an attempt to confront him about what had happened on the track.
16. Jeremy Mayfield
As a competitor, Jeremy Mayfield was a decent Sprint Cup Series driver. He scored five wins over the course of his career and even qualified for the Chase in both 2004 and 2005—the first two years that system was used.
He was always a very aggressive driver, yet another who was not afraid to put the bumper to someone, as was witnessed at Pocono in 2000 when he bumped Dale Earnhardt out of the way for the win.
But, his recent doings are what truly earn him his spot on this list. He has been mired in a lawsuit for a couple of years now. He feels that he has been unfairly kicked out of the sport over failed drug tests, and numerous other accusations have been brought up because of it.
For all of his recent off-the-track actions, Mayfield more than deserves the title of NASCAR villain.
17. Tony Stewart
In today's Sprint Cup Series, Tony Stewart is one of the elites. He is a two-time series champion and a two-time winner at the Brickyard—a place he has wanted to win more than any. Stewart has also scored at least one win in every season in which he has competed at the highest level. And that dates back to 1999.
But, don't let the 39 career wins fool you. There is a lot of dislike aimed at Stewart. Especially in his younger days, Stewart was looked at much the same way Kyle Busch is viewed today. He would be very boisterous in victory, but in defeat, it was always easier to blame someone else.
The 2001 season was probably his most controversial. After an incident in which he spun out Jeff Gordon on pit road, following a race, he was fined and put on probation for the remainder of the year. Then, in arguably his most famous blow up, Stewart confronted a reporter and wound up kicking their tape recorder under a hauler.
Stewart also gets credit as a villain for the inhospitable way he has been known to treat fans from time to time. But, in Stewart's defense, as he as gotten older, his temper tantrums and blow ups have been much fewer and further between.
18. Tim Richmond
Tim Richmond was Kyle Busch before there was a Kyle Busch. On the track, he was wild and super aggressive. Off the track, he loved the Hollywood lifestyle. He loved to party, go out and just enjoy life as much as he could.
It was this attitude and personality that made it very easy to either love him or hate him. He was what NASCAR would define as a bad boy.
In terms of racing, Richmond was primed to be great. In just 185 starts in Sprint Cup competition, he scored 13 wins. He only ran the full schedule four times. His best season, and last in full-time competition, came in 1986 when he scored seven wins and finished a career-high third in the standings.
Unfortunately, his reckless lifestyle caught up with him. In August of 1989, at just 34 years old, Richmond died from complications from the AIDS virus that he contracted two years earlier.
19. Jimmy Spencer
Jimmy Spencer is a driver who has had moderate success on all levels of NASCAR competition, but he is still a driver that everyone loves to hate.
Spencer was the epitome of an aggressive driver, and for that, he earned the nickname of "Mr. Excitement." He has won races in all three of NASCAR's top series, but his career-best points finish is only a seventh-place effort. That was earned in the Nationwide Series in 1988.
Spencer is probably most famously remembered for his series of run ins with Kurt Busch in 2003. After one such incident, following the race, Busch parked his car in front of Spencer's hauler to have a discussion with him, and subsequently, Spencer punched Busch. This resulted in a one-race suspension for "Mr. Excitement."
20. Junior Johnson
Junior Johnson is a classic villain. Before joining NASCAR, Johnson ran moonshine in the South. An act that would land him in jail for 11 months. But as a driver, he was one of the best. He won 50 races over the course of his 14 seasons behind the wheel and was one of the sports first true superstars.
His best year, in terms of wins, came in 1965 when he scored 13 of them in 36 races. After retiring from driving, Johnson became a team owner. He was able to maintain his status as a NASCAR villain based on some of the drivers who drove for him. Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, Darrell Waltrip, Geoff Bodine and Jimmy Spencer all had turns driving for Johnson.
As an owner, his teams won 139 races and won the championship six different times.
21. Jimmie Johnson
In case you haven't heard the news, Jimmie Johnson has now won the Sprint Cup championship five times in a row. He is one of only two drivers, Cale Yarborough being the other, to win at least three consecutive championships.
In his career, Johnson has scored 53 wins and has finished in the top five in points every year that he has run a full schedule, with 2002 being his first full-time season.
Johnson is by no means the dirtiest driver on the circuit, but he has had his fair share of on-track altercations with other drivers. In 2009, there were a handful of times when Johnson seemed to find his path cross with that of Kurt Busch.
Then this past season, in maybe his most talked about altercation, there were a few run ins with teammate Jeff Gordon. One in particular, really irked Gordon, to the point where in a post-race interview, Gordon claimed that Johnson was "really starting to piss him off."
22. Richard Petty
Where do you begin when talking about Richard Petty? "The King" has won a record 200 races and is one of two drivers to win seven championships in their careers.
While many people will argue this pick, it seems like a fairly easy one to me. There is no doubt that Petty is a beloved figure in NASCAR, even to this day. But, Petty is very easily comparable to the Lakers of the NBA or the Yankees of MLB.
When a team, or in this case a driver, seemingly wins all the time, it really takes away from the excitement and intrigue to the game. It is no different than the current championship run that Jimmie Johnson is currently on.
While it is debatable how much of a "villain" Richard Petty really was, if you were a fan of someone else during the dominant days of Petty, it would have been pretty easy to loathe him with a passion.
23. Darrell Waltrip
Darrell Waltrip is another one of the greatest drivers to ever wear a helmet in NASCAR. He has won 84 races, which puts him in a tie for third all time. He is also a former Daytona 500 winner, and a three-time series champion, as he won all three of them from 1981 to 1985.
Waltrip quickly became vilified by NASCAR fans in the early 1980s. As he was starting to hit his stride and become one of the better drivers in the series, fans really found it easy to dislike him. The masses were in favor of the Richard Petty's and the Allison's, but it was hard to watch a new guy come in and start taking away wins from their favorites.
Not to mention, Waltrip brought a newfound "win at all costs" attitude to the sport that some people saw as trying to upstage everyone else; he easily rubbed people the wrong way.
Even today, as an announcer for FOX, Waltrip still manages to maintain his villain persona to some people. Some people really dislike the knowledge and insight that he brings to the announcer booth and feel the same about him as a commentator as they felt about him as a driver.
24. Jeff Gordon
The last two drivers on the list are two of the most popular drivers of all time. Yet, at the same time, they are also two of the most disliked drivers of all time as well.
Jeff Gordon was the a driver that if you didn't love him, you hated him. He came in to the sport and quickly put the series on notice that he had arrived. He instantly became one of Dale Earnhardt's biggest rivals, and that didn't set too well with the folks wearing black No. 3 t-shirts.
For his career, Gordon has won 82 races and won four championships. From 1995 through the end of the decade, he was the sports dominant driver. In that stretch, he won 47 races and three of his four titles. He also had a runner-up finish during that period as well.
I will never forget the first race I attended in person. It was 1998, and when Jeff Gordon was announced to the crowd, there was an equal amount of cheers as there were boos. But regardless of what each fan was doing, everyone of them were on their feet making noise.
And to this day, even though he is in a winless draught spanning more than a year and having only won one race in three seasons, he still evokes the loudest reaction at each NASCAR race.
25. Dale Earnhardt
To this day, 10 years after losing his life in a tragic accident at Daytona, Dale Earnhardt is still one of the most popular drivers in the sport. The "Intimidator," as he was aptly dubbed, is one of the most successful drivers of all time.
Earnhardt is a winner of 76 races in his career, and he won the championship seven times—a record that he shares with Richard Petty. Earnhardt is a driver that could generate the same reaction from a crowd as Jeff Gordon does now. When his name was announced, brace yourself for a deafening mixture of cheers and boos.
And the great thing about Earnhardt was that it never mattered to him. One of his most famous quotes was when he said that "he didn't care if people cheered him or booed him, as long as they were making noise." Because if they have any sort of reaction, you know that you must be doing well.
One of Earnhardt's most memorable moments came at Bristol in 1999. After getting passed by Terry Labonte taking the white flag, Earnhardt got back to Labonte's bumper and spun him in turn one. After taking the win, Earnhardt said in Victory Lane, "I didn't mean to spin him, I just wanted to rattle his cage a little."
The crowd reaction to Earnhardt's win was one of the loudest reactions I think I have ever heard to the finale of a race. That moment right there cemented Earnhardt's legacy as one of NASCAR's greatest villains of all time.