Ranking the 10 Most Fearless Drivers in NASCAR Today
Trying to pick the most fearless drivers in NASCAR today is pretty easy: just look for the guys who don't take any crap from anyone else. They'll stand up for themselves, no matter who it is they're going up against.
At the same time, you'd think every full-time Cup driver is fearless, and to an extent, that's true. But there are some drivers that just stand head and shoulders above their competition, and they're the 10 drivers we pick here.
Because I am limited to make only 10 choices, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention three others who just missed this list by a sliver. They're the trio I call the honorable mentions: four-time Cup champ Jeff Gordon, 2003 Cup champ and two-time Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth and Kasey Kahne, none of whom has ever backed down from an on-track challenge.
So without further ado, here's my list of the 10 most fearless drivers in NASCAR today:
10. Ryan Newman
Big and burly, Newman is built like a linebacker and drives like one, too, never afraid to tangle with an opponent.
He's endured some of the scariest wrecks in the sport over the years, yet had no hesitation to get back behind the wheel the following week.
Who can forget his violent wreck in 2009 at Talladega, where it took safety crews almost 15 minutes to free him, all the while as he was upside-down in a car that came to rest on its roof?
Or how about another end-over-end wreck—also at 'Dega—back in his Penske Racing days?
The "No Fear" brand is missing out on a great sponsorship opportunity, because Newman is the poster boy for having no fear on a racetrack.
9. Greg Biffle
I mean this in a good way and as an illustration of my respect for his driving prowess:
Biffle has always reminded me of a pit bull. Once he latches on to something, he never lets go.
Biffle is never afraid to mix it up with the sport's other fearless drivers. More often than not, he holds his own, if not comes out on top.
Unfortunately, Biffle doesn't get nearly as much recognition for his talent as he deserves. While he is a Nationwide and Camping World Trucks series champion, perhaps part of the reason for his underrated status at times is he's never won a Cup title.
But if he ever does, Biffle will finally get the respect he deserves—not to mention he'd be the first driver in NASCAR history to ever win titles in all three professional series.
8. Mark Martin
For those of you old enough to know what I'm talking about, Mark Martin is NASCAR's version of Jack LaLanne. He may get a year older every January, but you'd never know it, as his talent has shown no signs of diminishing.
Just look at this past weekend's race at Phoenix, where Martin started the race from the pole. How many other 54-year-old guys can brag about that?
Martin's fanatical emphasis on physical conditioning—he works out with rap music blasting through the speakers—serves him well. He has the body of a 30-year-old, while also maintaining a cerebral and strategic approach to keep him on top of his game.
Even though he's cut back to a 24-race schedule, Martin remains one of the most fearless drivers on the circuit, not to mention a threat to win every time he climbs behind the wheel.
7. Clint Bowyer
The pride and joy of Emporia, Kan., built his racing resume and developed his fearless approach at short tracks across the Midwest, where it was either feast or be feasted upon by your opponents.
Bowyer isn't afraid to mix it up with fellow drivers and will definitely stand up for himself if he feels he's been wronged. Just look back to last November's race at Phoenix when a season-long feud with Jeff Gordon reached its boiling point.
Bowyer is one of those drivers who not only likes to go as fast as he can, he also doesn't let speed, track conditions or other drivers intimidate him. If anything, he does the intimidating.
6. Kurt Busch
The elder Busch brother has long been known for his readiness to mix it up with any competitor at any track and at any time.
Unfortunately, that lack of fear has worked against Busch at times in his career. There was the punch in the nose from Jimmy Spencer, the countless run-ins with reporters, including Dr. Jerry Punch in the 2011 season finale at Homestead that ultimately cost Busch what likely would have been his home for the rest of his Cup career, Penske Racing.
Since then, Busch has tried to rebuild his shattered career, first with Phoenix Racing and now with Furniture Row Racing. Hopefully, he continues to make progress, but let's hope he never loses his fearless approach behind the wheel.
5. Kyle Busch
With 106 career wins across all three NASCAR pro series—Sprint Cup, Nationwide and Camping World Trucks series—it pretty much goes without saying that Kyle Busch is one of the most fearless drivers in the sport.
As long as it has four wheels, Busch is in his element. He knows he's a great driver and is never afraid to show it to those that may doubt him, particularly his fellow competitors.
Of course, that fearlessness can lead to some dumb actions, as well. Remember when he pile-drove Ron Hornaday Jr. into a retaining wall at Texas in 2011, resulting in a suspension that kept him out of the subsequent Sprint Cup race that weekend and almost cost him his sponsorship with M&Ms?
4. Kevin Harvick
Ever since he took over for the late Dale Earnhardt at Richard Childress Racing, Harvick has established himself as one of the most fearless drivers in the sport.
He has no hesitation to go bumper to bumper, fender to fender or door to door in his attempt to not only vie for position and a potential win, but also to sidetrack whichever opposing driver tries to challenge him.
Harvick can be brash at times, has had numerous run-ins with other drivers (particularly the Busch brothers), but he never backs down, no matter who it is. If that isn't being fearless, I don't know what is.
3. Jimmie Johnson
There's no way Jimmie Johnson would have won one Sprint Cup championship, let alone a record five in a row from 2006-2010, if he wasn't fearless behind the wheel.
Johnson has shown us time and again that he's not afraid to go up against any other driver, is never afraid to take a chance (particularly if it means making a move that ultimately wins him the race), and drives with a confidence and bravado that few drivers show.
At the same time, Johnson is one of the nicest drivers on the Cup circuit. He rarely is involved in any skirmishes or name calling, preferring to let his driving do his talking for him.
And given the way he's started out in the 2013 season, with a win at Daytona and a runner-up finish this past Sunday at Phoenix, don't be surprised if "five-time" becomes "six-time" by season's end.
2. Brad Keselowski
In less than four years, Keselowski has established himself as someone not to mess around with. Most importantly, when a win is on the line, Keselowski simply just doesn't lift off the gas pedal, even at the risk of wrecking himself and other drivers.
Carl Edwards learned that the hard way in April 2009 when Keselowski almost put Edwards and his car into the stands at Talladega.
More recently in the Nationwide Series race at Daytona three weeks ago, Regan Smith also learned that no matter what, Keselowski will plow straight ahead, sending Smith into the wall, triggering a massive wreck that destroyed Kyle Larson's car and resulted in more than two dozen fans being injured by debris.
We're not saying the end result of the fan injuries are Keselowski's fault, but it just illustrates how much he wants to win—and how far he's willing to go to earn a win.
If he wasn't a race car driver, Keselowski would make a great super hero because nothing scares or intimidates him. He is no-fear personified.
1. Tony Stewart
Tony Stewart would go to a knife fight without a knife—and still win with his bare hands. That's how fearless he is.
Stewart has set the standard of fearlessness that other drivers not only try to follow, but also try to emulate. Unfortunately, few have risen to his level, as Stewart will not be bullied, intimidated or pushed around.
In a sense, Stewart is a hybrid of some of NASCAR's greatest drivers. Look in your rear-view mirror, see him coming and you could swear it's the late Dale Earnhardt that's closing in on you.
Or, try to out-muscle him on the race track and he'll deftly not only avoid you, but will likely chug right past towards victory lane, much like Richard Petty did so many times in his career.
Stewart is also part A.J. Foyt, who never took any guff from a fellow competitor—but certainly knew how to spout out guff, trash talking and intimidation.
Now that's fearless.
Follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski