NASCAR: 10 Famous Drivers Casual Fans Couldn't Pick out of a Lineup
If you've been a NASCAR fan for a while, this list will likely confound you. "How could somebody not know him?" you might ask. "Or him? Or him?!?!"
For all of your frustration, you might be right. What you're about to read is a list of high-caliber NASCAR drivers, both past and present, that don't have the world's highest Q scores. In other words, they're not Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson or Danica Patrick.
All of these drivers have major accomplishments—Daytona 500 wins or championships in some high-level form of racing—on their resumes. Some are active, some aren't, but most have enjoyed popularity within the sport for their accomplishments.
No, you might not believe this list is accurate. But as much as true NASCAR fans may know everything about the following drivers, the casual fan would be completely in the dark about them. Test your less knowledgeable friends on these names, and if they don't know them, take some time to educate.
This is the season in which Clint Bowyer has finally truly arrived, taking three wins and contending for this year's title with Michael Waltrip Racing. It won't be a shock if his Q score skyrockets pretty soon, as he's got the sponsorship and cars behind him to elevate him into full-blown superstar status. But actually winning the Chase for the Sprint Cup would go a long way toward cementing that fame.
Sure, he's won two of the past three races, but there's one reason it's safe to say that Matt Kenseth isn't easily recognized outside of the sport: how much difficulty Roush Fenway Racing has had in securing sponsorship deals for their most accomplished driver.
In fact, replacement Ricky Stenhouse Jr. already has more sponsorships lined up for next year, and he's going to be a rookie. Apparently even two Daytona 500 wins and the 2003 championship aren't enough to bring up the Q score.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Stenhouse is still an up-and-coming driver, one who's not going to run his first full-time Sprint Cup schedule until next year.
But he's also pretty accomplished in his own right, winning last year's Nationwide championship and coming back from two laps down to win his sixth race of this season at Kansas on Saturday.
He's going to break out and do big things at the Cup level.
Sam Hornish Jr.
Sam Hornish Jr. won three IndyCar championships in 2001, 2002 and 2006, but has languished somewhat in NASCAR due to the difficulty of making the transition to stock cars with little development time.
He's now fourth in the Nationwide championship and doing a good job running in Penske Racing's second Sprint Cup car, but it's a far cry from his triumphs at Indianapolis.
The two-time Australian V8 Supercars champion is the only driver in that series' history to score race wins in every season he participated in.
Now a two-time race winner at the Sprint Cup level, Marcos Ambrose is an easy pick to win on any road course, but he's still got a ways to go before he becomes similarly dominant on the ovals.
Jamie McMurray was supposed to have it all: the famed No. 6 ride at Roush Fenway Racing, the best equipment money could buy, and the marketability to make him NASCAR's next big thing in the mid-2000s.
Unfortunately, due to contractual circumstances, underwhelming performance and so on, he never broke out the way he should have.
His 2010 Daytona 500 victory is a nice notch in his belt, but after failing to parlay that into a Chase appearance, he's struggled since.
Before Mark Martin and then Kyle Busch in what is now known as the Nationwide Series, Jack Ingram was best in class.
Ingram won 31 races between 1982 and 1987, when he was already in his 40s, as well as the 1982 and 1985 series championships.
Now 75 years old, Ingram still races late models at Greenville Pickens Speedway in South Carolina.
Ernie Irvan won 15 races in a career that could've been even more incredible had he not suffered a life-changing injury in a 1994 practice accident at Michigan while chasing Dale Earnhardt for the championship.
The 1991 Daytona 500 winner hit a wall at 170 miles per hour, nearly killing him, and still suffers from double vision in one eye. He retired in 1999, and since then has somewhat withdrawn from the sport, occasionally speaking on behalf of driver safety.
With cameos in both Stroker Ace and Days of Thunder, Gant was one of the most popular drivers in NASCAR during his career, which didn't really take off until he reached his 40s.
In September 1991, he put together an incredible stretch of six race victories—four in Winston Cup and two in the Busch Series—and finished second in the only race he didn't win that month. These days, Gant largely stays away from the racetrack, enjoying time with his family.
The first driver to win three consecutive Cup championships and a winner of 83 races in his Cup career, Cale Yarborough has withdrawn almost completely from the sport he once dominated after selling the team he owned in mid-2000.
Other than his induction to the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2011, his public appearances have been few and far between. Now the owner of a Honda dealership in South Carolina, newer fans would do well to learn just how talented Yarborough was back in his day.
For more from Christopher Leone, follow @christopherlion on Twitter.